Sitting around a tea table, three pastors were chatting in front of their well-brewed tea and the camera. That was no TV program but an online interview on faith culture held by Yaodu District Church in Linfen City, Shanxi Province, on the eve of Qingming Day.
On March 31, Yaodu District Church held an online interview on the theme of “Christians and Tomb-Sweeping (Qingming) Day”. It was reported that this Qingming live broadcast was a rather innovative attempt by the church to sinicize Christianity since last year. Since last Mid-Autumn Day, several online live broadcasts have been held about festival cultures and the Christian faith.
A few days ago, Gospel Times, an online Christian newspaper, interviewed Pastor Huang Hailin, director of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China of Linfen City and pastor of Yaodu District Church.
Speaking of why Linfen churches chose to broadcast live on Tomb-Sweeping Day in such a novel form of a tea party, Pastor Huang said that it was closely related to the actual needs of believers and the online pastoral exploration of pastors. “During the lockdown by the pandemic, online ministering in Linfen churches was mainly based on Thursday gatherings and Sunday services. However, as it went on for a while, everyone, whether pastors or believers, felt that the form of always sitting alone in front of the camera to deliver sermons was somewhat boring. Moreover, the ministering effect might be compromised. So several pastors in the churches started to try some new forms of online ministry.” Pastor Huang said, “Besides, every year when it was the Tomb-Sweeping Day, many believers would come to consult pastors, asking ‘Can Christians moan for their loved ones in cemeteries?’ ‘Can I bow down to the grave after I become a Christian?’ Such questions too, I think, should be widely resolved. So I decided on this topic.”
As for which form of live broadcast to choose, the staff gave suggestions and ideas. Finally, Pastor Huang got inspiration from a TV talk show and decided to share and communicate in the form of discussion and dialogue in a relaxed atmosphere. The number of people who watched the live broadcast on that day was close to 10,000.
Since last Mid-Autumn Day, dialogues have been the mainstay, and the three-person tea party talk was the first attempt. The first live broadcast of the Mid-Autumn Day last year received a positive response among believers. After the festival, the church renovated the utility room on the fourth floor by changing it into a dedicated live broadcast room. Live broadcast equipment was added such as microphones and stereos. The subsequent live broadcast of National Day and Double Ninth (Senior Citizen) Day also received positive feedback from churches in pastoral areas and surrounding counties and cities.
Pastor Huang also has many plans for the next online live broadcast. He said that the church planned to further expand the interview topics on the basis of Chinese traditional culture, such as inviting more full-time and volunteer preachers and elders and deacons in the church to participate in the interview. The content will focus on the service course and life growth testimonies of all preachers and pastors.
“In this way, believers can see the people side of pastors who are always rigorous in their images. Through cordial communication, the relationship between pastors and believers can be brought closer. On the other hand, the testimony of your pastors’ devotion to service and life growth will also be a good incentive for believers,” Pastor Huang added.
“In 2020, Linfen churches took the opportunity of church renovation to carry out artistic decoration in the corridor of the church.” Pastor Huang told the Gospel Times, “[These decorations] have received positive responses from all walks of life. Many faith seekers actually have some pursuits in their hearts when they come to church. Seeing these paintings in the church is also an intuitive display and edification of belief culture.”
At every major festival, Linfen churches invite local artists and painters to paint on the spot around the theme of the sinicization of Christianity and invite citizens to visit. Most of the paintings, banners, and other works created on the spot are preserved as decorations in the hall.
In addition, Linfen churches have collected many paper-cut works about Christianity in China with folk characteristics in southern Shanxi. “On the 70th and centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the churches collected paper-cut works around the theme of that year. (These works) were not only decorated by the churches but also mailed to the National People’s Congress and churches nationwide.” Pastor Huang said.
In addition, in 2020, on the seventieth anniversary of the launch of the Chinese Christian Three-Self Patriotic Movement, Linfen churches also prepared to set up a “Boya Tea Room” to seek the resemblance between tea culture and Christian theology through tea tasting and spiritual cultivation.
In addition to the external achievements of sinicization, Linfen churches also attach great importance to the sinicization of theological thoughts. Linfen churches have held theological thought seminars at the municipal and district levels for seven or eight consecutive years. The theme of each seminar was formulated around the planning of the National People’s Congress and different themes of the year. After each seminar, it will be sorted out and summarized in the form of an anthology. After the meeting, the church will also organize preaching groups and go down to various counties to carry out theological seminars and preaching activities.
Pastor Huang has many visions and opinions about the next direction of the church’s sinicization, “Recently, I have been inspired by some local churches in Northeast China, and feel that I can make some attempts in tablet inscription and show some historical and cultural elements on the wall as much as possible. I think the church needs to have some external manifestations besides listening to the sermon. As long as it can bring sensory belief resonance to believers and followers, I think it is worth trying.”
- Translated by Charlie Li