32ND SESSION OF EMMANUEL TAMIL ANNUAL CONFERENCE: NOV 9-10, 2007
REFERRING to the Conference theme for 2007, “Empowering the Community”, ETAC President Rev James Nagulan noted with satisfaction that Conference boards began to work together to maximise the use of resources and were involved in programmes divided into four headings – Ministries, Members, Ministers, Management.
In his President’s Review, he said that Conference boards spent time and money organising programmes although participation was not very encouraging and may have been due to poor communication and the inability to get the churches to respond.
More encouraging was the community project conducted with support from Tan Tock Seng Hospital in giving free medical screening. Also showing encouraging results was the Foreign Workers’ ministry with the Telegu Ministry at Tamil Methodist Church, Short Street enjoying the fastest growth in the Conference.
The Student ministry, which began last year, now has 21 students, with room for growth because of the growing foreign student enrolment.
Said the Rev Nagulan: “Our own students who have joined in this fellowship may help provide leadership and help to reach out to many more. However, age-group ministries in our churches suffer from the lack of a critical mass to support Sunday schools and youth groups.”
Although there is a growing number of Indian expatriates worshipping in Tamil churches, there may be a need to hold English services which would also “cater to our own youth who are not quite comfortable with Tamil services”.
Among church members, many are not regular worshippers because of work or family commitments, and this may contribute to social problems whose dangers families need to be educated.
The Women’ Society of Christian Service (WSCS) is probably the only active group in the churches. Well organised, it is involved in many aspects of church ministry, despite many being working women, but it faces serious problems as young women shy away from it.
However, what needs great attention are the men folk, many of whom seem to have forgotten their roles in leading their families spiritually. This is an area which the Conference Lay Leader has been asked to look into.
With 11 elders, of whom five are appointed to full-time charges and four to other ministries, the situation is healthy, but the Conference needs to look at longer-term needs, especially when reminded of the theme in 2008 to “Enlarge the Territory”.
To encourage them, pastors have been provided space to study and administer their work. They also have weekly interaction. They are also being encouraged to attend training and equipping sessions.
Another problem refers to pastoral appointments as some churches object to certain pastors. Little can be done, as the number of pastors is small, while the Methodist itinerant system means that pastors will serve different churches at one time or another. All pastors are trained and equipped to serve the church and its needs, though each may differ in gifts and talents. Churches need to accept these appointments in good faith.
The greatest financial challenge in 2007 was the substantial increase in Conference dues because the Conference was unable to continue giving the 10 per-cent reduction: this would deplete its reserves saved through many years of prudent financial management.
A related issue is the rising cost of Conference financing. Much of the increase is due to staffing costs, while the funding support by each church is calculated on a variable amount based on full membership. Some churches defeat this by curbing numerical growth in order to pay less. Perhaps the model needs to be reviewed.
Other financial requirements for the New Ministry Initiatives (NMI) and Theological Education Fund (TEF) as funds provided by a donor lasted only three years. If the Conference is serious about these two ministries, funds need to be raised for them.
The issue of churches not being in strategic locations has been noted for a long time, and the success of Seletar Tamil Methodist Church moving east might suggest that other churches need to re-consider their locations. Also, the Conference is spread too thin in terms of membership and corresponding pastoral/ ministry resources.
“Is our structure too big and complex for such a small group?” asked the Rev Nagulan.
He closed his review by stating that there is much work to be done, but has learnt to look beyond it – to the Master – God Himself to provide the spiritual resources to tackle what lies ahead.
Earnest Lau is the Associate Editor of Methodist Message.