Church in China

9 Sep

Stained glass window at the church in my hometown

When I’m in Shanghai, I am a regular visitor at the international Catholic parish that is close by my apartment.  Close may be a relative word – it’s a very fast 15 minute walk or a more leisurely 25 minute walk.  Given the heat that we’ve had lately it certainly seems longer.  When I first came to China I wasn’t sure about going to church.  As a Catholic I had heard stories about the Chinese government taking a cut of the donations, about them not accepting that the Pope has ultimate authority in the church, about priests being appointed by the government instead.

When I finally got up the nerve to go though, it’s a pretty normal catholic church experience – I go to mass in English and the majority of the congregation (I’d say at least 50%) is Filipino.  Like going to any new parish, I don’t recognize all the songs and at the beginning there were certain local customs that took a while to get used to, but perhaps the universality of the church does conquer everything.  There is one thing that is different than most mass experiences in the US or Europe in that the average age tends to skew much lower because people over 65 can’t get work permits to live in China.  Senior citizens tend to be the largest group back in more developed countries, but here it’s only if they are visiting someone who already knows where the church is.

There have been times when I have felt a little uncomfortable.  Every once in a while the priest will start complaining about Chinese government intervention and I always feel like looking over my shoulder to see if we’re being observed.  Even though I’ve now attended for a couple of years, it just seems that any one of the chinese faces  (and they are not many) could be a spy.  I am likely just paranoid as the Chinese government has far larger issues, but who knows?

In general though, church focuses me, allows me to put faith in something larger than myself and allows me to continually straddle the western/eastern world that exists in Shanghai.  I feel lucky to have my faith – especially because so few people born here are provided that luxury.

Have you ever gone to church in a foreign country?

8 Responses to “Church in China”

  1. jotsfromasmallapt September 9, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    Faith a luxury? I have never even considered one’s faith to be something desirable but costly or hard to get. There is truth in your thoughts and your words.

    • gkm2011 September 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

      Living in China continues to make me test my own faith in new ways and think of things from different points of view.

  2. Naomi Baltuck September 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    In England and in Italy, for the music, and I happened upon a wedding in an Eastern Orthodox church in Estonia, and got to watch. It was very interesting.

    • gkm2011 September 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      That must have been very interesting. I think as we learn more about other faiths it is easier to be tolerant.

  3. sarahinguangzhou September 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    Do they let Chinese people in the church? I understood that the one church in GZ that has English language service is out of bounds for Chinese citizens. Not a churchgoer though, so I’m not sure how/whether they enforce it.

    • gkm2011 September 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      I don’t think there is any type of ban – at least as far as I’m aware. I think probably having the service in English is the biggest barrier to entry.

      • sarahinguangzhou September 21, 2012 at 7:39 am #

        You know I spoke to my friend and she said that Chinese aren’t allowed in the church she goes to in GZ. she said there are churches that do allow Chinese to attend, but she doesn’t consider them christian (they don’t preach the resurrection but merely ‘christian values’ about being kind to one another. apparently the police make periodic checks.

      • gkm2011 September 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

        just means we are lucky to have the choice. I have gone to church in Chinese once – the whole thing songs through readings through preaching. That was all Chinese folks – a different experience.

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