8TH SESSION OF THE GENERAL CONFERENCE: OCT 18-22, 2004
Importance of educating Methodists
IN HIS Episcopal Address, Bishop Dr Robert Solomon drew attention to his role as an educator in the (first) four years of his episcopacy. He observed that we live in a time of sweeping changes – foundational worldviews, values and so-cial structures are being rapidly dismantled.
Cultural historian Mark Oppenheimer in his book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, has voiced his concern that the counter cul-ture of the 1960s and 70s has significantly affected the religious denominations in America.
Some examples are the acceptance of a gay lifestyle in the Unitarian church in the 60s; the use of folk music in Catholic liturgy (though keeping doctrine intact); the development of Jewish havurot (small groups), like radical groups such as the Black Panthers; women’s ordination in the Episcopal church; and the reactions against the Vietnam War in the Southern Baptist Convention.
In the aftermath, both liberal and con-servative churches have been influenced, while American forms of Christianity have influenced many churches, including those in Singapore.
In times like these, the Bishop said, we need to discern what is happening all around us, and make it necessary for us to unmask and discover, in the language of Peter Berger, who our puppet masters are.
To help Methodists understand better, the Bishop’s Office has been organising the Aldersgate Convention every year in May, an annual event that aims to bring together Methodists in Singapore in this liturgical and pedagogical gathering, and to help explore Wesleyan teachings and practices regarding Christian discipleship and scriptural holiness.
It aims to bring in some of the best speakers to help strengthen our connection and deepen our knowledge of and love for God. To date, such speakers as Dr Thomas Oden, Dr Ajith Fernando and Dr David Watson have come. In 2005, Dr William Abraham, Dr Geoffrey Wainwright and Dr Karen Tucker, three illustrious writers and speakers, will address the Aldersgate Convention – as we celebrate the 120th Anniversary of The Methodist Church in Singapore.
At the same time, the Bishop pointed to Methodist Message that carries not only news but also educational and inspiring articles which have been appreciated by many who have written in, not only locally, but overseas from Methodists and other denominations. The Bishop’s column has been used as a teaching tool for which many have provided encouragement.
Other publications have also been used as teaching tools. The People Called Meth-odists was published to provide members and others with an introduction to The Methodist Church in Singapore, its history, heritage, beliefs, mission and organisation.
To enhance its value, a companion study guide was also published for use by indi-viduals and small groups.
Another book, Sparks of Grace, by Associate Professor Robbie Goh, was pub-lished to tell the story of Methodism in Asia, while a couple of Episcopal sermons, and a trimestral Episcopal Letter to pastors, church leaders and staff to help them reflect on issues related to the life, mission and ministry of the church, rounded off the educational initiatives of the episcopacy in the last quadrennium.
“There is a great need for spiritual discernment and teaching in the church in the context of the challenges that we face. This includes retaining a deep spiritual centre in the life and mission of the church,” concluded Bishop Dr Solomon.
Boosting our educational mission
BISHOP Dr Robert Solomon referred to the prime importance that The Methodist Church in Singapore has given to our educational mission through our schools.
In order to enhance and strengthen this ministry in our 14 schools with 22,000 students and 1,200 teachers, he outlined three measures that could help.
FIRST, we should consider having a full-time Director of Ministry in Schools (DMS) to meet the increasing challenges and to oversee the Christian ministry in our schools. Besides chapel and Christian education work, there is an increasing need to cater to the counselling needs of students and staff.
If necessary, the DMS could double up as Education Secre-tary, as other churches have done, thereby helping our mission in the schools to have a clearer focus and leadership.
SECOND, we should ensure that our Christian Ministry Staff (CMS) are well trained in theology and youth ministry. The challenges of ministering among youth makes it necessary that our CMS are well-grounded both in theology as well as in youth ministry competencies.
THIRD, we should strengthen the role of chaplains in our schools. Chaplains have normally been junior pastors, to whom the more experienced passed on their responsibilities. But not all pas-tors may be suited for ministry as chaplains in their gifts and inclina-tions, and it is necessary to ensure a good fit between chaplains and the schools. Besides, chaplaincy was considered “extra-curricular”.
To rectify this, a proper understanding of its importance needs to be cultivated. Perhaps, the new permanent order of deacons, a step in line with steps taken in the Methodist Churches in Britain and the United States, as well as scriptural principles and teaching will strengthen their role and that of the chaplaincy.
Bishop Dr Solomon also pointed out that it was important for the principals and staff of our schools to appreciate more deeply the nature of the Methodist Church, and our educational mission and ethos.