Gang Wa Shi Christian Church - Slideshow
A slideshow of images with commentary from a 2004 visit to Beijing, China, by Emily Brink
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In 1966 when the Cultural Revolution began, all churches in China were closed. In 1980 they were allowed to reopen. At first mainly a few uneducated women attended the Gang Wa Shi Church; they had a good location, but it was hard to see set back from the street. But Gang Wa Shi Church developed a vigorous youth program and also had many international contacts (eg. Madeline Albright and Bill Clinton have attended services).
The church is one of only 8 registered churches in this city of more than 11 million people. It began in 1925 by the London Mission Society. One of its early claims to fame in China was that Lao She, a famous Chinese author, was a member of the Sunday School and mentored by a pastor who sent him to London to study.
Gang Wa Shi Church is not the largest church in Beijing, but there are currently five services on Sunday with up to 6000 people attending each week (the auditorium seats around 600; they also have closed circuit TV in a chapel, auxiliary hall, and outdoors in the courtyard under a recently installed awning to protect from the sun or rain). The building is also shared with a Seventh Day Adventist congregation and a Korean speaking congregation. Youth meetings on Thursday nights continue to be a draw.
I felt very at home at the Gang Wa Shi Church, which is openly and warm-heartedly evangelical, connected to the society, open to the world, and obviously interested in growing in their understanding of worship. In 2005, Abraham Lee from Golden Gate CRC will be coming for a similar schedule of lectures, this time on family counseling, a great need.
Lectures on Worship from the Heart to the Heavens: October 2004
The lectures were attended by the entire church staff, a dozen pastors and evangelists; as well as a Korean evangelist. Most of them know a bit of English. The lectures were in two hour blocks for three consecutive days in one of the classrooms. Kurt Selles distributed copies of the translated outline prepared and translated in advance. Two translators were hired, both excellent.
Each day we sang a bit, some traditional songs for which they used their hymnal, and some new ones that I selected to illustrate (eg. some Taize, a few choruses, as well as a couple of African songs). Engaging discussions kept us an extra half hour each day. The first day we all went out for lunch together. I gave them a copy of The Worship Sourcebook and a spare copy of the new bilingual Hymns of Universal Praise, edited by Angela Tam, who has also been to the seminary they attended, and copies of Reformed Worship (RW73:6-7) with Kurt's article about their church. They gave me a bilingual full music edition of their hymnal, as well as a beautiful glass bowl as a parting gift. I felt very at home with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lectures for House Church Leaders
During the week, another amazing opportunity came; Kurt received a call from a leader in a house church, who asked for the same lectures to be given in a training center for one of the groups of house churches that has about 600 members in 16 churches in Beijing. We set up a meeting with evangelists who evidently come from different places for training for one-to-three weeks on occasion.
Even getting to the place was an adventure; our taxi drove us to a part of Beijing Kurt had not been to before. We arrived at a Christian book store owned by a person who lives in the back of the shop (not many theological books are translated yet into Chinese; a great need), and they gave me a copy of their hymnal and another song collection. We had tea with the owner and an evangelist, meeting in the office of the bookstore that doubles as a living and dining room (c. 8x15). A special treat: the owner had prepared dinner for 6 of us crowded around the small round table. Then we caught two cabs and drove for a long time. The cabs dropped us off at a spot where we waited for a church member to come and get us, drove some more, then walked down some streets (by now it was dark), and suddenly, we were there, walking into a fully equipped classroom with 20+ students sitting at desks waiting for us. Kurt brought copies of the translated outlines of the lectures for each of them.
This group was younger and less educated than the Gang Wa Shi staff, and the lectures were less well aimed at them; it would have been helpful if I had been able to attend one of their services. Their questions indicated a desire for direct connections to Scripture (eg., one wanted more Scriptural evidence of the relationship between covenant renewal ceremonies and structure of a worship service; they were quick to look up passages I mentioned. One asked a question on emotional behavior in worship and wanted a right/wrong answer). Kurt sat in the back and asked permission to take a picture, which was given provided he showed none of their faces. Afterwards, the translator took us to a spot where we could flag down a taxi. So both coming and going, our destination was known only to members of the group. What an amazing privilege to be able to meet with them.