To finish off my Christmas celebrations, it’s only fitting to end with the Luzhou Protestant Church worship services.
This past year, the Everlasting Love adult choir, of which I am a member, was asked to participate in both the contemporary worship service (Dec. 23, 7 – 9:30 p.m.) and the traditional (Dec. 24, 7 – 10 p.m.). The contemporary was more of a “guest appearance” with us singing just one piece rather than doing numerous numbers and hiding in the back corridor, waiting for our turn. I personally enjoyed the former much more because we could join in the congregation, singing and clapping along with everyone else, as you can see from the write-up.
December 23rd: What a Service!
The contemporary worship was a new experience for me and I must say, I fell in love with it immediately. The praise team, with electric guitar, keyboard and drum accompaniment, was full of energy like I’ve never seen before. Wow!! We were on our feet practically the entire time, not because we had to be but because we couldn’t keep still long enough to settle down quietly.
This service was full of dance, praise songs, skits, and a lively, vibrant congregation that clapped and waved away while loudly belting out all our praise team songs displayed on the two power point screens above.
The choir had only one anthem to sing, a baroque piece that our director picked out just for the service. We sang it last year for the traditional Christmas Eve worship. In my opinion, it was rather out-of-place with all the modern music and excitement that surrounded us but that was the director’s choice. Not sure the listeners were too taken by it but we were only one tiny piece of the service so not a big deal.
Pulling on Religious Heartstrings
What did impress the congregation members the most, and brought many to tears of agony, was the short religious play, inserted in the middle of the program.
This was story of a young Christian woman, driving with her non-Christian friend in her car. The friend shows her a text message, distracting the Christian driver, and this causes them to have an accident. Both die. The Christian goes to heaven and her friend goes to hell where the devil terrorizes her with brutality, chains and wicked laughter. It is a heart-wrenching moment as the Christian reaches out to her friend but is unable to bring her to heaven as she is not a Christian. To add even more to the tragedy, the Christian girl’s father, inconsolable because of his daughter’s death, is about to commit suicide by poison with the daughter (now an angel) looking on, sobbing uncontrollably and begging him to stop because she knows he is doomed to an eternity in hell. He couldn’t hear her, of course, and despite her pleas, he dies in the end, sealing his fate.
While the entire depiction of hell, as well as the storyline, does not exactly mesh with my personal Christian faith, I will say the acting was excellent and the emotional tug quite strong. In other words, I would say the “Be a Christian or go to hell” message probably hit home with most of those present, which I’m sure is what the participants hoped for.
The Altar Call
For both services, an altar call at the end brought up first-time visitors to the church who were warmly embraced, prayed over and given Christian material plus church contact numbers for further follow-up.
In the contemporary service, we had about 30 who came forward and in the traditional service, we had about 25.
Christmas Eve Worship
As with most churches in the States, Christmas Eve is considered “the biggie.”
The choir and all participants had two 6-hour rehearsals beforehand, on two Saturdays before Christmas. During those, Pastor Liao made fully known her wishes for how the service should progress and instructed everyone on behavior, humble attitude, proper appearance and having a warm, inviting demeanor for newcomers. She had plenty of input from her husband, Pastor Zhang, and our associate pastor, a young woman named Pastor Zhao, as well as our choir director, Zheng.
With such preparation, we were all expecting everything to run like clockwork.
Well, it did except for our dramatic processional when the sound system wouldn’t work. The poor tech guys were trying desperately to get our opening music to play as we came in but failed. Pastor Liao was frowning as she hustled back to us after having consulted with the guys and just said to start as it was 7 on the dot.
Our contemporary worship keyboardist, Mr. Zhang, stepped up to the plate and, by ear, chorded on the piano the music we were to come into, “Bless His Holy Name.” While not quite as impressive or musical as if we’d had the tape, it was still a worthy processional for Christmas.
As we say in church circles: “The worship must go on!”
Gift-Giving: Both Service Worshipers Receive Presents
Both services also had the church giving out gifts as people departed.
For the contemporary service, everyone upon leaving picked out a colorful winter scarf. There was a wide array of colors, sizes and materials to choose from. Even the choir members were invited to take home a scarf.
The Custom of Giving Apples on Christmas Eve
For the traditional service, apples were handed out. Why is that?
Though Christmas is not a public holiday in mainland China, it’s becoming increasingly popular among the country’s young people who are not Christians due to its Western holiday draw. Sending apples as gifts, although a recent tradition, has become a unique addition to the festivities, and a great example of how the Chinese like to play with homophones (words that sound alike).
Christmas Eve is translated as 平安夜, (ping‘an ye) which means a safe and peaceful night. And the word for apple is very similar (苹果, píngguŏ), making it “the fruit of being safe” in Chinese. Hence the reason for sending apples as Christmas gifts.
The Chinese church has picked this up as well and it’s not at all unusual to see apples handed out after Christmas Eve services to congregation members as a way to send blessings to those who attend.
Ending my Reports on Christmas
That pretty much ends all my Christmas reports for 2018. Hope it gave you all some insight into celebrations at the Luzhou Protestant Church. It certainly was a blessed celebration and one I’m very grateful to have been a part of.