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Tea House brings together Chinese-heritage clergy

18 August 2021

WONSEOK KIM

The Teahouse Group in St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on Monday

The Teahouse Group in St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on Monday

WHEN the Revd Mark Nam began his discernment process, he found himself “scrabbling around”, longing speak to someone who understood what it was like to be Chinese and an ethnic minority in the UK. “I felt I had to conform, and fit in, and that didn’t feel right,” he recalled on Tuesday.

On Monday, he received communion for the first time from a priest who shared this background. “I realised that for 38 years I had never seen a vicar in the C of E who looked like me,” he said. “It was incredibly special.”

The eucharist at Southwark Cathedral, at which the precentor, Canon Andrew Zihni, presided, was the start of a day-long gathering in London of the Tea House, a national network of C of E clergy of Chinese heritage formed by Mr Nam. It began as a WhatsApp group, after Mr Nam, Assistant Curate of St Anne’s, Oldland, and All Saints’, Longwell Green, in south-east Bristol, attempted to trace potential members through Crockford. It is now 21 people-strong, 17 of whom met in London this week.

Mr Nam, who was ordained priest this year and is the diocese of Bristol’s Minority Ethnic Vocations Champion, said that the aim was “to support and empower clergy with Chinese-heritage in the Church of England by promoting their presence in all structures of the Church, creating connections and providing information and resources.” While the group is currently for ordinands and clergy, he hopes that it will be extended to lay members, too.

After the service on Tuesday, the group walked through China Town in their clerical collars.

“I noticed many people looking at us,” Mr Nam said. “For them, they haven’t seen something like this. Having that engagement with the public and with the community we represent was really special and felt like a really significant moment.”

The group also visited China Exchange, an organisation that encourages inter-cultural dialogue and engagement, where they met Abs Haque of New Scotland Yard’s strategic crime-prevention, inclusion and engagement programme, and Linda Chung, Pek-San Tan, and David Tse of the Covid-19 Anti-Racism Group.

The day ended with evensong at St Martin-in-the-Fields, where services in Cantonese and Mandarin have been held for many years.

Among the themes that had emerged from conversations were experiences of “subtle forms of racism”, Mr Nam said. “Racism is actually a very complex issue, and up until this point the particular concerns and nuances of our community haven’t really been recognised or understood. For example, it’s felt that East Asians don’t really face much racism, as they do well in education. Yet if that’s true, why are we not seeing that reflected in those in leadership positions?”

Another theme was the potential for cultural misunderstandings: “Some of us come from a background where it’s a virtue not to be so outspoken, but with the prevalent culture in the Church, that means that perhaps you get overlooked.” This feeling of being “invisible” was an underlying thread, he said, “which is sad, as we believe we have a really positive contribution to make to the life of the Church.”

The Tea House was a diverse group. Currently, he is the only member who is British-born Chinese. Many people had arrived in Britain from China and Hong Kong since the Second World War, he noted. “It’s not like the United States, where they have five or six generations. But we are at that point where there will be a lot of British-Chinese.”

He noted the growing global influence of China, and the expected arrival of thousands of Hong Kong residents to whom the Government has offered special visas allowing them to live and work in the UK (News, 19 February). There was a “beautiful unity” within the diversity of the group, he said. “One of the things we bring to church is a ministry of reconciliation.

“I feel like we’ve announced our presence,” he said. “It’s not an arrival — we have been here a long time — but because the clergy are so few, and so spread out, we were unaware of each other’s existence. . . The Church now knows where to go when it is looking for the views and concerns of communities we represent.”

Amy Tan, who will begin ordination training at Wycliffe Hall in October, said of the gathering: “I feel so much more connected to this country and this institution knowing that I have new brothers and sisters who know and understand where I come from and all the nuances that come along with it. What an important sense of belonging!”

Church House estimates that people of Chinese heritage make up 0.2 per cent of stipendiary clergy in the Church of England.

This week, the Dean of Manchester, the Very Revd Rogers Govender, who chairs the Archbishops’ Council’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, welcomed the launch of the Tea House: “We thank God for the hope that these clergy represent for the Church of England, in our efforts to truly welcome and value the great gifts we are brought by those from minority ethnic heritage, both in our clergy and congregations and in our wider community.”

theteahouse.org

Listen to an interview with the Revd Mark Nam on the Church Times Podcast

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