A Missionary from the East Franco Kwan
Franco Kwan, Rector of True Sunshine Church, was born in Mainland China, and raised up in Hong Kong. He went to Taiwan for college, received training in Chung-Chi Theological Division of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and then ordained in Taiwan. He earned a Master of Social Work from Hunter College, the City University of New York, and a Doctor of Ministry from New York Theological Seminary. He is married to Mei and a father of three children.
Franco served four years in Taiwan as the Chaplain of St. John's and St. Mary's Technology Institute. At the same time, he lectured at the same institute, served as the director of the student guidance center, as well as vicars of two churches. He had to work 14-hours a day, and most of the time, it was seven days a week. People thought he received five salaries for all those positions. However, received only one salary. You may say how could that be? It is because of the lack of qualified candidates in the Diocese of Taiwan at the time. On one hand, he was newly ordained and tried to serve God as much as he could. On the other hand, he was young and energetic.
One day, late in 1983 he received a call from Bishop P.Y. Cheung, the late Bishop of Taiwan. He asked Franco to go to the diocesan office the next morning to meet with him. The next morning he went to the bishop's office and Bishop Cheung handed him an envelope. Before he could sit down, the bishop said, "Franco, I want you to go to New York before Christmas. This is an airplane ticket and some documents.” Franco was shocked; he couldn’t say a word for more than five minutes, after he recovered from the shock, he said, “Bishop, can I refuse to go? I don't even know where New York is. The only thing I know about New York is that it is a big city in the United States.” Bishop Cheung answered, “No, I have promised the Bishop of New York already. If you don't go, I would have to go. The reason I am sending you is because you came from Hong Kong and can speak Cantonese. You and I are the only two people who speak that dialect in this diocese.” “Franco" the Bishop continued, “besides you are very good at developing new congregations and reviving down-hilling ones. I remember that when you were a student in the seminary, you helped develop a mission in the next town. That mission is now a parish partly because of your excellent work. The new mission you started last year is also doing very well. I found that you are blessed in this area. Therefore, I want you to go to New York to revive a mission there and take care of our people. There are many Chinese people in New York. They are just like sheep without a shepherd. Christmas is coming very soon, pack your stuff and go there to help them celebrate Christmas. I have confidence in you. You can help and revive the church in Chinatown, New York. If you don't like it there, you can always come back after six months. There is a round trip ticket in the envelope.”
Since then, Franco has been serving the Church in the United States. He spent less then four years in Chinatown. During that time, he really revived the Chinese congregation there. He worked just as hard as he did in Taiwan, if not harder. The average attendance from about fifteen people each Sunday had increased to over seventy. The assessment from the diocese within those four years jumped eleven times. With the help of the congregation, a small mission became a parish. At that time, his mission to revive that congregation had been fulfilled. He handed the parish back to the former priest who stepped aside while Franco was reviving the church. Franco wanted to go back to Taiwan because he felt his mission was done. At the same time, the neighboring diocese, the Diocese of Long Island was looking for someone for a long time to develop a new Chinese congregation to meet the needs of the increasing Chinese new immigrants in the Diocese.
Therefore, Franco was called to organize a Chinese congregation in a historical church, St. George's. It was founded in 1702 and chartered by King George III in 1761. St. George’s is located in the heart of downtown Flushing, Queens, New York. He was called to be the Vicar for Chinese ministry, under the direction of the Suffragan Bishop and an Archdeacon from the Diocese. He was supported by the national church and the rector of St. George's, but not the vestry. It was because at that time, the vestry of St. George's didn’t want any ethnic ministries, especially Asians. They worried that the Asians would take over the church, the same way they were dominating the town of Flushing. Over fifty percent of the total population was Asian in that area. They forgot that the church did not belong to anyone but to everyone. So the contract Franco signed only had the signatures of the Suffragan Bishop, the Archdeacon from the Diocese, and the rector of St. George's. There were two empty spaces left by the wardens. (According to the Canon Law: the rector of the parish has the right developing any program and using the facilities.)
Franco had a very hard time in the very beginning. He did not worry about how to recruit more people but to deal with the people of the parish that were already there. He had his first service at St. George’s on January 1, 1988 with a few people using the chapel. The Chinese congregation was not allowed to use the kitchen. It was because the E.C.W. believed that the Chinese are very sloppy and that their food smells. Father Kwan asked the President of the E.C.W, Mrs. Nelson, “Do you have any Chinese friends?” She answered, “No.” Franco asked again, “Have you ever been in a Chinese home?” She answered, “No.” “Have you ever had a Chinese meal?” “No,” she replied. “Then how do you know the Chinese are sloppy and that their food smells?” Father Kwan asked. She answered, “Because people say so.” Father Kwan then replied, “Mrs. Nelson, please let us try it for a month, if you are not satisfy at the end, the Chinese will not use the kitchen again.” Mrs. Nelson agreed hesitantly.
