Thursday, December 3rd
by Dan Hayward
UCC General Secretary Nora Sanders said today that the day and a half together at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary is, in many ways, the centerpiece of our time in China. The first day of The United Church of Canada-China Christian Council/Three Self Patriotic Movement consultation saw a wide-ranging exchange of views among Canadian and Chinese faculty, students, ministry personnel and lay people on topics from the history of church union to community ministries and social services.
It is impossible to capture in a blog post the richness and variety of the information presented and the questions asked and answered. Here are only a few highlights of the day – and any such selection will be arbitrary.Seminary students and faculty listened intently as Aboriginal elder Ray Jones explained how, when The United Church of Canada was inaugurated in 1925, none of the 62 Aboriginal Methodist congregations were invited to be present at the creation of their new denomination.
Yan Xiyu of the Nanjing Theological Seminary, presenting on Chinese church history, noted that the Protestant church in China dates from 1807, when Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society arrived in southern China. This means that The United Church of Canada and the Chinese Protestant church are about the same age, as Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries founded the UCC’s earliest congregations in Canada in the late eighteenth century. This provides a common basis for the two churches that may not have been previously apparent.
The presentation made by Chen Qirui, faculty of the East China Seminary in Shanghai on church and society in China included the statistic that at the end of 2011, 71 percent of the members of the church in Shanghai were women. If women are the majority of Chinese Christians, it is a great loss to the church if the value of women’s contributions is not recognized.
Several conversations among Chinese and Canadian participants at the end of the afternoon examined the Chinese concept of Zhong Guo Hua – seeking a Chinese Christianity – which had been explored in Chen Yongtao’s presentation on Gospel and culture. Canadians wondered if this idea can inform the church outside China. Chen said that Zhong Guo Hua could be something new for ecumenical partners. More to think about!
The consultation continues tomorrow. As Nora Sanders said in her introductory remarks, in the United Church we like to talk about Christianity as a journey. As we are shaped by our life experiences, we are shaped by our traveling companions on that journey. We will continue to be shaped tomorrow and in the days to come, opening to new insights and possibilities.