On 8 and 9 Nov 2019, the Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) gathered at Tamil Methodist Church, Short Street for its 44th Annual Conference session. The session reviewed accomplishments over the year as well as deliberated on its direction for 2020, which is the fourth year of the 11th quadrennium.
To chart ETAC’s course, ETAC President the Rev James Nagulan had previously set four tasks—“Renew”, “Revive”, “Reorganise” and “Rebuild”—one for each year of the current quadrennium. 2020 will focus on “Rebuild”.
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung, who spoke at all the Annual Conference opening services and delivered the same message, called for the churches to get past the different labels used for Christians, e.g. “follower”, “believer”, “church member”, “children of God”. We should, instead, get to the root of what God would have us be and as described by the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:23–29—ministers (or servants) of His Gospel and, by extension, ministers of the Church.
The need to Rebuild
“God’s hand is upon us and He shall strengthen our hands.”
In the President’s address, the Rev James talked about the downward trend in church membership over the past decade. The Rev James said that the reduction in number could partly be explained by the local churches’ efforts to clean up membership records and remove those who had left.
But he noted that despite the reduced membership, the total attendance at weekly Sunday church services rose steadily from 655 in 2008 to 800 in 2018. This indicates that members of the local churches appear committed to staying in their parishes. As a result, the total revenue of the local churches has also almost doubled.
He also highlighted that youth and children make up a significant number of 340. These children and youth will soon be confirmed and become part of the church. He called for increased funding to support youth outreach and discipleship ministries and a renewed effort on the part of the pastors to engage the young as they represent the future of ETAC.
The Rev James acknowledged that the greatest challenges facing the ETAC churches include membership retention and discipleship, leadership renewal, pastoral supply, and church building maintenance.
The Rev James urged the Conference delegates to consider if ETAC’s current setup of eight churches led by six pastors for 800-plus members is sustainable, and how best to achieve a more focused and effective pastoral care ministry. He then put forth three proposals.
After much deliberation, the delegates chose the proposal to preserve the current setup but with the caveat that by 2024, the smaller churches (below 120 members) must reach the minimum of 120 members each, as stipulated in the 2017 edition of The Book of Discipline (¶146), for a local conference. The proposal also called for more pastors to be employed by 2020, which would involve identifying prospective candidates wishing to enter full-time ministry.
In his closing sermon, the Rev James drew parallels between the rebuilding of Jerusalem, described in the second chapter of Nehemiah, and the current drive to rebuild ETAC.
“Nehemiah 2:17–20 is a reminder of what God can do in and through us when we are stand united and serve together,” emphasised the Rev James. “It is time for ETAC to recognise structural challenges within ETAC and be willing to make the changes and reorganise ourselves and build the churches. God’s hand is upon us and He shall strengthen our hands to arise and build His church.”
Jason Woo is Methodist Message’s Editorial Executive.
Photos courtesy of Daniel Lie