Methodist Church

Chinese Christians renew ties with United Methodists

NEW YORK – In the Fujian province of China, people are drawn to Christianity through the example that church members set in their everyday lives, according to a church and seminary leader there.

“We emphasise that every Christian should be a good citizen in our society,” the Rev Lin Zhihua told staff of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries at a meeting in New York at the end of last year.

The Rev Lin was with a nine-member delegation of Christians from China making a visit to renew friendships with Protestants in the United States and Canada. The delegation was led by the Rev Cao Shengjie, President of the China Christian Council, and Presbyter Ji Jianhong, Chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches in China.

Representing some 16 million Protestants, the Chinese leaders discussed with General Board of Global Ministries staff concerns such as the need for theological training, arranging mutual visits and sharing resources.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) was among the first denominations to support the Amity Foundation, an independent social service organisation started by Christians in China in 1985. The UMC still provides support for Amity’s Hong Kong Office.

The history of Methodist mission in China dates back to 1847 when the first Methodist Episcopal Church missionaries arrived in Fuzhou. Mission workers from other predecessor denominations followed, eventually establishing schools, hospitals, clinics and other social and evangelistic ministries in various regions of China.

With the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and other changes by the Chinese Communist Party, the activities of foreign mission workers became increasingly restricted, and the last Methodist missionary left by the end of 1952. During that decade, the 700,000-some Protestants in China initiated the post-denominational “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”, based on the principles of self-governance, self-support and self-propagation.

During China’s Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1979, religious activity was banned, so Christians could meet only in small groups in people’s houses.

The China Christian Council was founded in 1980 to provide a national structure when the ban was lifted. The council is now a member of the World Council of Churches. Working in cooperation with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the council functions as an umbrella and service organisation for all Protestants in China.

Theological education is promoted through 18 seminaries and Bible schools, and more than 70 centres serve as distribution points for Bibles, hymnals and other resources. Training and social services programmes, even those initiated by local churches, receive council support.

The Rev Cao, who is also the Vice-President of the National YWCA of China, considers her 2002 election as the first woman to serve as President of the China Christian Council to be an encouragement to women seeking leadership positions in the church.

She noted that the ordination of women has been “quite successful” since 1981, and she added that women form half the student body at theological seminaries. More than 400 women are ordained pastors in China. – United Methodist News Service.

Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

Christians in China at a Sunday worship service in church – Chinese Annual Conference picture.