Sunday, November 29th
Sunday was our first full day together in China, and we started it off by attending worship services at two churches in Shanghai: Grace Church and Shanghai Community Church. We were all in various states of jetlag and disorientation, but the act of gathering for worship and fellowship helped ground us in the city and alongside one another.
I was part of the group attending Shanghai Community Church. We were welcomed in to a cosy, treed courtyard filled by a lovely old building. We were directed up the stairs to the balcony, where we had a view of the whole space. It was beautiful: High, arching roof, dark wood and bright stained glass windows. Every pew below and beside us was filling up. Our hosts offered us bulletins in english, bilingual hymnals and headsets, so we could hear a simultaneous translation of the whole service!
When you’re surrounded by a language you do not know, your options are attempting to understand, or, understanding. Looking down our row, most of us were juggling our hymnals and the bulletin, while pressing our headsets to our ears and looking up and down to match the actions of the leaders with what we were hearing. Our translator was very talented and the format of the service was fairly familiar, so this worked well. But it was also nice to experience what was going on as it is. As Justin noted, ‘it was interesting to feel totally lost in the language barrier and yet hear the congregation respond with Amen at various times in the prayers. Even though you couldn’t hear the content of the prayers, you felt a meaning that went beyond words’. Sometimes understanding can be that simple!
As we sang or prayed, it was clear that the English words didn’t match up exactly with the cadence all around us, but we felt welcomed to add our voices all the same. And as the service ended and we left, many friendly people paused to share a smile or a greeting with us. In one of what may become many ‘small world’ moments, Ray Whitehead discovered he had taught one of the ministers, Reverend Zhao Xin in Nanjing a few years ago. Their reunion was a nice reminder of what we are doing here together; building on our shared history and celebrating that which binds us, despite the National borders in between.