My Mid-autumn Festival Sunday began not with a purchase of more moon cakes, but with a great pork loin laid out carefully on the butcher’s board.
For us Christians in Luzhou, these are the perks of having an outdoor market leading up to and around the church building. Our alleyway hosts the freshest meat and vegetables of the day on an early Sunday morning. You’ll see many in the congregation with their baskets already full, trying to maneuver their things along the pews to find a place to sit for worship. I have my book bag instead, heavy enough with my Chinese-English Bible, Chinese hymnal, and pinyin hymnal (English lettering to pronounce the characters) without stuffing it full of market items. But this particular morning, the freshly-butchered pork selections grandly displayed on the market’s meat tables were just too good to pass up.
If it’s already dead, I don’t mind shopping in the outdoor markets but I do feel a bit sad for the live ducks, chickens, pigeons and rabbits. Of course, we eat them in the States but we don’t see them quacking or sweetly nibbling on greens before they reach the table. Makes a difference when purchasing your Sunday dinner foods, that’s for sure. It certainly makes a difference when attending services. Live fowl, their heads peeking up over baskets, don’t pay attention to silence etiquette during prayers or sermons.
Review Information: The Luzhou Protestant Three-Self Church
Worship at the Luzhou Three-self Protestant church is held on Sundays from 8:30 – 11:00 a.m. in the original 1913 sanctuary, a project initiated by the Canadian Methodist Mission in the early part of the century. In 1997, a somewhat palatial front was added with church offices and a large meeting room on the second floor. Otherwise from that, the church building hasn’t changed much at all since its early beginnings.
Aside from offering city Christians a place to worship, the Luzhou church holds several floors in the adjacent apartment building. From here, church staff and workers run a children’s preschool (Happy Children’s Gospel School), language classes for people wanting to learn English, Japanese and Korean, God’s Love Luzhou Christian Service Center (to coordinate the 15 other meeting points and Bible study groups around the area) and a senior center. The senior citizens’ center is jointly funded by the church, the Amity Foundation and the local government. It includes gym equipment, recreation and game facilities, meeting rooms and a dining area where meals are sometimes served.
There are also two ground floor apartments which have been converted into a clinic facing the street. Retired doctors are on call, many who have recently become Christians. Nurses are also on hand to help with the sick and elderly who come in. A small pharmacy is another addition to the medical facilities.
Funding for the clinic has come from Amity, the local government and a substantial contribution from the United Methodist Church. This is, in fact, the first medical project the United Methodists have ever helped support in the modern Mainland China. Amazingly enough, it would be here in the city where a United Methodist Amity teacher (myself) is serving.
A Mid-autumn Festival Worship
It was a great way to begin a festival day by having worship once again with my Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ here in Luzhou.
Over the past 6 years, I have noticed quite a few interesting changes in our services. This is all due to the modern ideas of Pastor Liao, a woman my age, her husband (also a pastor), two junior seminarian graduates, the dedicated church staff and our younger new believers.
When I was in Taiwan 10 years ago, a new Christian movement was starting which has certainly affected our little church along the Yangtze.
For years, the overseas Christian missionary influence had made services other-worldly to those who were to be served in this part of Asia. Our traditional Western hymns invaded the overseas’ sanctuary. Their English words had been translated into Chinese. No native music was used. Only our very strange musical scale and melodies were sung. These were quite alien to the Chinese and difficult to sing.
Then we have the church building itself. Churches looked Western in design and carried little color or flavor of the country itself.
In Taiwan and mainland China, it’s easy to spot a church a mile away. There is always the tall steeple with the cross on top, architecture that shouts “Foreign!”, and sanctuaries with standard pews, pianos and imported altars. Walking through the doors of both Catholic or Protestant churches is often like walking into a strange, eerie world. No wonder for so many years, Christianity was considered the foreigners’ religion and looked upon as a sinister belief.
In Taiwan’s Christian community, following after the States, things started to change during the past few decades. Hymns began to be composed by Taiwanese Christians. Praise songs and uplifting modern Gospel numbers filtered over from America and were translated into Chinese. Young people started up vibrant choirs and invited their friends to church. They organized youth parties, Christian rallies and service outreach projects. Powerpoint presentations began following sermons and guiding the congregation through Bible verses and songs. Praise bands, liturgical dancers and lead singers started services off with a warm and welcoming spirit.
Finally, the Christians in Taiwan had taken their faith to another level by building from the past and adding more of their own “personality” to the church movement.
Now at our small Luzhou church, thanks to Pastor Liao and some very forward-thinking members, we are also moving away from the old, stale and un-enticing to try some different methods. After years of only the elderly coming to church, the new changes have brought in a younger crowd.
What sort of changes?
