UnitingWorld lunch – The Church in Times of Growth

Two members of the China Christian Council (CCC), Rev. Kan Baoping and Rev. Dr Chen Yilu, and the UnitingCare National Director, Ms Lin Hatfield Dodds were the panellists at the second UnitingWorld lunch, “The Church in Times of Growth”.

Rev. Dr Zhang introduced the discussion by providing some background about the relationship between the CCC and the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA). The relationship began over 60 years ago, and was re-established in 2010 through the encouragement of Rev. Alistair Macrae, the President of the UCA at the time.

The Christian church in China has experienced extraordinary growth over the past several years – something the Uniting Church was quick to note. In 2013 the UCA through UnitingWorld and UnitingCare commenced an historic partnership with the CCC.

The UnitingWorld lunch provided insight into the UCA-CCC relationship, and the current state of the Christian church in China.

Rev. Kan, the Deputy Vice President and General Secretary of the CCC, spoke first and pointed out similarities between the UCA and the CCC – both are post-denominational churches with a similar ethos. He also quoted part of President Stuart McMillan’s installation message, noting that the “unity of the Church is one of diversity but not of uniformity.”

Rev. Kan also spoke of the rapidly growing role the church is playing in Chinese society, with 38 million people in China now identifying themselves as Christian. This growth has provided exciting challenges for the CCC as they seek to ensure they are helping those on the margins by caring for people and to proclaim the good news of Christ.

Rev. Dr Chen, the Vice-Chairman of the CCC, then outlined the challenges the church is facing as they seek to educate pastors to meet the needs of the rapidly growing Christian population.

Almost 4,000 students are currently studying at the CCC’s Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, with the average age between 20 and 35 years. Rev. Dr Chen, who is also the Executive Vice-President of the Seminary, also noted that around 60% of students are female, as women are able to be ordained in the CCC.

The rapid growth in the Christian church has meant that God has placed the Seminary in a crucial position to train church leaders for the people of China. While there are hundreds of students waiting to study graduate programs at the seminary, they are currently only able to enrol 20 students at a time. The seminary is working to train more faculty members to increase this number and meet the demands of both potential students and the Chinese church.

The final speaker, Ms Lin Hatfield Dodds, shared her enthusiasm for the relationship between the UCA and the CCC. While Rev. Kan had chosen to focus on similarities between the churches, Ms Hatfield Dodds drew out one vast difference – their size. The Chinese congregations have been known to draw 8,000 people for a Sunday service; the average attendance for Sunday worship at a UCA congregation is 30-35. She noted that the UCA can learn a lot from the Chinese church who are confident in their faith and culture.

Ms Hatfield Dodds also spoke about the rapid economic growth and the evolution of the middle class in China. Due to social and cultural changes in recent years, China has seen huge numbers of people moving to cities across the country. This has opened up numerous options for the CCC as they enter the fields of social services and education, in addition to Sunday services and theological messages.

In closing, Ms Hatfield Dodds accentuated the importance of a close relationship between the UCA and the CCC, which allows mutual learning on issues facing both churches.