Archbishop preaches on China tour

Shanghai, China - The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has begun his first trip to China with a sermon in Shanghai.

At an invitation-only service, he told about 300 worshippers at the Moore Memorial Church that "peace is possible through the power and harmony of God".

After Shanghai, he will visit four other cities during his two-week stay.

In the summer Dr Williams said he was "greatly looking forward" to the tour, which followed an invitation from Protestant church leaders in China.

The visit aims to provide a deeper understanding of Christian communities in China and the country's development.

The Reverend Jonathan Jennings, the Archbishop's spokesman, said the visit "has quite a strong official component to it".

"The bishop wants to look at the Christian churches in China within the context of trying to get a better understanding of the organisation," he added.

'Cultural heritage'

Previous Archbishops of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie and Dr George Carey, visited China in 1983 and 1994 respectively.

Dr Williams said in a statement after the visit was announced in August: "I very much welcome this opportunity to come alongside the Church in China, as well as to gain a fuller appreciation of China's remarkable development in recent years and its unique cultural heritage."

Dr and Mrs Williams have been accompanied by the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev David Urquhart, who recently became the Archbishop's episcopal link with China.

The visit is being jointly hosted by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement/China Christian Council and the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA).

The Archbishop is set to meet leaders of other registered religions in China.

State-sanctioned churches

As well as visiting a range of initiatives and institutions, Dr Williams is due to deliver three main sermons in Shanghai, Wuhan and Beijing.

The Archbishop will also deliver lectures and take part in discussions at various academic institutions.

He is also expected to meet businessmen and leaders from other registered religions in China, including the Chinese Catholic church.

Communist authorities in China only allow Christians to worship in state-sanctioned churches which come under strict government supervision.

These churches have an estimated membership of about 16 million.

But millions of other people practise Christianity in unofficial "house churches".