I remember, awhile back, promising pictures of the Luzhou Protestant Church’s Easter services on April 21. Let me make sure I post those here, along with a short explanation of what usually happens at Protestant churches in China.
Changes to the Easter Worship in China
I have been attending Chinese church services since 1991 in various parts of the country. It used to be worship as usual, without any special messages or decor added to the sanctuary, but in the past 15 years (I would say), that has changed.
Fresh, white lilies adorn altars and pulpits. Palm-Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, is now taking place with dramatic liturgical dance and heartfelt renderings of Christ’s death (including movie film videos or graphic artwork displayed on power points). Easter Sunday includes special music by adult choirs and youth, a full sermon about Christ’s resurrection, baptism of new members (in the Luzhou church, between 40 – 50 are baptized), and communion with our new brothers and sisters in Christ. At the Luzhou Protestant Church, Easter is a 3-hour service due to all the extra happenings of the morning: 9 a.m. – 12:00 noon.
And a majority of churches throughout China has begun to adopt the custom of giving out hard-boiled Easter eggs with Christian symbols on them as well as packages of sweet bread buns with crosses on top. Everyone who attends church receives these as he or she leaves the sanctuary.
New Tradition: Serving a Meal
I have received my fair share of bread buns and eggs over the years for Easter Sunday, which has always been a treat, but now an added tradition is likewise making its way into the Christian community: Serving a full meal to everyone.
Because Easter services tend to be longer than other worship times, by noontime (when we are dismissed), people are hungry. Sharing a meal together is a very important part of this culture, especially so when noontime comes. Sending people home hungry, where they must then prepare a meal on their own or are obligated to eat out in a restaurant, is not a very hospitable thing to do for newly-baptized church members. Nor is it considered very celebratory for such a special day of the year for Christians.
So for many churches, it has become a tradition to prepare a full meal for all who attend services, and even invite those in nearby shops or in the church neighborhood to come to eat with us.
Feeding the Masses
If there is one thing Chinese know how to do, and do well, it’s to wok up and serve vast numbers of people quickly and easily.
At the Luzhou Protestant Church, those in charge of the meal, which must feed about 1,000 (church members and others), have it down to an art form. We usually have disposable paper bowls overflowing with rice, 2 different stir-fried dishes (those with meat and those with only vegetables), a hard-boiled Easter egg and a light soup. (Soup is a standard add-on for any Chinese meal.).
I truly admire the food committee, which I’ve heard have boiled and decorated 1,000 eggs each Easter as well as manned the back kitchens where massive vats of rice are prepared along with all the other dishes.
The prep work needed to cook Chinese is a huge effort. I imagine those involved spend their entire Easter weekend buying fresh vegetables and meat, slicing/dicing/cubing everything, and early Easter morning, continuously wok up all that is needed to give us a hearty lunch. I do know those manning the food stations take a quick break for communion but other than that, they miss out on most of the worship. They spend their energies making sure all congregation members (around 700) are served, placing individual meal bowls on trays which are distributed throughout the church as we sit in our pews and wait for our meals to arrive.
The assembly line to feed so many as quickly as possible is quite something to behold. I am always in awe of how fast we all get our food, even those in the balcony and others from outside the church. As soon as our pastors (there are 4) give the closing prayers, food begins to be distributed. Within 50 minutes, most of us are eating and some are even going back for seconds.
We in the choir are usually the last to get our meals, but there is always plenty to go around so no fears we’ll go home hungry.
Participating in such celebrations (Christmas, Easter, Palm-Passion Sunday), including weekly singing practices and weekly worship, is such a joy. I belong to so many Luzhou and Chengdu communities: my school (students and faculty), the swimming pool (I swim daily and even give stroke advice to those who ask), visits to my countryside farming friends, pet rescue groups and also church. It makes for a well-rounded experience of all China has to offer, and I feel so very blessed to be a part of it all.
Ping An, (Peace) for your Easter Sunday, everyone. Be thankful and rejoice!!