An official delegation of The United Church of Canada has returned from a visit to China at the invitation of the China Christian Council (CCC) and the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China.
The 10-day visit, from November 28 to December 7, was a major partnership initiative for both the United Church and the Council. The delegation was led by the Moderator of the United Church, the Right Rev. Jordan Cantwell, and the General Secretary of the General Council. The 22 members of the delegation were selected from across Canada to represent the diversity of the United Church, and included lay people and ministry personnel, theological educators and students, people in community ministries and Aboriginal leaders.
In China, the delegation was warmly welcomed by national, provincial and city CCC leaders and pastors and the faculty and students of the national theological college, Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. Visit sites included the CCC and Three-Self Patriotic Movement national office in Shanghai, longtime mission partner the Amity Foundation and Amity Printing’s Bible printing plant in Nanjing, and the State Administration for Religious Affairs (the Chinese government body supervising the country’s five official religions), the Institute for World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the CCC office in Beijing. Churches were visited in Shanghai, Suzhou, and Beijing. Delegates met with the Canadian Consul General in Shanghai and the Canadian Ambassador and staff in Beijing.
A centrepiece of the visit was a two-day theological consultation with Chinese and Canadian presenters at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. One topic explored during this time was the understanding of the church as a minority. This may seem obvious from the Canadian perspective, as membership, revenues and influence decline in Protestant denominations. In China, although the church is growing very fast, the Chinese church is in fact a small minority in society, and Christian communities have always been in the margin of the larger society. Dr. Lin Manhong, Associate General Secretary of the CCC and Dean of the Nanjing Seminary, noted that these characteristics can be of great significance.
As partners, we may want to ask ourselves, what do we want our churches to be? Should the church be prosperous, powerful, influential, largely populated, at the center of the world, or should be the church be content with being powerless, small and marginal, but prophetic, caring and loving?
The delegation was also given opportunities to visit important cultural sites such as the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou, the Memorial to Dr. Sun Yat Sen in Nanjing, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing, and the Great Wall in Hebei Province.
This visit will certainly result in increased cooperation between the two churches in areas of mutual interest such as community ministry and, it is hoped, in exchanges among Chinese and Canadian seminary professors, students, and ministry personnel.
The visit was an historic opportunity for learning and deepened partnership. General Secretary Nora Sanders commented:
Throughout our journey, as we looked forward to renewed relationships with the China Christian Council and Three Self Patriotic Movement … reminders of our historic relationships in China enriched the sense of possibility and purpose. The joint commitment now is to continue the journey – to learn, to work, to worship, to create together new paths toward unity, justice and peace.
The United Church of Canada delegation meeting with the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Beijing. Photo by Rev. Dr. Alan Lai.