A month later, Father Kwan went to the kitchen to see Mrs. Nelson. “Mrs. Nelson,” Father Kwan asked, “What do you think? How many points do you give the Chinese Congregation?” She answer, “well, 80.” “Only 80? I believe it should be more like 90 or even higher,” said Father Kwan. “Well you people really did a good job to keep the sink and the stove top clean. But you must tell your congregation not to mix the forks with the spoons. They belong in different drawers.”
From that day on, the English-speaking congregation began to accept the Chinese congregation. Of course, there were still conflicts from time to time. Father Kwan spent a lot of time to make friends with the English-speaking congregation and to build up the trust among everyone. He invited the English-speaking congregation to join the Chinese-speaking members in different cultural celebrations. He also encouraged the Chinese-speaking congregation to help in the church bazaars, penny socials, thanksgiving dinners, rummage sale, etc. Even though language was a problem, the friendship and love overcame every thing. The average age of the English-speaking congregation was sixty and up while the Chinese-speaking members were much younger. The Chinese-speaking members became the engine of the out reach programs. After almost two years, the two congregations got along very well. Since the Chinese-speaking members had joined the church, St. George's was “alive” again. The English-speaking congregation then knew that they needed new blood to help them to continue their three hundred year old mission in the community and to pass on the traditions. During joint services, more people would attend. Most of the time, the Chinese members would provide a thirty to forty course potluck feasts. Some westerners never had chicken feet or duck tongues in their whole lives but they tried them during the Chinese potluck dinners.
After three years of developing the Chinese ministry in St. George's, the Rector, Father Jacobsen and Father Kwan found that a large group of Hispanic resided near by. Even though both Father Jacobsen and Father Kwan did not speak any Spanish, they felt that they had to start a Spanish-speaking congregation to meet their needs. Of course, both the English-speaking and the Chinese-speaking congregations feared the new “invaders,” the Hispanics. The whole church had to go through the old process again. But this time, it was much easier due to previous experience. A part time Spanish-speaking priest was called later on.
Now there are three congregations under one roof, one management, one vestry, and one treasury. This was a great task for the three congregations to learn how to “Love” each other. This once a down-hilling historical church was vibrant again.
In 1993, Father Jacobsen retired. The two wardens went to the bishop (this bishop was not the bishop who was involved in the development of the Chinese ministry, he was retired at that time) with the archdeacon to make the arrangement of calling an interim. One of the wardens said, AI would like to have Father Kwan to be the interim.” The Archdeacon cut in and said, “If you want Father Kwan to be the interim, then later on he will not be eligible to be a candidate for the rectorship.” The warden said, “Then, I would rather give him the chance to run for rectorship.” After a long discussion, the four of them agreed to have the Archdeacon, who just retired from a parish to be the interim and give Father Kwan a chance to run for the rector position later on.
Father Kwan worked with the Archdeacon very well in St. George's. St. George's will celebrate her 300th anniversary in the year 2002. A big plan was lunched. Beside a huge three hundred year-old celebration, St. George's has a $1.5 million restoration project. Father Kwan was leading the vestry to work on raising funds to do the restoration and plans to restore the church before the anniversary. Everyone in the parish was enthusiastic and was looking forward to this great event. Meanwhile, a search committee was formed and a parish profile was done. Among the requirements in the profile, there were three major requirements that the candidates must meet. First, they had to be bilingual (English & Chinese or English & Spanish), if trilingual even better. Second, they must have metropolitan pastoral experience. Third, they must have fund raising experience.
