Every year, as applications open for Primary and Secondary schools in Singapore, most mission schools – including our Methodist schools – experience high levels of interest. Why is this the case? We surmise that alongside academic and extra-curricular excellence, which is not the sole purview of mission schools, another factor is the strong grounding in values and character which our schools provide through pastoral care ministry.
“Pastoral care”, however, is not limited to being provided by pastors (though they are crucial in the role of chaplains to our Methodist schools). Our Christian Ministry Staff (CMS), too, play a vital role through their ministry of availability – being stationed on-site in Methodist schools allows them to be present for the students in their times of need.
Mr Aaron Ho, CMS at Anglo-Chinese Junior College who has previously served in other Methodist schools, noticed that some students preferred to approach the CMS rather than their teacher or the designated school counsellor. He has encountered students with stories of family struggles and tensions in friendships; several of them mentioned they would cut themselves because they did not have the emotional capacity to cope with these challenges.
“Through the year,” he said, “as we provided a safe space for them to share their lives, and as we counselled and encouraged them, we were able to see them become emotionally stronger and more ready to face the challenges ahead of them. From tears to smiles, this is the privilege a CMS gets to see.”
Ms Jenny Koh, CMS at Methodist Girls’ School, agreed that this is an important part of the CMS’ ministry to students. She shared: “Many CMS offices become a ‘hang-out place’ for students during recess, free periods and after school, giving the CMS opportunities to glimpse what is happening ‘on the ground’ as we hear the conversations exchanged and mingle with them.”
“The students, who come on a voluntary basis and bring friends with them, feel that this is a safe space and are usually less guarded and defensive. They speak freely about anything under the sun and therefore very often, such occasions become golden opportunities to reinforce teachings from morning devotions and chapel messages.”
Creating this “safe space” for students is a key goal for many CMS. Ms Esther Kasinathan highlighted the drop-in centre run for students in Geylang Methodist School (Secondary), where students can come after school to play pool, table soccer, or just ‘hang out’ and relax. The centre even organises pool training and a competition after the exams, and Basic and Intermediate guitar classes for students.
Said Stuart Cheng, a student at GMS(S): “Coming to the drop-in centre helps me relax and release stress. Winning the pool competition helped me to feel I have achieved something.”
St Francis Methodist School, in particular, help their student population – 90 per cent of whom come from more than 20 countries outside Singapore – to settle in and adjust to a new environment as well as school culture. Mr James Lee, CMS at SFMS, shared about their weekly English club support group that brings together students from more than five nationalities over free lunch to learn conversational English, using the Bible and other youth-related materials.
The CMS also form a link between the Church and the Methodist schools. Volunteers and staff from the adjoining Bukit Panjang Methodist Church organise a yearly orientation city-tour for new SFMS students in January, bringing them to places of interest and to experience a taste of local flavours with the aim of getting to know the students. Seminarians from the next-door Trinity Theological College (TTC) also organise cycling events and food-cum-photo hunts for interested SFMS students. TTC seminarians come over to the SFMS school hall weekly to play badminton, table tennis, basketball, board games, guitar, or just have friendly chats and occasional tuition with the students.
Time and space do not permit detailing the various areas of a CMS’ ministry, which usually include:
- Sharing of daily morning devotions, overseeing weekly chapel programmes, including leading worship and speaking;
- Overseeing Christian Fellowship (CF) meetings, follow-up Bible Study sessions, Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade activities, discipleship and mentoring meetings with students;
- Informal interactions during recess or breaks, befriending and informal counselling (sharing of experiences and advice);
- Planning and supporting various special services e.g. Founder’s Day, Religious Emphasis Week or Good News Week, Prefects’ Installation, Baccalaureate Service, Homecoming Service, Christmas Service, etc.;
- Prayer support and hospitalisation and bereavement ministry to staff and students;
- Organising prayer groups with parents, staff and students, etc.
But the CMS’ ministry goes beyond direct ministry to students, staff and parents. One of the most fulfilling roles of a CMS is nurturing the students to minister to their peers as well. Said Esther: “The students attending CF regularly are developed as leaders to work alongside the CMS to lead the sessions. They also organise activities for other students in school to enjoy after the exams. Here in GMSS, our CF leaders helped organise a movie afternoon for their peers who were interested to come and enjoy lunch fellowship and a movie. CF students also prepared gifts to appreciate and encourage the school leadership and teachers during Teachers’ Day in 2016.”
Jenny affirmed this critical part of the CMS role, sharing: “The constraints encountered by the CMS are many and the fruits of our labour are usually obvious only many years later. Yet what made many of us faithfully plod and labour on then? I believe I speak for some of my fellow colleagues too, that… by making ourselves available as [the students’] adult role models to coach them, counsel them, direct and correct them during their growing up and impressionable years, we know that the ‘investments’ we are making yield eternal returns in due time, even if one soul is touched and return to the fold of God – and we certainly echo the heartfelt joy expressed by the Apostle John in 3 John 1:4.”
“The Christian Ministry is more than just a job or a vocation – it is a calling, a passion!”
Volunteer opportunities also abound to support this vital ministry – e.g. meeting weekly to pray for the school, or providing meals for students etc. Please contact the CMS of the respective schools to offer your help.
Grace Toh –
is the Editor of Methodist Message. She put this article together with valuable input from the Rev Aaron Tay, Director of Ministry in Schools, and his team of Christian Ministry Staff.