Following in the US and Taiwan’s footsteps, as of last year, we now have powerpoint. The small screen allows all hymns, special songs, Bible verses and sermon titles to be placed above for us to see. Since we’ve never had bulletins, this method has been so easy now to follow the order of service.
Powerpoint also provides a more convenient way for us to worship. In China, all Christians have their own hymnals and Bibles which they bring to church every Sunday. Quite a few of the elderly have very poor eyesight. Trying to read the tiny print is difficult. At least when they are placed on the screen, it’s easier to follow along due to the large print. And we no longer have to haul around hymals to and from church, which is a nice way to lighten your load. (Leaves more room for your market produce!)
Powerpoint furthermore allows the church more variety in what hymns and songs we do sing. The official hymnal of the Three-self Church is printed by the Amity Foundation Printing Press. In it, you will find hundreds of our Western hymns translated into Chinese. As I mentioned before, the Chinese have great difficulty in singing these. They stumble over the scales, sing the wrong notes and rarely get the timing right.
With the powerpoint, Pastor Liao and other staff members now have a wider selection to use, such as translated praise songs, newly composed hymns by Chinese Christians and even traditional melodies from their own culture with Christian words attached. A majority of these come from Taiwan and are so recently published that they can’t be found in our Amity hymnal.
One of my favorite worship times is the 30-minute warm-up we have before worship begins at 9 a.m. The church is packed as we all are led through hymns and praise songs. These recent additions have us standing, clapping, waving our hands and wakening up the church.
The newest trend, also coming from Taiwan, is to sing and sign (sign language) at the same time. Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Singapore pop stars began doing this 10 years ago and it caught on like wildfire. At talent contests, beauty pageants, high school performances, and organized parties, everyone began singing modern songs and signing with great emotion at the same time.
Quite quickly, the Taiwanese church caught on to this. It certainly didn’t take much time for this to hit the mainland.
Now in Luzhou, we have a sign leader who guides us to taped music. We sing our songs from the screen while following her sign language gestures. She signs with such beauty, grace and heartfelt emotion. Looking over the congregation, you will see all of us filling with the Lord’s spirit while we sign along with her.
I find this kind of call to worship extremely moving every time I participate.
Of course, change in any Christian community comes in very small steps. Although we have our powerpoint presentations, our taped music, and our sing-signing openings, the service itself still basically follows the old. Our piano player does her best to chord through hymns. (She doesn’t read music.) We have our usual 1-hour sermons. And the choir’s anthems continue with traditional Western hymn melodies, wrong notes and all.
Sure, it’s a bit old-fashioned but some sanctuary traditions are best left alone. While I do like the new-age song selections, I also like a familiar, quiet service that isn’t too flashy or “busy”. I think Pastor Liao has managed quite well in keeping the elderly Christians, and the young ones, quite happy. Hard task for any pastor to do.
We didn’t end until 11 a.m. due to communion, which is 30 minutes over our usual 1 ½ hours. I made sure to catch Pastor Liao and a few others for their moon cake presents for the holiday.
After that, it was into the city streets with the masses.
The stores were crowded with people, purchasing festive Mid-autumn goodie boxes for friends and family. The back alleyways were filled with roadside sellers, always surrounded by holiday shoppers loading up on energy snack foods. Lots of clothing sales going on as well.
I even ran into three of my former students, our college graduates from 2 years ago. They’re already beginning their 3rd year of teaching English at primary and secondary schools in nearby towns. Seeing them again brought back so many fond memories of my time as their teacher. Now they’re all off on their own, already becoming seasoned professionals in their own classrooms.
Time goes so quickly.
An End To The Day
This Mid-autumn Festival evening, no moon shown down on us. Overcast skies kept us mostly in the dark. It also kept many students away from the sports’ field very late at night. First of all, unlike everyone else in China, we had classes on Monday meaning many made it an early night. (If you recall, I mentioned our leaders decided against giving us a 3-day weekend.) And because all dorms are locked at 11 p.m., most were preparing for bed before the electricity was shut off at 11 p.m.. (Another rule of the school so as to save on utility costs.)
Little Flower and I did take a turn around the field but that was about all the excitement we had. I also was calling it an early night as I had a full day of teaching on Monday.
We did manage a bit of party fun for the evening. LF received her birthday moon cake, complete with a candle on top. I generously used one of the school’s specialty Macau moon cakes, straight from their gorgeous gift box. Not that LF noticed the difference. One moon cake to her is just like any other: food!
Our next big event will be October 1 – 6, which is China’s National Day holidays (the founding of the PRC in 1949). This is one holiday week we won’t be cheated out of. Everyone will receive their full 6 days, which I’m sure will be enjoyed by all of us.
And on that last bit of happy news, I’ll close off for this evening.
From Luzhou, here’s wishing you “Ping an!” (peace)