“Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, that Jesus Christ is born,” sang the children of the Hope Voices Choir from Chen Su Lan Methodist Children’s Home at the opening holy communion service that marked the start of the Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) 43rd session, which was held from 18 to 21 Nov at Trinity Methodist Church. The ministerial and lay delegates from the 21 English-speaking Methodist churches later joined the children in the rousing song.
The song was a timely reminder of the W in “Worship”, TRAC’s theme for the coming year. TRAC’s logo carries five W’s: “Word”, “Worship”, “Welcome”, “Witness” and “Wonder”. TRAC President, the Rev Dr Gordon Wong, pointed out that in the 2013 session, TRAC began with a focus on the “Word”. The theme for each subsequent year followed the sequence of the five W’s.
Wesley and Worship
In the President’s Address on 19 Nov, the Rev Dr Wong covered “Wesley and Worship Participation” in the first section of his address. He encouraged the delegates to continue worshipping God in song and prayer. He described how congregational singing was not practised in churches before the 18th century. The Anglican priests recited or sang musical changes and choirs would perform, while the congregation respectfully listened. But John Wesley, inspired by the Moravian Christians, promoted congregational singing, a legacy that lasts to this day. The Rev Dr Wong also encouraged the delegates to pray with one another as a Conference.
In “Wesley and Worship Wars”, the second part of Rev Dr Wong’s address, he advised the delegates that if they disagreed with how other Christians worshipped, they should do so in a “charitable and respectful manner”. One of Wesley’s more famous sermons was entitled “The Catholic Spirit”,1 where he used the word “catholic” in the sense of “universal”. In the Rev Dr Wong’s words, “a big, large, wide-hearted spirit, a catholic spirit of universal love”.
For contentious issues—such as infant baptism as a holy sacrament, singing in tongues, withholding Holy Communion from those who have not yet been baptised, or matters to do with divorce—the Rev Dr Wong said, “By all means, let us try to persuade each other as to what we believe is the Bible’s clear teaching, but let the manner of our persuasion and debate be marked by a catholic, charitable spirit.”
Conferring and Worshipping Together
Over the next few days, the delegates focused on worship as the boards and councils gave their reports. They conferred together and approved policies on pressing issues of the day, particularly with regard to loving homosexual persons in the church.
At the opening service, nine local preachers were recognised. At the closing service, Mr Robert Kee was ordained as Diaconal Minister; Pastors Jacob Lim, Anthony Phua and Collin See were ordained as Deacons; and the Rev Benjamin Fong and the Rev David Ho were ordained as Elders. The Rev Fred Tan, the Rev Sng Chong Hui, the Rev Irene Thung and Christian Ministry staff Mrs Agnes John are retiring and were thanked for their years of service. The latter three will be re-engaged or re-employed by TRAC.
Let us draw near with faith.
Let us hold unswervingly to hope.
Let us consider how to love. (From Heb 10:22–25)
In his sermon at the closing service, the Rev Dr Wong preached from the New International version (NIV) of Hebrews 10:22–25. The NIV, he said, has managed to preserve the three-fold repetition of the Greek phrase that translates to the English “let us”. He reminded the leaders of the TRAC churches, especially the newly-appointed deacons and elders, to draw near to God with faith (v22), hold unswervingly to hope (v23), and consider how to love (v24)—together.
Church leaders, he said, should not be so busy running the church that they forget how to be the Church. He admitted, “Pastors struggle. We struggle to remember what God has called us as pastors to be, and to do.”
“But please,” he implored the ordinands and the pastors in attendance, “do not give up… Let us encourage each other, and stir up each other…to words of love, and acts of love even to those we regard as enemies. Because in Christ, we are family.”
The Church, he said, “is a congregation of people who are learning how to worship together, helping each other to draw near to God in personal communion, helping each other hold on with hope when life’s trials push us towards despair, and inspiring each other to thoughtful acts of love and good deeds to our neighbours everywhere.”
The Rev Dr Wong reiterated the well-known Christian trilogy of “faith, hope and love” he had mentioned in the previous year’s conference—that in the Church, the greatest of these is love.
1 John Wesley, “The Catholic Spirit”, Sermons on Several Occasions, trans. into modern English by James D. Holway (Ilkeston: Moorley’s, 1987).
Sheri Goh is the Editor of Methodist Message.
Photos by Daniel Lie