We’ve spent a lot of time eating here in China – because gathering at table is a big deal – at least when you have company, and every place we go, we’re company. So far (except for hotel breakfasts) we’ve only eaten at round tables. Very egalitarian – although it turns out that there is an order to it. The host (arguably the most important person in the room) sits facing the door.
The food is served on what we might call a “lazy Susan” which makes it pretty easy to get a taste of all the amazing food – familiar and . . . not so much. All wonderfully seasoned and beautifully presented. Just a gentle push on the disc in the center of the table brings in front of you jelly fish; tofu of all shapes and sizes; fish complete with head; beautiful vegetables, some of which we do not know in North America; sweet and sour pork; dumplings filled soup or greens or pork . . . the finish is fruit – sweet and refreshing.
We’re in Tunxi tonight – a tourist center and provincial capital. It’s not far from Yellow Mountain – a spectacular granite mountain carved into amazing shapes by the eons of wind; with ancient pine trees, and – at this season – rhododendron in bloom. You drive part way up, then cable car most of the rest of the way. After that come more or less four kilometers of stone steps up and down to see the many peaks. On the drive there we saw people picking tea leaves. It’s the best season for harvesting tea when the leaves will be young and not bitter.
Dinner tonight was with Pastor Ma – senior pastor at the church where we will worship tomorrow. She talked of the two services she presides over in her 1,000 member parish, the weekly Bible studies, the hospital visitation – and the visits she makes to the congregations in the surrounding area. She is really more like a regional minister as we Disciples might say. Other ministers on staff at the church make it possible for her to travel on weekends to do teaching and training and preaching in the other congregations. Though the church here is post-denominational, many congregations still have traditions originating from their original founders. This one was Methodist Episcopal – they serve communion on the first Sunday of the month and baptize twice a year on Easter and Christmas – after a long process of teaching about being Christian and an interview with the pastor. The congregation gives money for wells in poorer parts of the country, as well as other outreach projects. They try to learn that being a good Christian should have an effect on how a person lives in all areas of life.
Hearing stories of church life, noting points of connection and points of difference from our own experience – all this long distance from home – we nevertheless feel at home, too. Eating at that round table, there is a sense of being at the family table, brothers and sisters in Christ together.