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Hong Kong’s cathedral celebrates 170 years – part of the birth of the city

Posted on: May 24, 2019 5:21 PM
Archbishop Paul Kwong launches a year-long celebration of the 170th anniversary of St John's Cathedral in Hong Kong during a service last December.
Photo Credit: All photos: Maggie Chan / St John's Cathedral
Related Categories: Abp Curry, Abp Kwong, Anniversary, History, Hong Kong

[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] Hong Kong’s St John’s Cathedral is holding a year of celebration to mark its birth 170 years ago in 1849. Its chequered history includes surviving the shelling and subsequent Japanese occupation during the Second World War and going on to celebrate its centenary in 1949 as the People’s Republic of China was born. This was followed by an influx of political refugees from China, who further swelled the city’s population, as it began developing into a major industrial and commercial centre.

St John’s Cathedral charts its foundations back to 1843 when a British Royal Navy chaplain, Vincent Stanton, stepped ashore on the small island and began leading worship. A few years later in 1847, after the Treaty of Nanking secured Hong Kong for the British, the Governor, Sir John Davis, laid the cathedral’s foundation stone. Two years later the first service was held on 11 March 1849.

The Dean of St John’s, Matthias Der, said: “We should be very proud that St John’s Cathedral was there at the very beginning. What is more important is, that after 170 years we remain strong and faithful, for the Church and for the city of Hong Kong.”

The Cathedral is marking the anniversary with a variety of services and events under the theme of “Faith in the City”. The Dean said: “I am personally very excited about these celebrations. On the one hand they will strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ as his disciples and on the other hand they will empower us to carry out this faith into our society. From the earliest days St John’s has always seen itself as a church that lives for others.”

The celebration events are all designed both to share the Christian faith with the general public in Hong Kong and to build up a harmonious and prosperous city. In March the cathedral hosted a public lecture series on faith led by theologian NT Wright. This was followed by a carnival event for all ages with prayers for the city and performances by St John’s Cathedral Choir and the Cathedral’s Children’s Choir. The choirs sang a new 170th anniversary hymn composed by cathedral organist Peter Yue.

In June the cathedral will invite members and friends for a “Blessing Hong Kong” service to pray for the Church and all the people of Hong Kong, and to pray that the city will be blessed with peace, justice and prosperity.

The Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, is to be the preacher at the final celebration in November when the cathedral will hold a Thanksgiving Service and Gala Dinner. The Archbishop and Primate of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, Dr Paul Kwong, will preside at the service.

“Today the Hong Kong Sheng Hui (in literal translation Hong Kong Catholic Church) carries out God’s work through 50 parishes / mission churches, more than 130 schools and 400 social services agencies,” the Dean said. “Every day thousands of Hong Kongers are engaged with the Church experiencing the love of God through our presence.”

The cathedral’s rich history includes the day in 1941 when more than 100 people attended matins while shells fell around the city. That same afternoon Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese. Most of the ex-patriot congregation were interned, but worship continued for Chinese brave enough to gather for worship, with services taken by Chinese clergy from local parishes. Eventually the Japanese commandeered the cathedral as a social club and Christian imagery, including windows and memorial tablets were removed. In 1956 a new East window was completed in dedication to those who had suffered and died during the Japanese occupation.

Writing to the congregation this year, the Dean said, “Our faith is not only manifested in the past, but how we experience God’s presence in our lives now. Our faith is something which compels us to make a difference in the world today. . . Let’s learn from pioneers like Vincent Stanton, who had the vision and courage to boldly witness Jesus and extend God’s kingdom.”

Details of the celebrations are available on St John’s Cathedral website:

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