Gao Ying

Honorary Doctorate

Gao Ying

During the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976), all public religious activity was stopped, churches and other centres of worship were closed, and many believers of all faiths were subject to imprisonment, re-education, hardship, and discrimination.

The identity and nature of the church in China underwent a profound change throughout this period. Reverend Gao Ying, professor at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee, says, “It took the Cultural Revolution for us to discover strengths in our weakness. God did indeed lead us through the valley of the shadow of death.”

Gao, a native of Beijing, China, converted to Christianity in 1980 after the Cultural Revolution and became a student in the first class of the reopened Nanjing Theological Seminary in 1981. This seminary, along with virtually all universities and colleges in China, closed down in 1966 at the start of the Cultural Revolution, and remained closed for 15 years. Gao went on to pursue an MA at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, then returned to Beijing to become a staff member at Chongwenmen Church. The following year she became the first woman from her home congregation in Beijing to be ordained. In 2004, she entered doctoral studies at the Toronto School of Theology in the University of Toronto, but her studies were interrupted in 2006 when she was called back to leadership of the Nanjing Seminary. She has been appointed Vice-President and Officer-in-Charge, marking the beginning of a major transition of leadership at the seminary.

“The Chinese Protestant Church is facing enormous challenges,” writes one nominator. “China was inspired and convulsed by revolutionary movements in the 20th Century. Christian communities struggled to find their role and to develop a theological self-understanding in the midst of war and revolution. These tasks continue. Gao Ying is particularly well prepared to play a crucial role in these enduring responsibilities.”

In addition to serving as a pastor and theology teacher, she has played a leading role in the Chinese church nationally and regionally. She is on the Executive Committee of the National Chinese Christian Council and has been Vice-Chair of the Beijing Christian Council. Internationally, she is a representative from China serving on the Central committee of the WCC. She is also on the Standing Committee of the Faith and Order Commission, and in 1997 worked for a year at the Asia Desk of the WCC in Geneva.

In 2001, she was called to be Senior Minister at Chongwenmen Church, which is the leading Protestant Church in her municipality. Gao says that when her church reopened in the early 1980s it attracted 300 worshipers. Today, it has 4,000 at various services each Sunday. She says she senses a religious awakening in China among young, educated people who are “searching for meaning” and finding it in Christianity. “There is spiritual longing in society—people longing for love,” she said. “When they come to the church they feel embraced by love and the community.”

She is described by many as a strong feminist and recognized leader of an ever-growing network of female pastors and theological educators, focusing on issues such as reconciliation, relationship of church and society, women’s roles in the church, and international ecumenical church relationships. “Ms Gao Ying has breadth of vision, depth of understanding, a compassionate and humble presence, and strength of character that is rare in this world,” writes another supporter.

For her leadership and dedication, The University of Winnipeg is pleased to present Reverend Gao Ying with an Honorary Doctor of Divinity today.