There is rather more to Scotland's relationship with China than the Edinburgh pandas who have captivated public and media attention, the Church of Scotland has pointed out, highlighting its important ongoing work with Chinese churches and communities.
2012 has been designated “The Year of China,” by the (Presbyterian) Kirk’s World Mission Council (WMC). The Church has had long-standing, ecumenically structured bonds with the church in China.
The WMC report called on the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, its governing body, meeting in Edinburgh this week, to: "Celebrate the renewal of the church in China, and to encourage members, congregations, Presbyteries and ecumenical groups to meet Chinese Christians, to visit the church in China and to learn more about China and Chinese Christians."
The Assembly also instructed the World Mission Council to support the work of training and equipping lay and clerical leadership through seminaries and training institutes in consultation with China Christian Council.
In a significant, diplomatically worded plea, the WMC report also expressed "support for all those working to ensure that the rule of law is applied equitably in all areas of life in China, and encourage congregations, Presbyteries, Church of Scotland Councils and Committees to offer support to those, especially minority groups, who suffer human rights abuses, and to do so by prayer and advocacy through organisations such as Amnesty International or Christian Solidarity Worldwide," urging the Scottish and UK Governments "to be robust in support of human rights and the rule of law in constructive efforts to be critical friends of China."
Amongst the work backed by the Church of Scotland is an HIV Programme supporting Amity Foundation (the leading charitable foundation in China).
The World Mission Council report notes that "The Church of Scotland has had a long and fruitful relationship with China over the years. In 1940 there were 94 Church of Scotland missionaries spreading the Gospel in China, whereas by 1952, after the end of Japanese occupation and the rise of Communism, most missionaries left either voluntarily or under pressure from the new leadership. The era of foreign missionaries had ended and the Chinese church set out on a new journey, proclaiming itself to be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating."
It continues: "The World Mission Council is again actively involved with partners in China supporting Amity Foundation’s strengthening of civil society and empowering people with HIV and supporting the China Christian Council’s provision of theological education."
"As well as looking forward to the challenges ahead in this work, the World Mission Council’s report reminds the Church of the enormous legacy of those pioneers and missionaries who have gone before. Their early work laid the foundations for ministries which today have resumed their work, something that is acknowledged by our church partners in China," the report concludes.
* Ekklesia's reporting and comment from the Church of Scotland General Assembly 2012, plus back stories, can be followed here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/kirkgeneralassembly