I’m a diocese of Norwich ordinand in my second and final year of training at Westcott House. In October and November 2019 I was fortunate enough to spend seven weeks on placement in Hong Kong. The idea arose when discussing placement options earlier in the year I mentioned my interest in going abroad to another part of the Anglican Communion. From this a placement in Hong Kong, based at Ming Hua Theological College was planned. At this time it was expected my visit would be no different to any other foreign placement. However in the following months the political situation in Hong Kong has changed beyond recognition.
My placement had several different elements. One part was based within the theological college living and studying together with their postulants. I was warmly welcomed by the postulants, their families and the college staff. On arrival in Hong Kong I was told to stay inside for weekend afternoons and evenings but that it was fine to go out and explore on weekdays. This was initially true but during the final weeks daily protests made local travel challenging with blocked roads and public transport difficulties causing lengthy journeys to work and schools being closed. Incidents here can quickly happen; for example I found out that tear gas had been used nearby whilst I was in church one morning. However protests tended to be concentrated in particular areas and elsewhere life continued and you could forget the city’s difficulties for a while.
As I talked to people, both within the college and in local churches I quickly became aware of a diverse range of opinions about the current situation. This is most evident being as to whether people talked about ‘protesters’ or ‘rioters’. Many, particularly in the early weeks of my placement, talked about the importance of maintaining Hong Kong’s freedoms and blamed violence on police brutality. However others have spoken of some churches supporting violent protest and their difficulty reconciling this with Christian faith. It is a society which is becoming increasingly polarised, as neighbours, friends and families hold opposing views. However feelings of anger and anxiety are shared by many.
I also spent time working for ‘Mission to Migrant Workers’. There are large numbers of migrant workers here, primarily Filipino women who are employed as domestic helpers. Many are not well treated by their employers and some are abused physically, emotionally and financially. It was a privilege helping some of these women write statements in English about their mistreatment and seeing the practical help and care given to them.
However the placement also afforded time to sample local cuisine and I was well guided by the postulants! There was also time for sightseeing, including a particularly poignant visit in Macau to the church where the Revd Florence Li Tim-Oi ministered, who was the first woman to be ordained priest in the Anglican Communion on 25th January 1944.
It has been an amazing opportunity to experience a placement in Hong Kong, making new friends and learning about life during such a challenging time for the city. I look forward to returning in the future.
Coryn Stanforth, Ordinand, Diocese of Norwich