Presenting his fifth President’s Address at the 42nd Session of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) that took place at Wesley Methodist Church (Wesley MC) from 20 to 23 Nov 2017, the Rev Dr Gordon Wong highlighted four major challenges that loomed over the ministries of TRAC churches under The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS).
However, he cautioned against viewing the challenges as inconvenient obstacles, instead urging TRAC delegates to turn challenges into opportunities that the churches could use to further the message of Christ, and to spread His love amongst the populace.
The four challenges were: ministering to the elderly; witnessing in a multi-religious society; working with and around stringent regulatory controls; and maintaining harmony and fostering positive interaction amongst the varied Protestant denominations.
Ministry with, by, and for seniors
“In June 2015, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong projected that Singapore would be ‘growing older faster than nearly any other society in the world’. In other words, Singapore might be the fastest-ageing country in the world,” said the Rev Dr Wong.
Instead of facing with trepidation the prospect of having to manage a greying population, and by extension, a greying congregation, the President exhorted TRAC churches to envision this current challenge as an opportunity to develop ministries that will be relevant and engaging to the elderly, and to meet their needs.
“Wouldn’t it be great to hear people say, ‘The young adults of that church take such an active role in spending time with the older folks – singing, laughing, and listening to their stories about life in the 1960s. That church must be doing something right if it can inspire so many younger adults to care for their parents and the elderly,’” envisioned the Rev Dr Wong.
He subsequently announced plans to introduce a full-time Developer of Seniors Ministry in TRAC churches. The proposal is currently being considered by the TRAC Executive Board.
Ministry in a multi-religious Singapore
The President next brought TRAC’s attention to the fact that Singapore has been ranked the top country with regard to religious diversity, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. The Center drew up an index that ranked 232 countries by their level of religious diversity. It saw Singapore achieving a score of 9.0 – a relatively large 0.8-point lead over Taiwan in second place, and 1.3 points ahead of third-placed Vietnam.
The Rev Dr Wong also displayed a chart illustrating the observation that across Singapore households in 2015, a majority of other religions except Christianity are facing a steady decline compared to figures from 2010. “The concern or perception that some of our inter-faith friends have about Christians ‘stealing their sheep’, so to speak, is one that we must be aware of, and sensitive to,” noted the Rev Dr Wong.
In addition, the Rev Dr Wong also highlighted that alongside Christianity, the group with the largest percentage increase are those who declare no religious affiliation. “[This] presents us with the exciting opportunity of how to be witnesses of the love of Jesus for all peoples in the most religiously-diverse country in the world… witnesses that are ever-ready to explain why we put our hope in the Christian God, but we [must] do it ‘with gentleness and respect’… ‘regardless of language, race, or religion’.”
The President made mention here of the good inter-faith work of the late Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao, a retired TRAC pastor who had recently passed on (see inset article). He announced that District Superintendent Rev Derrick Lau and the Rev Dr Lorna Khoo were representing TRAC at the Rev Dr Yap’s funeral which was taking place that very morning, and led the Conference in a moment of respectful silence.
Ministry in the face of stringent regulations
As with all religious bodies and charitable organisations in Singapore, the MCS and its churches, committees, councils, and agencies are subject to a set of stringent guidelines, rules, and regulations. While their existence is necessary to ensure good governance, the Rev Dr Wong cautioned the Conference not to allow them to suck out the joy of ministry, in the process of compliance.
He referenced one particular encounter with a donor who praised the Methodist Church for having a fine system of financial checks and controls, such that he felt reassured that his donation would be properly administered.
“The challenge, therefore, is to keep improving our financial and governance controls in ways that allow responsible ministry to take place freely; to be stringent without stifling the joy of ministry,” reminded the Rev Dr Wong. “How? Perhaps one way is to design forms or procedures that make it easy for any person with absolutely no accounting or governance competence to follow.”
He gave the analogy of an IT executive who should not only know how to keep computers regularly updated and protected from viruses, or send monthly reminders to install the latest virus protection update, but also use his IT expertise to design a step-by-step guide to help any user easily install the necessary protection update.
