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President’s Message

Dr. Joshua W T Cho

Mini-Conference and “Waiting Room”: Practical Theology on the Pilgrimage

Mini-Conference: the Origin

Since the end of 2023, the Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary (HKBTS) has organized a number of mini-conferences in the grand conference hall on the third floor of the new academic building. The initial idea was to gather, after the pandemic, a group of spiritual friends and co-workers, who are also alumni, fellow pastors, or church leaders with a common faith, to share thoughts, reflect, and pray together over tea. This setup required minimal preparation and no advance arrangement for speakers and attendees. It was as casual as meeting up with friends, where things easily fall into place.

I had considered chatting over tea at a tea house but considering the noisy environment and our desire to simplify arrangements, it seemed better to meet on the Sai O campus. We could start with a simple meal at our canteen to welcome friends/alumni/fellow workers from all over, allowing everyone to get to know each other at the dining table, and then move to the grand conference hall on the third floor of the new academic building to share the struggles and joys of ministry, as well as our views on various topics like societal changes.

Mini-Conference: Flexible and Diverse

The speakers at these mini-conferences include guests from outside the seminary as well as our faculty members. I remember last November, when our alumnus Rev. King-tak Ip, Ph.D. (University of Manchester), returned to Hong Kong. Over tea, I learned he was writing a book about suicide, and invited him to share his research findings with the younger brothers and sisters at HKBTS before he left. In a very short time, we enlisted a number of alumni to participate, which created our first mini-conference on December 4 last year.

The second mini-conference featured Rev. Teck-peng Lim, Ph.D. (University of London), Academic Dean of Trinity Theological College in Singapore. Rev. Lim and I are close friends. He left Singapore for Hong Kong on December 11 last year, just for a personal visit to me, but without any reservation, I grabbed the chance to invite him to speak at our mini-conference. On that very day, he came straight from Hong Kong International Airport to HKBTS. As a scholar in Christian education, Rev. Lim first shared his experiences in promoting Christian cultural and educational initiatives in Singapore and then discussed the relationship between Christian education and culture, missions, teaching methods, theology, the roles of seminaries and churches, etc.

The third mini-conference featured Mr. Paul Chan, Research Manager of the Hong Kong Campus Crusade for Christ (HKCCC). I met with Mr. Patrick Chan, General Secretary of HKCCC, on September 19 last year and learned about the organization’s recent developments, leading to an invitation for his colleague, Mr. Paul Chan, to speak at our morning chapel service. Integrating his research findings with his pastoral experience, Mr. Chan gave the faculty and students of HKBTS a number of new thoughts and insights. During an exchange of ideas with him after the service, I invited him to prepare a mini-conference for our alumni. This eventually took place on January 29 of this year, with Mr. Chan discussing “Emerging Adulthood.” He talked about the characteristics of “emerging adults” and offered concrete suggestions on how churches can pastor this community.

Mr. Sanson Lau has served as the Director of the Edna Wong Christian Worship and Arts Education Centre at our seminary for many years, tirelessly nurturing HKBTS’s sacred music until his retirement. On this occasion of transition, I invited him to speak at the fourth mini-conference. On March 4, Mr. Lau discussed “Traditional vs. Modern: A False Proposition for Church Singing,” attracting musicians from various Christian generations in Hong Kong. From the perspective of cultural manipulation, Mr. Lau explored how church singing can be led astray by others’ discourses and suggested using a post-Dadaist approach to uncover an interdisciplinary approach in hymnology, aiming to revitalize church singing.

The number of participants in each mini-conference doesn’t need to be large. An audience of just ten to twenty people allows for closer interaction and freer expression. The composition of participants varies with each session. Initially, the participants were mainly alumni, but based on the topics of each mini-conference, we have expanded the audience to cover brothers and sisters in other specific ministries, hoping that participants will include different church groupings in the future.

Mini-Conferences and Waiting Room

The mini-conferences are a “waiting room” constructed by HKBTS. It could also be described as an extension of HKBTS’s practical theology. Theologian Andrew Root discusses the concept of a “waiting room” in contemporary church ministry as a cross-generational platform for sharing life stories, where people of different ages, experiences, and backgrounds come together and share their insights and stories. Some share personal stories, and others reflect on stories about the Christian faith. Through the lens of the Bible, everyone examines the stories heard, discerning what is true in their lives, and collectively witnessing God’s saving grace, listening for His still voice, and awaiting His guidance.

We aim to build the mini-conferences as such a cross-generational and inter-church “waiting room,” enabling alumni of different ages, pastoral and deacon members of different congregations, and Christian friends of different professions to exchange thoughts and experiences, share life stories openly, pray for one another, and together experience and practice gospel truths, facing contemporary challenges together.

Exploring, Practicing, and Doing Theology

In fact, when we engage in these activities in the “waiting room,” we are “doing theology.” The English word “theology,” derived from the Greek theologia, combines theos (“god”) and logos (“word”), literally meaning “God talk” or “talking about God.” Praying, evangelizing, preaching, or thinking, writing, and discussing God and His matters are all expressions of God talk and are all part of “doing theology.”

Moreover, the theology we do in this “waiting room” of mini-conferences is a theology that begins and ends with practice—a practical theology. Practical theology is not only the practical application of biblical and theological beliefs but it also involves discerning God’s actions in the world, attending to the existence and activities of churches, and focusing on the practices of Christians. In other words, practical theology shifts from interpreting sacred texts to guiding “the faithful walk.” Practical theology is about “truly doing theology,” elucidating the practice of Christian faith to address and solve concrete problems in churches and believers’ lives. “Practical theology” refers to “practicing theology,” climaxing in humans’ witnessing God’s work in the present.

Journeying Together on the Pilgrimage

The “waiting room” of mini-conferences is also where we encourage and empower one another. It not only allows us to meet and gather joyfully but also enables us to face current challenges together. We can draw inspiration from the three friends in chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel, who stood together before King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. They were not alone but supported one another, refusing to fall down and worship the golden image set up by the king, resulting in the three of them being thrown into a blazing furnace together. However, the king saw four people in the furnace, the fourth being God Himself, a friend and source of courage for the three.

When we face difficulties, large or small, God is our friend and our source of courage. We can trust that God will save us from all evils, for He will be with us. Furthermore, God gives us spiritual friends to accompany us on the pilgrimage, helping us hold fast to our direction of life and encouraging us to respond wholeheartedly to God.

Therefore, despite the tumultuous changes of the times, whether abrupt or gradual, we can hold onto a strong hope, resisting being dominated by fate, not to be defeated by it, but steadfastly standing firm in the direction of our life. We are not merely in a “scene” but also making decisions within it. We see whatever we come across not just as a “scene” but as a part of narratives in service of a central aim. We have to reframe our views on the current situation from God’s perspective, according to His will, because we believe in God, our Redeemer. Besides Him, there is no other god. Our hearts are free of idols, filled only with God, who is our source of courage.

We know the destination of our pilgrimage, but to reach there, we must indwell the divine story revealed by the Bible, led by God and the Word, with the support of companions, holding fast to the end, marching forward together.

May 2024