A life of devotion
Sunday school children from Shanghai Grace Church perform their Christmas concert on Dec 20. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]
Editor's note: People may not be familiar with what a day of a church worker is like. Our editor talks to Tang Wei'en, a preacher from Shanghai Grace Church, to get an idea of their daily tasks.
Tang Wei'en graduated from the Shanghai-based East China Theological Seminary in 2011 and has worked as a preacher at Shanghai Grace Church ever since.
She says most of the priests and preachers never ask for leave because the church is short of fulltime workers. The church that she works for and its sister church, Xin'en Church, have more than 8,000 registered believers but only eight priests and preachers.
"Luckily we have 14 part-time preachers to share our workload. The situation in the outskirts and small cities is worse. Some churches don’t even have a priest and are presided over by a veteran disciple," says Tang, a 31-year-old Shanghai native.
Although they officially have two days off, Monday and Tuesday, every week, they often receive calls on those days from followers to emergency rooms, wedding ceremonies and memorial services.
Even without the unexpected calls, they are busy paying regular visits to the believers to maintain frequent contact with all of them.
"Moreover, some elderly people need special care. If they are too old to come to the church, we go to their homes for baptism and Holy Communion," says Tang, who is the third generation in her family to be Christian.
All of their five working days are fully scheduled with leading prayer services, bible studies, fellowships, and classes for believers at different spiritual stages. There are two such sessions on average per day. Tang prays, prepares, and communicates with the chorus beforehand. The workload for some senior colleagues is heavier.
The priests and preachers are also in charge of administrative work. That includes decorating the church and preparing gifts before festivals, making arrangements and preparations for camping, organizing believers to give performances at celebrations and booking takeaway food for them before rehearsals, according to Tang.
She also assists a priest to manage wedding ceremonies held at the church, and she has witnessed an increasing number of couples opting to tie the knot at church.
"Wedding ceremonies here are always fully booked on weekends and holidays. If they want to have a ceremony here in spring and autumn, they need to book several months in advance," says Tang.
The church requires the couple to be religious and at least one of them to have been baptized.
"We don't welcome non-believers who regard a church wedding as a way to follow the fashion from the West. We want to keep it solemn," she says.
There will be three major Christmas services with nearly 2,000 people from Dec 23 to 25 at the church. They have been busy with rehearsals for months.
"There are plenty of details to take care of, such as how many microphones of different types are needed, like the vertical, handheld and clipped-on ones, that each performance needs and when the lights need to be switched on and off," she says.
Although the job seems busy and all consuming, Tang says she understands that it is work prepared and blessed by God.
"I fell seriously sick 10 years ago and the only thing I thought about at that critical moment was that I didn't want to leave this world without doing something meaningful," Tang says.
"I love my job, which I believe matches with the purpose that I was created, and I'm enriched and filled with inner peace."
She declined to reveal the exact figure she earns but she admits the salary is meager, however, she never feels she is in any need.