RIP: The Rt. Rev. John C. T. Chien 簡啟聰主教

First native bishop of Taiwan marked new era of indigenization

ens_040413_bishopJohnChien[Episcopal Diocese of Taiwan] The Rt. Rev. John C. T. Chien, the first native bishop of Taiwan, died on March 5 following a short illness. He was 72.

Chien was ordained and consecrated as bishop on March 25, 1988, marking a new era in the indigenization of the Taiwan Episcopal Church.

Born into a modest farming family in Gou-Bei Village, Dalin, Chia-Yi, southern Taiwan on March 23, 1940, Chien’s first direct contact with the Christian Gospel came as an undergraduate economics student at Tunghai University, Taichung, where he attended English Bible studies led by the Rev. William A. Buell.

Chien was baptized at St. James’ Episcopal Church, Taichung, on Dec. 25, 1962 and confirmed on Jan. 20, 1963; followed a few years later (after military service) by the decision to respond to God’s calling and train at Tainan Theological Seminary. Such a major break with tradition initially disturbed his parents, because as the eldest of six children he was expected to become the main breadwinner of the family. His parents later came to support his decision, and during the following years virtually all of Chien’s family became Christians, even establishing a mission station in their Gou-Bei home with regular weekly services.

On March 29, 1967, Chien and his wife Grace H. N. Chiu were married and thus began a lifetime of service together, Grace fully supporting and encouraging her husband in ministry.

Grace, a music graduate and piano teacher, came from a devout Christian family and her father was a Presbyterian minister. On May 21, 1967, Chien was ordained deacon, followed by ordination as priest on Nov. 30, 1967.

Chien first served at St. Andrew’s Church, Cha-ting (1967-69), then Grace Church, Tainan (1969-73). Overseas study at Virginia Theological Seminary led to Chien being awarded a Master of Sacred Theology degree in 1974 (and later an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1998).

Upon his return from the U.S., he served as rector of Good Shepherd Church, Taipei (1975-85) followed by a year (1985-6) at Selly Oak College in Birmingham, U.K., then returning to Taiwan as dean of St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei (1986-87).

Of the five previous bishops of Taiwan, the first two were American, and the following three from Hong Kong. All had worked hard to establish a strong foundation for the diocese, preparing it well to be handed onto local leadership. Also in the same year, 1988, the Diocese of Taiwan was upgraded from missionary diocese to full diocesan status. Yet the 1980s were also a time of rapid economic development and great political upheaval, with the ending of martial law in 1987 and the transition towards democracy.

Chien, sharing the background and values of the local people, is credited with being able to work across ethnic and political divisions, and help the church to focus more on its ministry of proclaiming the Gospel.

Under his leadership, Diocesan Constitutions and Canons were revised, committees were reorganized, debate was encouraged, and all were respected regardless of their opinion.

With Chien’s background in economics, diocesan finances became more organized and transparent, the diocesan kindergarten ministry was strengthened, and his concern for evangelism and outreach developed.

Chien also encouraged a new generation of students at the Episcopal institution, then known as St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT) in Taipei.

Chien supported a new program giving these students the chance to first serve in the church over a period of time, testing their call. Previously, clergy (including Chien himself) had been sent to Presbyterian seminaries, but the seminaries insisted on a five-year training program for college graduates such as those from SJSMIT, which was considered unnecessarily lengthy.

A major breakthrough came when he negotiated an agreement with Fu-Jen Catholic University in Taipei to allow future clergy to train on their three-year seminary program.

The need for Anglican theological training for laity and clergy led to the continued development of the Trinity Hall Training Program, originally started in 1984.

In 1997, Chien ordained the Rev. Elizabeth F. J. Wei, Taiwan’s first female priest. He also initiated an Ancestor Memorial Liturgy, and the translation and publication in Mandarin Chinese of an important series of books on Anglicanism.

Chien also faithfully served on the Board of Trustees of both Tunghai University and SJSMIT for many years.

He helped establish and also served as president of the National Council of Churches of Taiwan (NCCT), promoting ecumenical projects and cooperation in Taiwan and overseas. He was treasurer of the Council of Churches of East Asia (CCEA), promoted dialogue and exchange with the Anglican Church in Japan, Philippines, Hong Kong, Canada and the U.S., and twice attended the Lambeth Conference, 1988 and 1998.

Chien retired on June 30, 2001 and returned with Grace to his home village of Gou-Bei where he continued to serve, preaching, celebrating and encouraging clergy and church members throughout the diocese.

He is survived by Grace, three children and five grandchildren.

Comments

  1. The Rev. Dr. Fran Toy says:

    It was an honor to meet Bp. & Mrs. Chien when I visited the diocese while on Executive Council. Bp. Chien was very helpful and hospitable while Mrs. Chien was most gracious. Even though her Engglish was very limited, we communicated with lots of smiles.
    My husband and I shall always remember that on the day of our departure, Bp. and Mrs. Chien, being caring to the end, showed up (They had left much earlier.) as we boarded our bus for the airport, making sure that we were on the correct bus. This gesture was typical of two wonderful human beings.

  2. Tony and Beth Price says:

    Bp John Chien was a steadfast Christian and Episcopalian. He was our rector at Good Shepherd Church when our family lived in Taipei in the 1980s, and we attended his doctorate award at Canterbury Cathedral when we lived in England in the 1990s. He had many good friends and colleagues, and was noteworthy in developing liturgy to harmonize traditional Chinese ancestral respect with the Episcopal tradition. We send our love and condolences to Grace, Bishop John’s lifelong partner in ministry.

  3. Sanford Z. K. Hampton says:

    John Chien was a Bishop’s Classmate of mine and became a friend. John’s wife, Grace, became a wonderful friend of my wife, Mari.

    We pray for our Brother, John, who has entered into Larger Life with God and for strength and comfort for Grace during these days of mourning.

  4. Father Peter D"Alesandre says:

    I well remember Bishop Chien with great affection, and my ercollection that I had med him briefly aat Virginia Seminary was reinforced.
    I miss all of my Friends in Taiwan, thinking of you and speaking often of you.
    I have been praying for Bishoo Chien since I first heard of his death.

    in Christ,
    Fr. Peter+

  5. Edmund Der, Canon, St. James' Cath. Toronto says:

    Bishop John Chien wrote the most substantial and stimulating preface for my book” Meditation by Balsom Lake” in 1994 which I was ever grateful. Later we became in-laws and better friends than ever.He was an avid reader and a disciplined sportsman in his retirement. A True gentleman and a great host to us and to many visitors, Bishop Chien is also a very loving father and grandfather. He is a very dedicated servant of the Lord. I talked to him in the phone two weeks before he was called to be among the saints, he was well prepared to meet Our Lord.
    He will long be missed and we treasured the friendship we shared.

  6. I am deeply saddened to learn of John’s passing. I worked for him at Good Shepherd from 1975 -1977 and he was the most naturally and genuinely kind-hearted man I have ever known. He was exceptionally open-minded and inquisitive, especially for a priest, and even taught me what he knew about wai dan gung when he hosted my family on our three week return visit to Taiwan in 1990. We maintained contact through the years but had not spoken in several. He was an exceptionally fine priest and bishop and I am fortunate to have counted him as a friend and proud that he once considered me a friend as well. My deep sympathies to Grace, an equally wonderful person, and to his children. with much affection, doug phillips

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