Sunday, December 6th,
by Nora Sanders
As we approached the church on the morning of Sunday, December 6, we saw a long line of people waiting to get in. I took a picture, because it wasn’t something I had seen before. The people were lined up for the 10 o’clock service, the third service of the day at this busy church, because they had to wait until the second service was out of the sanctuary.
As you might guess, I’m not back in Canada yet. I attended Haidian Christian church in Beijing this morning, the second Sunday of Advent, along with The United Church of Canada China delegation. We were ushered into the front rows and given Bibles and hymn books in Chinese and English so that we could follow along. At the front of the church, all around the pulpit, there were large piles of foodstuffs, bags of rice and baskets of apples, and other things that we learned represented the congregation’s Thanksgiving offerings to share with seniors’ homes. The church was so full that some people had to stand along the walls throughout the service. We shared scripture, song, prayer, and communion with the congregation and were able to follow along through simultaneous translation equipment.
The senior pastor (of 17) is Rev. Wu Weiqing, who feels a close connection with the United Church, having studied in both Toronto and Winnipeg in the 1990s. He wasn’t at the service we attended in the morning, (I think he was at one of the other 58 preaching points his congregation supports), but we got to meet him in the early evening, when we went back to the church for their annual Christmas tree lighting event. It really was an event, with a big crowd of people singing and praising God outside of the church next to a giant “tree” made out of strands of white lights. It was a great celebration, and from there we went with Rev. Wu and two other pastors from his church to a restaurant for dinner.
By this point in the week all but one or two in our group are very comfortable with chopsticks, and we have been impressed by the wonderful variety of “Chinese food” we have had. It will make the Canadian version of “Chinese food” underwhelming when we get home.
The experiences of the Chinese church, and of China itself, have been as varied as the food we have enjoyed, and we have only scratched the surface of this fascinating and complex place. At the centre of it all has been the relationships with partners in the China Christian Council and the Three Self Patriotic Movement. The church I described above is their largest congregation, but in general, Christianity in China is growing. Although Christians represent a very small percentage of the population, their numbers (about 30 million) seem huge to us. The Nanjing Union Theological School, where we spent a couple of days this week, is one of 23 seminaries in China, and is working hard to prepare seminarians to fill the many vacancies in congregations.
Every member of this delegation has been contributing to the exchanges we have had, but I need to mention especially what a privilege it has been to have Ray Whitehead travelling with us as consultant and elder. Ray and his late wife Rhea spent many years serving in China. Every place we have visited on this trip we have met pastors who greet Ray warmly as their teacher and mentor. We have seen so clearly that Ray has made a real difference in many lives… a reminder that we all have the capacity to make a real difference in the lives of others.
I could go on, but I suspect little things from this journey will turn up from time to time in future letters, long after we return home. Right now it is getting late on Sunday evening, and we have a full day of meetings tomorrow, our last full day in Beijing, so it’s time to sign off.
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