They start arriving at 9. First stop is the coffee pot. Next is a table laden with breakfast treats. They greet each other, happy to be together in this 10th-floor apartment in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China.
Sofas and chairs have been pushed against the outer walls of the living/dining room, and casually dressed adults and children sit on the floor. Infants are passed around.
A song leader punches out a tune on the keyboard while the words from a popular praise song are projected on the wall behind him. After lively singing and prayer, the children move to a neighboring apartment for Sunday school while a group member leads adult Bible study.
When the children return, worshipers offer prayers and share communion family by family. After the peace is passed, the Bible study leader speaks a benediction and everyone joins in a rousing closing song.
This house church is made up of expatriates who live and work in Shanghai’s Pudong neighborhood. Managers, engineers, accountants and computer experts, they’ve been sent here by multinational corporations, all hoping to cash in on their investments in China’s booming economy. Others teach at international schools for children of the “expats.” Filling a void in their spiritual life, a group from an international school started this church. They began worshiping monthly but soon went to weekly services as the group grew. Now they are outgrowing the apartment.
Now this congregation has a unique opportunity. The Chinese government is building a church for Christians in Pudong. So the house church formed a committee to explore the possibility of using part of the building for ecumenical English-language services.
The approach is clearly different from the way the ELCA operates in the U.S. The ELCA Division for Outreach determines the best area for a mission and assigns a pastor/developer to begin assembling a congregation. Then at a crucial moment, the fledgling congregation buys land and builds. In China the government determines the location—often a former church building seized at some point and put to another use. Once restored, the building is turned over to the “Three-Self Church,” China’s national Protestant church, and reopened.
Pedong’s church is entirely new construction. It has a name, Abundant Grace Church, and two handsome worship spaces—a sanctuary for 1,200 people and chapel for 300—plus classrooms, offices and fellowship space. But it doesn’t yet have a pastor or members. If history repeats itself, and it likely will, this church will be packed the Sunday its doors open. Until then the house church will offer praise from the 10th floor.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers