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It was founded in 1886 after William Edward Soothill, a Yorkshire-born missionary and future Oxford University professor, began evangelising local communities.But by the late 1950s, as the region was engulfed by Mao's violent anti-Christian campaigns, it was forced to close.A recent study found that online searches for the words "Christian Congregation" and "Jesus" far outnumbered those for "The Communist Party" and "Xi Jinping", China's president.Among China's Protestants are also many millions who worship at illegal underground "house churches", which hold unsupervised services – often in people's homes – in an attempt to evade the prying eyes of the Communist Party.Christianity can also play a role in maintaining peace and stability in society.Without God, people can do as they please." Yet others within China's leadership worry about how the religious landscape might shape its political future, and its possible impact on the Communist Party's grip on power, despite the clause in the country's 1982 constitution that guarantees citizens the right to engage in "normal religious activities".
The parish's revival reached a crescendo last year with the opening of its new 1,500ft mega-church, reputedly the biggest in mainland China.
Such churches are mostly behind China's embryonic missionary movement – a reversal of roles after the country was for centuries the target of foreign missionaries.
Now it is starting to send its own missionaries abroad, notably into North Korea, in search of souls.
"The child suddenly grew up and the parents don't know how to deal with the adult," the preacher, who is from China's illegal house-church movement, said.
Some officials argue that religious groups can provide social services the government cannot, while simultaneously helping reverse a growing moral crisis in a land where cash, not Communism, has now become king.
They appear to agree with David Cameron, the British prime minister, who said last week that Christianity could help boost Britain's "spiritual, physical and moral" state.