It was a misty Sunday morning in January. A
church bell calling for Holy Communion rang out as usual at
seven o'clock sharp. Its solemn sound reverberated in the
overcast skies over downtown Shanghai, a city still
beautiful and prosperous after experiencing changes over
Located over 20 meters away behind the
century-old Yangtze Hotel is the darkish red brick belfry.
The well-arranged architecture around it belongs to the
Mu'en Church, the largest Protestant church in Shanghai and
also the first of its kind in China which resumed activities
in 1979 after the decade-long "cultural
An Old Church
The Mu'en Church was initially built in 1929.
At that time, it was called the Abounding Grace Church.
However, the dissemination and development of Protestantism
in Shanghai can be traced back to the 1840s.
The first missionaries who stepped onto the
soil of this east China coastal metropolis came from the
Episcopal Church of the United States. They underwent all
kinds of hardships and difficulties due to unfamiliarity
with the place and people, along with the language barrier.
Some of them dedicated the rest of their life to the mission
work in the city where most people did not believe in
Christianity. Decades of unremitting efforts at last
resulted in Shanghai accepting the religion while turning
itself into a busy seaport. Bible study classes, missionary
schools and churches then mushroomed.
"Over the past six years, the number of
people attending Sunday service has been increasing,"
said Shi Qigui, a senior pastor. Born in the same year as
the Mu'en Church, Shi graduated in 1953 from the Jinling
Union Theological Seminary in Nanjing, the largest of its
kind in China.
According to Shi, church
membership has been enlarged by 300 annually in recent
years. "They include poorly educated old women, as well
as young people who have received a high level of
education," said Shi.
different from the situation 10 years ago when most Sunday
service attendants were elderly people."
"On Sundays, this hall, capable of
accommodating 1,000 people, is often packed," said Shi.
"A similar situation prevails in other churches in the
Statistics show that Shanghai now
has 120,000 Christians, but there are only some 30 churches
in the city proper. Some 5,000 believers have joined the
Mu'en Church, but only a small portion can attend the
service. In addition, many non-Christian residents often
come to watch the Sunday service activities.
Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song. Let everything that
breathes praise the Lord.."
vigorous female voice echoed in the candlelit hall at half
The call to worship was followed by
full-throated singing from the church choir and then by
Lin Weici knows all these
conventional arrangements like the palm of her hand. Having
finished her mission, she walked down the aisle, over which
hung a large cross.
Lin has been a pastor for
four years. Born into a Christian family, she entered the
Jinling Union Theological Seminary at 18. After graduation,
she became a nurse in a kindergarten run by the Young Women
Christian Association of Shanghai. Her husband was the chief
editor of Wind of Heaven, the most influential Protestant
magazine in China. Her daughter is now a member of the
"There are many people who want to
develop a faith in Christ, and they need a guide," said
the young woman pastor, with her eyes brimming with
devoutness and confidence.
She felt fortunate
to be one of the 44 pastors in Shanghai, of whom 12 are
"Some 70 percent of our church
members are women," said Lin, who appeared affable and
well-bred. "Often they find it inconvenient to speak
their mind to male pastors. On such occasions, they would
come to me."
Many female members of the
Mu'en Church have a low educational level, according to Lin.
She and her fellow clergy organize various study groups for
them, explaining the stories and doctrines in the Bible over
a cup of tea. They also teach them to read and copy biblical
texts. This helps improve their degree of literacy, and some
former illiterates are even able to read newspapers and
write simple letters.
most church members want is a spiritual ballast. They need
to put Christ in their heart." Lin held, "Some
creeds of Protestantism are actually in conformity with
'serving the people' advocated by the Communist Party of
China (CPC). In addition, both also share the principle that
one should love one's motherland and nation."
The Mu'en Church just carries out its
activities in this way, according to Lin. It organizes its
members to offer aid, financial and material, to senior
citizens and elderly persons without family and take care of
them the year round. Protestants also donate the money they
raise from selling their handicrafts to disaster-stricken
areas and rural dropouts.
Prior to 1949, the year the People's Republic
was founded, China was only one of the spots on the
itinerary maps of Western missionaries, and Chinese
Christian churches were controlled by foreign churches. The
situation remained unchanged until the 1950s when China's
Protestant circles initiated the Three Self
(self-administration, self-support and self-propagation)
Since then, religious affairs have
been managed by Chinese Protestants themselves. Chinese
churches have stood on their own in financial support, and
developed theological ideas, religious artistic
manifestations and worship rites with distinct Chinese
characteristics. The efforts have thus enabled Chinese
churches to get rid of Western influences and turn
Protestantism into one of the Chinese religions.
"China's Christianity is also free from
factionalism," said Pastor Shi. "This is what none
of the foreign churches or countries dare dream of."
The success of the China Christian Council in
this aspect has been appreciated by Dr. Runcie, the
Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church.
Shi held that China's Christianity now enjoys
a golden era of development as "the CPC fully
recognizes the role of religion and never regards
Christianity as "fierce floods and savage beasts."
Since 1979, the Mu'en Church has operated
normally. In addition to routine gatherings and Sunday
service, the church hosts wedding ceremonies for young
Christians, baptizes believers and holds Christmas pageants
and various other activities. Sometimes, clergy go to the
countryside to preach sermons for devotees who are unable to
attend a church service due to transport problems.
Foreigners visiting or working in Shanghai
often come to attend services in the Mu'en Church. Sitting
side by side, Chinese and foreign Protestants from different
cultural backgrounds sing the hymn to the same melody but in
The church has also
invited some foreign pastors and religious organizations to
a visit. They include famous American Preacher the Rev.
Billy Graham and a Canadian youth choir.
When the morning
service ended, it was drizzling outside. Candles were still
burning, and it was more quiet and solemn inside the hall.
"I love this atmosphere," said Liu
Suilin, 34, "It was so harmonious that I began
developing a faith in Christianity."
"I'm an idealist. I've been dreaming to
be a perfect person since childhood. I admire heroes and
adore those around me, who enjoy high prestige and command
Study in Britain in
1992 marked the most important turning point in Liu's life.
There, she got to know a minister from Africa. He helped her
with her daily life as well as study. He also often brought
her with him to church to attend services.
"I was deeply moved by his sincerity and
selflessness. Later, I became aware that this is the
Christian spirit, and this is 'love'."
The African minister also guided Liu to read
the Bible and other religious books. When she read "You
are the salt of the earth.... You are the light of the
world" in the New Testament gospel of Matthew, Liu felt
she was suddenly enlightened. Shortly after she returned to
China, she was baptized at the Mu'en Church.
Liu is now a volunteer of the church, and she
keenly believes that everything she does is for the
"glory of the Lord". She said she now can face
unfair treatment calmly and be tolerant of others' fault.
She also does her best to help others to let more people
believe the strength of "Love".
night fell, another service began at the Mu'en Church.
Meanwhile, the Bund was ablaze with lights.
Colorful neon lamps were glimmering along the Nanjing Road,
the busiest commercial street in Shanghai, which separates
the Mu'en Church from the Bund.
years, changes are taking place in Shanghai and also around
the church. Scaffolds are common sight. New buildings stand
straight row upon row. Some people joke, "Shanghai is a
big building site."
However, the Mu'en
church is an exception. It retains its old, primitive, yet
solemn outlook. Modern Protestants come in and out of the
church like their predecessors, listening to and spreading