“On that night, Christ was born in a stable..’ is heard in the last Sunday worship before Christmas, in the brightly-lit Flower Lane Church (7 Flower Lane, N. Bayiqi Road), all seats being occupied, the elders holding the Bible and softly reading the texts, young couples sitting closely, kids making occasional noises – soon to be motioned to stop by the volunteering staff.
The congregation were attending the sermon delivered by Priest Ming Chen. It was Away in a Manger for the evening, and of course Christmas was coming around.
It will be a special Christmas for the church goers this year.
The new Flower Lane Church is going to be officially launched after a major renovation project, which is symbolized by the install of a gigantic pipe organ running across the entire front wall inside the chapel. It is roughly estimated that 10 percent of the whole population of Fuzhou are Christians, and half of them come from Flower Lane.
<The renovation project was completed in June and the new hall is equipped with the largest pipe organ found in all churches across mainland China. The instrument comprises 45 flutes and 3,050 pipes, and the cost for the whole set exceeds RMB 12 million. With the gigantic piece ready, an array of events are being planned for the Christmas, including Sunday Worship, Christmas Eve Sermon, Christmas Day Baptism, Communion and Worship Songs.>
In 1938, Mr. Jixi Lin – the overseas returnee architect from the Architecture Department of Concord College – was the designer of the then only granite chapel in downtown Fuzhou, which is the predecessor of the current Flower Lance Church.
After the Cultural Revolution, Flower Lane was the first church to restore religious activities in China. An old church goer recalled, back then thousands would flock in every Sunday but the chapel was only capable of holding a small portion of the congregation and so lots of makeshift shelters were set up to accommodate the crowd.
For decades, the wish for a new, larger venue is in the heart of every Christian that worships in Flower Lane.
The renovation project kicked off in 2014.
The following year was the 100th anniversary of Flower Lance Church and this year saw the ground breaking for the new chapel, about 30 feet away from the old chapel. If you stand behind the podium in the new chapel and look ahead into the depth, your sight will be met by the windows of the old chapel, without realizing the fact of the new chapel is actually 10 times the size of the old one.
The new chapel was partially completed and in use from this summer. The big neophyte started to catch attention, and was regarded by many as an avant garde landmark of the city before it’s even finished.
Interestingly, when you step in the new chapel and chat up the church goers or the volunteers here, you always catch a German name in the conversations – Dirk.
Many elders unfamiliar with Romanized photonics would pronounce it as Dick and Dak, which does not impede them from adoring the subject in a type of abstract form from the bottom of their heart. I was told by them that it’s Dirk and his Fuzhounese wife that brought them the new chapel.
His full name is Dirk Uwe Moench, a German architect. He tied the knot with Lin Xi a girl from Fuzhou and had the ceremony at Zhongzhou Christian Cathedral. Dirk was the mastermind behind the new chapel of Flower Lane Church in his wife’s hometown.
Dirk was inspired by the old chapel and saddle-shaped exterior walls – a unique feature found in traditional Chinese folk houses.
Dirk had a bird’s view in his mind that features wavy, saddle-shaped walls pushing to the end of the horizon, which gently hints at the locals’ love for the sea. Dirk integrated this cultural element into his design of the new chapel.
Meanwhile, the new chapel carried on the Basilica style and adopted the ridged contour, rendering respect to the old chapel in terms of the design of space, height, mass, texture and spirit, and heralding a new Centennial age.
The new chapel stands in an interesting area, where the old town centered by Dong Jie Kou, the alleys of San Fang Qi Xia
ng, the old chapel and Glory Theater, sits in juxtaposition with the surrounding high risers. The chapel embodies both avant garde and aristocratic indisposition in itself.
‘You will notice a cascading skyline, from the flanged buildings to the new chapel, which is still commanded by the cross of the old chapel.’ Dirk said, ‘we stay humble to the history.’
In the first year of the construction, Dirk would frequently inspect the site and usually be greeted by a few complaining workers, who said ’this is the hardest building to build.’
Dirk asked back, ‘are you happy to do this hard project?’
Workers said ‘yes, we are’.
Dirk didn’t ask further about why, because he thought he knew the answer already.
Dirk said, ‘We say human beings are frail and we want to leave something behind us. For both the architect and the average workers, we acted on the same mission which is to dedicate our work to our environment, especially when it comes to building a special chapel. We will say, come on, let’s do a thing that will last 100 years, that will shape the religious belief for a very long time into the future. Our children will gain an insight into the time we are living now. ‘
The new chapel broke ground at a site of rows of rundown houses. Dirk and Xi met there an old lady, who was 90 years old, blind and had been living at Flower Lane all her life. The old lady held the hands of the couple and said, ‘do you know how many years I have waited? I have to live to the day when the new chapel is done. I’ll put my hands on the new chapel then.’
What Xi did not know is that, during the two year construction period, many old people would come to the old chapel in the morning and pray for her and Dirk, and for the construction of the new chapel. Every time Xi is at the new chapel, she’s always greeted by a group of old people, who read over numerous prayers in 800 mornings.
Xi said, ‘it’s them that chose us.’
The new chapel has a pink colored exterior, which is rare for a church.
Like the old chapel, the new one is made of the local granite mined along the Min River. This material is rather unique to Fuzhou, and it turns into a bright reddish color in raining days.
The whole exterior is surfaced with polished, granite grains, which are the product of the grinding of big chunks. In the eyes of Dirk, these grains are the symbol of every single church goer. They draw strength from sticking together and push forward a common cause.
Dirk is quite happy with the product – pretty and humble.
The height of the new hall is designed to allow for a bird’s view of the wavy roofs of the old houses across the street at San Fang Qi Xiang. However, so many new high risers came in the way out of expectation. Dirk said it happens a lot that the intention at the designing stage does not deliver. Every building needs to go through the natural and social elements. Every building is a truthful witness of the time it stands. It’s our time that gave the final shape of the chapel.’
The chapel is done applying brick and mortar onto itself, and it’s waiting to gather many new stories.
On the night of the Dec 17, when the sermon ended and congregation dispersed, we saw a sizable group stay and continue praying. A lady in black down jacket knelt down in front of the cross, burying into the background of the same color.
Such piety was going on every day.
When I was about to leave, I hit up a conversation with an old lady that followed our steps and asked her how she liked the new chapel.
She said she liked it very much, ‘when they started to talk about a new chapel, we told them that we wanted the new building to be more lively, and so hopefully we will have more young people. I don’t want an empty church when my generation is out. The new chapel is great.’
While we talked, a young couple were passing by the newly decorated Christmas tree by the chapel.