Two years later, the interim’s term was up. One day, the archdeacon asked Father Kwan to prepare a resume and said, “Franco, I am going to submit your name to the Bishop to become a candidate to run for the rectorship as we agreed two years ago.” Therefore, Father Kwan gave the archdeacon his resume a few days later. Two weeks after the submission of Father Kwan's name, the archdeacon came back to the parish with frustration. He told Father Kwan, “Franco, I couldn’t understand why the bishop took your name out of the list. I believed you are one of the best candidates for this position. He didn’t give any good reasons why he doesn’t want your name on the list.” Father Kwan went to see the Bishop and tried to find out what was the problem. He didn’t get any reasonable answer. Later, the Bishop, Father Kwan and the Wardens had a couple meetings and tried to work things out. Unfortunately, it failed. Meanwhile, the search committee interviewed all the candidates on the list that the bishop gave to them. Among the six candidates, only one spoke English and Spanish, no one spoke English and Chinese, but someone did speak English and Germen, which was not needed in St. George’s. Most of them had no parish experience; they were mostly psychiatrists or teachers. The one who spoke Spanish later got a job somewhere else before the search committee finished the first round interview. The vestry couldn’t find a suitable rector. Therefore, they asked for another list. This time, the Bishop gave the vestry a list with a person with a Chinese name, but was born and raised in South America and spoke not a word of Chinese. The other candidates were petty much the same. After another half-a-year, the vestry couldn’t wait any longer and unanimously elected Father Kwan as the first non-white rector of that historical church. More than ninety-five percent of the three congregations supported the vestry when they elected Father Kwan. The deanery clergy fully supported the election of Father Kwan as the rector, as well as the community organizations, and the politicians. Father Kwan was an excellent candidate with great qualifications. In his 15 years of ministry in New York, Father Kwan got a master in Social Work and a Doctor of Ministry. He served two terms in Diocesan Council, two terms in the Department of Mission, Chaired the Asiamerica Ministry Committee, a long term member of the Racial Justice Commission, and many committees and commission in the Diocese. He was not only active in the church and the diocese as well as the national level, but also in the community. He was one of the advisors to the governor of New York State and the mayors of New York City. He was highly recognized by the community. Unfortunately, the bishop did not recognize the election and would not give a good reason for doing so. The Bishop and the vestry had a different viewpoint on the interpretation of the canon law. Father Kwan was stuck in between for two years. Meanwhile, the congregation was still doing very well under the leadership of the vestry and Father Kwan.
Because the problem could not be solved, the bishop put on a lot of pressure on Father Kwan and the vestry. Some people suggested that St. George’s should leave the diocese and be independent. Some people from the parish left the church and some lost their faith due to the pressure was so great to take. At that time Father Kwan decided to resign to prevent a split and stop a no one win situation.
Father Kwan and his family were the major victims. They worked day and night for the church. Father Kwan was always joking, “Buy one get four free.” The Kwans' only got one salary but five of them committed themselves to the church. They did nothing wrong and violated no Canon Law. The church was on a right track and doing very well. He was supported locally as well as nationally, inside and outside the church too. He did not mind to work long hours for advancing the Kingdom of God but he really felt that the bureaucracy and the politics of the church were horrible. Of course, the congregations of St. George’s church had it hard too. That could take away and kill someone’s enthusiastic faith and turn a vibrant church into a depress model. Some people from the church as well as from the community suggested Father Kwan and the family should leave the Church and abandon the faith. It was because they didn’t see where God and justice were. The strong faith of Father Kwan not only sustained himself but also his family and the people around him. Finally, he made a decision to leave the diocese. Before he did, he spent a lot of time to teach his congregations how to devote themselves further to God, the Church and to accept the reality and move on.
In this case, we should forget about who was right and who was wrong. The most important thing was the ministry. Because of the difference between the vestry and the diocese, a vibrant congregation had to suffer and turned into a down-hilling mode. If there were a split, the church would be worse in witnessing God. Father Kwan could stay on because he got the support from the vestry, congregation, community, and the politicians, but he was in a great dilemma. If he resigns from the position, the congregation would feel very disappointed and some of them would lose their faith. On the other hand, if he did not resign, the bishop will feel that Father Kwan disobeyed and was against him.
He planned to take some rest to search for God’s will and to re-examine his ministry after he left St. George’s. Going back to school was an idea. He did not get much time to ponder it because the search committee of True Sunshine called Father Kwan day and night. They learned that Father Kwan was available. Finally, Father Kwan couldn’t resist the warm welcome from the congregation as well as Bishop Swing and Father Canon Hansen. Father Kwan packed his bags continuing his journey in ministry and came to San Francisco in March of 1999.
Even though True Sunshine is a small parish, she has a group of faithful people who is willing to doing anything to enhance the kingdom of God. In less then a year, one can feel that the atmosphere has changed from a year ago. Right now there is not enough space for all the activities in the church. Recently, in the annual parish meeting, the congregation decided to do more exploration on building two floors on top of the parish hall and a playground on the roof. Hopefully, it will be done soon.
Besides the work in Chinatown, there is a large concentration of Chinese population who need help not only spiritually but also physically in the Bay Area. Some sister churches have been asking for help to minister the Chinese new comers. Many of the members of True Sunshine were once new immigrants. How could they help them? Father Kwan thought that the only way to help them was to equip his parishioners. One of their very important programs in True Sunshine is “the discipleship class,” a lay training program to train parishioners to do out-reach programs. In the near future, some parishioners of True Sunshine will be equipped to go out for developing new works.
Last Modified: 06/03/2003