Every November, the three Annual Conferences of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS)—the Chinese AC (CAC), the Emmanuel Tamil AC (ETAC) and the Trinity AC (TRAC)—hold their separate conferences, which the respective Presidents chair. The Bishop, as the head of MCS, chairs the General Conference. He, together with the three Presidents, also attends each conference.
Although Singapore is a small country, there are three Annual Conferences because the early missionaries brought the gospel to groups speaking different languages: English, Baba Malay, Tamil, and Chinese and its dialects. The first churches to be established reflect the influence of the various languages/dialects: Wesley MC (1885, English); Short Street Tamil MC (1887, Tamil); Telok Ayer MC (1889, Hokkien); Kampong Kapor MC (1894, Baba Malay); Foochow MC (1897, Foochow dialect); and Hinghwa MC (1911, Hinghwa dialect).
The early Methodist missionaries, pastors and believers in Singapore were from different language groups, educational backgrounds and social status. Amidst the diversity, they were connected and united in the ministry to spread the gospel.
As their efforts bore fruit, more local churches were started. After they became financially self-sufficient, an application was made to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in the US to constitute the Autonomous Methodist Church in Malaysia and Singapore in 1968.
The General Conference was called the Malaysia-Singapore Methodist Church. Since the most commonly-used languages for the Methodist gospel ministry were English, Tamil and Chinese, three Annual Conferences were set up—the English-speaking TRAC, the Tamil-speaking ETAC and the CAC.
In 1974 and 1975, the General Conference appointed a Committee to present appropriate structures and legislation to restructure the Malaysia-Singapore Methodist Church to serve each of the two nations, Malaysia and Singapore. The Methodist Church in Singapore came into being in 1976.
Although English has become the lingua franca in Singapore and the main medium of instruction in schools, many Chinese and Indians continue to use their respective mother tongues and dialects. There remains a need for ministry and outreach amongst these two ethnic groups, and worship services in our churches are still conducted in their languages.
One of the petitions presented at the 2016 General Conference was to study how the present MCS structure can be improved to accommodate the current times and conditions of society. This is challenging task, and the key for the planning committee would be to seek unity in diversity.
¶382 of The Book of Discipline states that the Council of Presidents, which comprises the Bishop and the Annual Conference Presidents, shall be a body for “the promotion of connectionalism”. Please pray that we will be able to develop a better and more effective organisational structure to serve Singapore’s future generations.
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.
Picture by Rawpixel.com/Bigstock.com