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1802: Emmanuel, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong
Emmanuel, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong
Mystery Worshipper: Pewgin.
The church: Emmanuel, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong.
Denomination: Hong Kong Anglican Episcopal Church, Diocese of Hong Kong Island.
The building: They worship at the George C. Tso Memorial Chapel, a dazzling white French colonial building atop a hillock overlooking the university buildings and the sea. The chapel was originally part of a sanatorium built by the Missions Etrangères de Paris in the mid 1870s. The sanatorium operated until 1974, at which time it was sold to the University of Hong Hong and fell into neglect. The chapel was restored between 2003-2006, with a major effort undertaken to round up the original altar, reredos, doors, windows, statuary and other appointments from various storage spots – an effort which is still in progress. The Jackie Chan Foundation donated some of the funds for the restoration, and there is a Jackie Chan studio onsite (although no kung fu was in evidence the day I visited). The chapel is small – much smaller inside than you might expect from the outside and pictures on the church webpage! It is narrow but lofty and has a lovely acoustic. There is an apse at the east and an organ gallery at the west. The glass and richly painted floor tiles give the neo-Gothic building a very Gallic atmosphere.
The church: This is one of only a handful of English-speaking churches on Hong Kong Island. They conduct a Sunday school and midweek fellowship group. They also celebrate a sung eucharist each Sunday, subject to cancellation whenever the threat of a "black rainstorm" looms (the very heavy rains, with flooding and landslides, that plague Hong Kong in late spring and summer). The chapel is also used by the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, whose studios and classrooms occupy the bulk of the old sanatorium.
The neighbourhood: Pok Fu Lam is a green and hilly residential district favoured by expatriates, many of whom work at the university. It was the site of Hong Hong's first reservoir as well as a dairy farm that was a major supplier of milk and beef to the former colony. The old milking sheds can still be seen on the district's grassy slopes. Pok Fu Lam is also the site of Queen Mary Hospital, one of Hong Kong's major medical centres.
The cast: Guest preacher and celebrant was the Revd Jenny Nam, principal of St Stephen's Girls' College.
The date & time: Sunday, 23 August 2009, 10.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Mostly full, although the building is not huge. The congregation were a mix of western and Chinese – mainly western with an apparently broad range of nationalities (English, Dutch, American).

Did anyone welcome you personally?
One of a team of three welcomers handed out the service sheet and hymn book with a warm "hello." I was asked twice during the peace whether I was new and where I was from. All very hospitable indeed.

Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pews were unpadded but comfortable enough. I had a nave seat with a clear view of the proceedings. The two small side aisles had discreet flat screen TVs showing the chancel. This seemed perhaps a bit overdone in such a small building, but at least everyone could see what was going on.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Initially, a perfectly reverential quiet with some gentle chatter. Nearer the start, a few children started running and clattering about, which did disrupt the mood a little, but people seemed relaxed about this.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everybody. Thank you for waiting. Let's sing our first hymn, number 509." (I was unaware that we had been waiting at all.)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We sang from Church Hymnary, Fourth Edition, and I think I saw a few New Revised Standard Version Bibles around the chapel. There was also a well-thumbed photocopied booklet of the order of service.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ above us in the gallery, presumably electronic as there were no visible pipes. I am guessing the organist, a stand-in over the summer holiday, was sight-reading the hymns, as they were slightly less steady than his superb rendering of the recessional, a toccata by the French contemporary of Claude Debussy, Leon Boëllmann.

Did anything distract you?
The wireless microphone used during the sermon created an awful booming effect that made the preacher’s voice quite difficult to hear. The children were generally beautifully behaved, but there was a fair din in the corridor outside that made hearing the preacher even harder. The service sheet explained that Sunday school was shut for summer, so this is probably not usually an issue.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A good solid middle-of-the-road Anglican service, but with the odd dash of low ("Be Still for the Presence of the Lord" and "What a Friend we have in Jesus" were among the otherwise stalwart hymns). Liturgy was Common Worship at its most inclusive, non-threatening and short. In place of the creed we had the "We believe and trust in him" affirmations, which always seem a bit perfunctory to me.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Revd Jenny Nam's style was clearly that of a school headmistress. She exchanged some light-hearted banter with the congregation, leavened with dense dollops of theology every couple of minutes or so. "Audience participation" is not really to my taste, but it was appropriate for a family service.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
What's for breakfast: pancakes, dog meat, or the body and blood of Christ? Jesus' disciples were won over when Jesus fed 5,000 people with only a few loaves and fishes. But then Jesus told them to eat his body and drink his blood, and some of them were repelled. He might as well have been telling us to eat dog meat (which, the preacher confessed, she herself had once tried – I suspect she lost a listener or two there). Those who elected to stay with Jesus would face persecution and death. With the invitation to eucharist, Jesus challenges us to follow him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The building stole the show a bit: the blue and red light from the windows falling on the cool clay tiles was a delight. The organ voluntary was also a very pleasant surprise.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The setting of the Gloria was dreadful – it didn’t appear to scan at all and everyone seemed to be having issues with it. Even after three or four repetitions I had no clue how it went.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No problem whatsoever – I was very quickly picked up by a couple of regulars and had a very friendly chat over coffee and cake.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
On the downside. the coffee itself was self-service and very tricky to get hold of without making a dreadful mess. The milk cartons were those horrid little tetra-paks with straws which create a siphon and spray everywhere when handled by idiots (your Mystery Worshipper, in this case). Massively on the upside were the homemade biscuits and chocolate cakes, which were absolutely delicious and had obviously been lovingly prepared. Long after leaving, I realised I had cake smeared all over my face.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – The choice of English-speaking Anglo-Episcopalian churches on Hong Kong Island is surprisingly limited, but I'd go back to Emmanuel even if I had hundreds of churches to choose from. A gorgeous building, friendly types and good cake.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes – very much. The peace took a full four minutes, as seemingly everyone milled around shaking hands or occasionally respectfully embracing. (This complies with Pewgin’s Law: the length of the peace is inversely proportional to the number of congregants.) The welcome was warm without being excessive. All perfectly Anglican.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I should say the wonderful welcome, but I keep remembering the beautiful light in the chapel.
 
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