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Modern Church, More Religious Freedom
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"People in China are enjoying much better religious freedom than before and over 70 percent of those attending services at the Beijing Haidian Christian Church are young people," says Pastor Wu Weiqing of the newly-built church.

The all-white building resembles an exhibition studio rather than a religious institution, with its long white beams encircling the structure. A tall white cross stands in the covered stairway to the entrance to the church, while a sign on top states "Christian Church". Off to the side is a tall bell tower, also white.

Beijing Haidian Christian Church was originally built in 1933 but the number of attendees increased so dramatically that it was knocked down and a new church was erected. It opened on May 31 of this year in Zhongguancun, also known as China's Silicon Valley.

It's also close to two of China's top universities, Tsinghua University and Peking University. Sina.com, one of the grand commercial buildings for China's leading IT companies, is also situated nearby. Wu explained that as result, most of the churchgoers are young people.

An open Bible

Church visitors greatly appreciate the design of the church. A middle-aged migrant worker surnamed Zhao said that the church looked beautiful. He turned to Christianity in 1997 when he was working as a farmer in his hometown in north China's Hebei Province. Now he works in a furniture factory in suburban Beijing and needs to ask for a leave on weekends to go to the church. "It normally takes me two hours to come here by bus, but I go to other churches too," commented the gray haired, thin-faced Zhao.

But not everyone admires the new church; some think that the original one should have remained standing.

Liu Yang, an expert in church studies from Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) Administration, noted, "It was a pity to see the old church demolished. With a history of 70 years, the old church should have been preserved and protected as a relic. "

But in an exclusive interview with China Daily Website, Wu explained that the old church was deteriorating amidst the dirty, noisy street. The church was becoming too dangerous to hold services inside. He added that the original church was too small to hold the increasing number of Christians attending services there.

"The old church didn't suit the development and the surrounding commercial buildings," he explained. "The style of old church was neither baroque nor Roman, and it wasn't like a church," added Wu.

Church administrators welcomed architectural firms to submit designs for the new church. The German company GMP International came up with the all-white structure. Wu said the church made clear its interior and exterior requirements, including ways to cut operating costs.

"I am 150 percent satisfied with the new church's design, and the placement of cross, bell tower and the appearance are beyond my expectations," said Wu with a smile. "The church appears like an open Bible and the ascending stairs make people feel the sense of being a Christian."

When asked about building costs, Wu said that the new structure cost the church nothing, but that 5 million Yuan was spent on interior decoration. According to Wu rooms in the church are rented out, and the money covers water, heat and electricity bills.

Helga Reimund, an architect with GMP International, said in an email interview, "The new church distinguishes it from the surrounding commercial buildings. At the same time it creates exiting spaces to the surrounding buildings." She added, "The facade columns give the church a homogeneous shell allowing natural lighting of the interior."

A variety of materials were used to build the church, including cherry wood paneling, visible concrete beams with sound absorbing suspended panels, and concrete columns containing thermal insulation and plaster for the facade.

A harmonious society

Wu, who is also the deputy chairman of the Beijing Christian Council and member of Beijing People's Congress, has led this church since 2001. At the opening ceremony of the church in late May, he said, "The new church provides the new start point for us to return Jesus' love to the people and contribute to the efforts of building a harmonious society."

Besides managing the church, Wu has a busy schedule everyday, especially on Sundays. "We have English services on Sunday, and some 50 foreigners usually come to the church." In total over 4,000 people attend weekend services.

"More people have come to believe in Christianity due to China's growing involvement into world community and other social, economical or spiritual reasons," remarked Wu.

An undergraduate student from Tsinghua University, a relatively new churchgoer, took her father to the church for the first time. "I heard the story of Paul today, and it was beneficial," said the father, surnamed Guo. His daughter said that she got to know Christianity through some groups interested in the Bible on campus. "It helps me to reflect on the purpose of life," she said.

(China Daily July 20, 2007)

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