Beijing, China (CNN) – The congregants were seated in rows of folding chairs, clasping their hands in prayer or studying passages in their Bibles.
The choir was sitting up front ready to sing on cue. A cross hung behind the pastor. The service looked like a Christian service you would see pretty much anywhere else in the world. But this is Beijing, and the recent Sunday service was illegal.
I couldn’t stop glancing at the door and wonder – are the authorities on their way?
This must be the feeling the people in informal churches here have lived with for decades, I thought.
In China, the government allows religious activity but tightly controls it, requiring Christians to meet at state-approved churches. Many Chinese Christians prefer to worship on their own terms at “house” churches, which generally start as small prayer meetings in people’s homes.
In recent years, the authorities have tolerated these underground churches. In fact, the parishioners CNN spoke to seemed unfazed by their church’s illegal status.
However, Pastor Ezra Jin, the leader of Zion Church, said these churches are now under tremendous pressure – in the midst of China’s crackdown on dissent here in the wake of the Arab Spring.