Certainly if you visit Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre, you might think you were on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery. The church looks exactly like a Buddhist temple. Its courtyard features an Oriental garden with steaming rocks and bonsai-like trees.
Tao Fong Shan means Mountain of the Christ Wind. Located high on a hill that offers a spectacular view of Hong Kong, the scenic complex houses an art shop, retreat centre, academic institute, church, youth hostel and crypt. Today it continues to carry out the mission of Karl Reichelt. He was determined to introduce Christianity to the Chinese people in a way that reinforced the value of their culture, demonstrated respect for their religious beliefs and appealed to their intellectual integrity.
Reichelt went to China under the auspices of the Norwegian Missionary Society in 1903. Two years later while visiting a Buddhist monastery, he began to dream of establishing a centre where Buddhist monks could learn about Christianity. With this goal in mind, he spent the next 20 years learning everything he could about Buddhism. In 1923, he opened a Christian centre in the Chinese city of Nanjing and over the next four years some 5,000 Buddhist and Taoist monks visited and studied there. Civil war in China forced a move to Hong Kong where Reichelt purchased the hill on which the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre now stands.
Although Reichelt published numerous books and is considered as one biographer put it, the "the first knowledgeable communicator of information about eastern religions to the west," his real legacy is enshrined on the Mountain of the Christ Wind where he is buried.
Here with the help of Danish architect Johannes Prip-Moeller, Reichelt created a complex whose style would make the Taoist priests, Tibetan lamas and Buddhist monks who came to visit and study feel right at home.
Today the Institute for Sino-Christian Studies at the Tao Fong Shan Centre continues to promote the kind of inter-religious dialogue Reichelt began. A slightly more open attitude towards religious discussion in Mainland China has given a new sense of urgency to the institute's efforts to translate as many Christian theological books as possible into Chinese and make them widely available. The centre also supports researchers seeking to reinterpret centuries of Christian thought with the insights offered by Chinese philosophy and culture. They publish academic journals that encourage ongoing discussion between Chinese theologians and their international counterparts. The institute's library houses more than 10,000 books and 150 periodicals specializing in inter-religious dialogue, Christian art and spirituality. Together with the Lutheran Theological Seminary, whose campus is also located on the Mountain of the Christ Wind, the institute offers courses of study towards a masters of divinity degree.
In the Tao Fong Shan art shop, Reichelt's goal of integrating Chinese culture with Christian themes is demonstrated in engaging and lovely ways. The shop sells beautiful woven tapestries created by China's Tujia women on their simple wooden looms. These wall hangings feature colourful scenes from the Old and New Testament. Also for sale are Chinese porcelain plates on which scenes from the Gospels have been hand-painted using a method dating back to the 14th century. All proceeds from the art shop go directly towards supporting the artists.
The Tao Fong Shan Retreat Centre carries on Reichelt's vision by inviting visitors to spend time living in a monastic setting as they participate in guided study and meditation experiences on topics like Christian Spirituality in the Chinese Context. Taize services in the Lotus Crypt enhance these retreats
Perhaps the newest and most innovative project of Tao Fong Shan is the youth hostel called Ascension House. Staffed by Christian volunteers, it is listed in the Lonely Planet Guide Book and on a variety of websites. This brings many young people from around the world to Tao Fong Shan every year. The hostel offers tours of the area, daily optional prayer services, a warm bed, good food and a friendly staff for a very reasonable price.
On Sunday evenings, hostel guests are invited to join the worship service and fellowship meal in the church at Toa Fong Shan. I attend each week and have come to appreciate the unique liturgy and rituals designed to show respect and recognition of Chinese culture and religion.
If you visit Hong Kong, I encourage you to put the Mountain of the Christ Wind on your itinerary. You can find out more about Tao Fong Shan by visiting its website at www.tfscc.org or if you are interested in staying at the youth hostel, go to www.achouse.com.
MaryLou Driedger is a former Free Press Faith page columnist now living and working in Hong Kong. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org