“So here is the challenge or ministry opportunity: to maintain or improve our stringent compliance with financial governance, by helping all Chairpersons of our Committees and Boards – of Missions, or Evangelism, or Social Concerns, or Youth Ministry – obtain the necessary protection in today’s world where everything and everyone is at risk,” added the Rev Dr Wong.
Ministry amidst Protestant diversity
While the previous challenges or opportunities highlighted by the President were external in nature, the last one on his list requires Methodist churches to work with one another and with other Protestant denominations in order to minister effectively and fruitfully. Navigating through the differences and diversities that are present within the various denominations with grace, poise, and sensitivity, can be a daunting prospect.
The Rev Dr Wong referenced the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation events that gave rise to the Protestant movement. He noted that as Methodism was birthed from the Protestant stream, so too were the other major denominations we know today, with many more coming into being even to this day simply due to disagreements over certain aspects of Christianity and its practices.
“This is a challenge that still confronts us today. How do Christian churches witness to the world in one united voice their agreement on the amazing love of Christ, when we still disagree, and regard it our spiritual duty to disagree, on so many significant aspects of Christian faith and practice?” asked the Rev Dr Wong.
He continued, “The challenge – or opportunity – is to demonstrate how we can remain ‘OnTRAC Together’ without making uniformity of belief and practice in everything a necessary starting point. United ministry in the midst of acknowledged diversity and disagreement would be a striking example of witness that shows love and respect for someone who does not share our views on some matters.”
“Everyone has a right to disagree. But no one has a right to be disagreeable.”
The Rev Dr Wong then proceeded to mention some current and upcoming ministry collaborations which exemplified his vision of not just TRAC churches, but also the rest of the Methodist family, coming together and working towards the benefit of the Methodist community.
He highlighted The Giving Methodist initiative, which will culminate during Lent season in 2018 with a call to all churches within MCS to give of their time, money, and voices in support of various social concerns. This will display what the President described as “…a clear Methodist distinctive: to show practical love and social concern for those who are faced with special challenges in our society.”
He also highlighted the current sharing of spaces within certain TRAC churches to house congregations from the other Annual Conferences, such as the Toa Payoh Tamil Methodist Church having their worship service every Sunday afternoon in the Toa Payoh Methodist Church premises, and Pasir Panjang Tamil Methodist Church having their Teck Whye ministry arm meetings in the Methodist Church of the Incarnation.
On a national scale, the Rev Dr Wong also shone the spotlight on MCS’ involvement in chairing the organisation of the 2018 GoForth National Missions Conference, as a key milestone in establishing and maintaining good working relations with the other denominations in Singapore, with regard to the ministry of missions.
“It is my hope that despite disagreements and diversity of practice, we can [work] together for God’s wonders to be experienced and received by many more,” concluded the President.
2018 Appointments and Ordination
Amidst the soaring voices of the Wesley Combined Choir and the enthralling scores performed by the Wesley Soli Deo Gloria Orchestra, the congregants at the Closing Service witnessed the ordination of six individuals as Deacons and Elders.
Pastor Benjamin Fong and Pastor David Ho Seng Hian were ordained as Deacons, while the Rev Ian Lee, the Rev Ling Kin Yew, the Rev Jeremy Ong, and the Rev Jason Phua were ordained as Elders.
Newly ordained ministers, L-R: The Rev Benjamin Fong, the Rev Ian Lee, the Rev Ling Kin Yew, the Rev Jeremy Ong, the Rev Jason Phua, and the Rev David Ho Seng Hian.
The service concluded with the reading of appointments for 2018 (refer to the appointments listing) by the TRAC President and the four District Superintendents – the Rev Paul Nga (District 1), the Rev Derrick Lau (District 2), the Rev Dr Chiang Ming Shun (District 3), and the Rev Stanley Chua (District 4).
Earlier during the Opening Service on 20 Nov 2017, TRAC recognised the work of the Rev Philip Lim Min Hock (pic below, with his wife) who was retiring in December 2017 after 28 years of service. The Rev Lim will be subsequently re-engaged as Pastor at Wesley MC with effect from January 2018.
Jason Woo –
is Methodist Message’s Editorial Executive. When not working on the latest articles, he enjoys long jogs and cuddling up with his three cats along with a good book.
Photos courtesy of Trinity Annual Conference