The Story Between Two Churches

The street-side view of Cheefoo Church.

The story of Christianity in China unfolded during the Tang dynasty after a small group of missionaries visited Chang’an with a trading caravan. Those Catholic missionaries received permission from the emperor to spread their religion and teach people about the Bible. However, soon after the fall of the Tang dynasty, Christianity in China fell into silence because of war and destruction.

During the Qing dynasty, western missionaries started visiting China again under the benefits of newly signed treaties. Those treaties acknowledged the right of foreign missionaries and granted them land to set up churches.

The Cheefoo Convention, known in Chinese as the Yantai Treaty, was a treaty between Qing China and Great Britain, signed by Sir Thomas Wade and Li Hongzhang in Zhifu (now a district of Yantai) on August 21, 1876. The treaty brought a surge of missionaries to Yantai as a transfer location, where they could then head to inland China. By that influence, Christianity flourished in Yantai by the early 20th century.

James McMullan, a member of the Congregational Church, joined the China Inland Mission (CIM) when he decided to spread Christianity in China. He first arrived at Chongqing, Guangzhou, and eventually stayed in Yantai, where he built a school with his wife, Lily. Together, they set up the Cheefoo Church and a school, especially for girls.

Girls could receive decent education in the morning and work as payment for their tuition in the afternoon. Their school was so successful that even the nearby housewives came to work here. In 1900, the Cheefoo Church used its revenues to invest in other local schools and hospitals. After McMullan died in 1916, his son took over the business. Unfortunately, the entire McMullan family was arrested and sent to concentration camps during WWII, and McMullan’s son died there.

When I returned home last year, I always thought about doing an introduction to one of my hometown churches. However, COVID-19 forced all churches to close and my plan was postponed. Luckily, Cheefoo Church reopened last weekend, and I finally had the chance to pay a visit to this mysterious place that only existed in history books for me before. I arrived at the Cheefoo Church on a rainy afternoon. The church is located at the center of the city, and skyscrapers surround it. The small, red church seems like it does not belong in such a noisy place and looks a bit isolated from the secular world.

The street-side view of Cheefoo Church.
Near the front door of Cheefoo Church there are some quotes from the Bible.
The slogan on the wall says “God loves all.”

I was attracted by the simplicity and quietness of the church. The first thing I saw was a blue board in front of me, with quotes from Bible.

There was nobody at the church at that time, but I could hear the voices of the choir behind the organ. I walked in and noticed how simple the decorations were. Unlike St. Joseph’s Chapel at Christ School, the Cheefoo Church only has plain windows and wooden chairs. Most of the colors inside the church are white, red, and cyan, adding the solemn sense of this place.

Words decorate the walls at Cheefoo: “Holiness unto the Lord” and “God loves all.”
Wooden benches in Cheefoo Church look similar to St. Joseph’s.
Simple windows grace the walls.

I kept taking pictures as I walked to the second floor. The view was clearer, and I could see a similar structure compared to St. Joseph’s Chapel. The chaplain’s position is not that different. But because the original St. Joseph’s Chapel was built the same way as many Episcopal churches were—a cross-like layout—the Cheefoo Church looks more spacious than St. Joseph’s because it looks more like a square.

From the second floor, we could see the Cheefoo Church’s motto hanging at the center: “Holiness Unto the Lord,” and its translation into English.

The view of St. Joseph’s as you enter the original main doors.
Seniors gather in front of St. Joseph’s Chapel shortly after its renovation in 2006.
The Bishop visits St. Joseph’s Chapel shortly after its renovation over a decade ago.

Sadly, I did not have access to the inner part of the church because of choir practice, but I found peace and harmony throughout my visit to Cheefoo Church. Unlike the busy, noisy outside world, the church is tranquil and comfortable for tired hearts. At Christ School, the outside world is at times equally peaceful and St. Joseph’s is a place for us to find even more peace. But in Cheefoo Church, Yantai, the dynamic is reversed. It looks unbelievable that such a beautiful church could exist in the center of a crowded metropolitan city, and somehow not be disturbed. Maybe it is the protection of God? What do you think?

There are many churches throughout the world, and these two churches only represent a few. I hope you enjoyed this exploration and comparison of these two churches, and that you might visit a new place yourself sometime soon once the pandemic has eased.