Pastors of the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC), Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) and Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) came together between 24 and 26 March 2019 in Johor Bahru, Malaysia for their quadrennial Combined Pastors Retreat.
The retreat brought together the pastors of the Annual Conferences (ACs) to deliberate on the expression of their unity in worship practices and organisational structure.
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung led the pastors in meditating on the Word of God and discerning the heart of Christ for the unity of His Church. In a series of three meditations, Bishop Dr Chong articulated three principles for the pastors to keep in view when considering how the unity of MCS may be better expressed.
Firstly, recognising the three ACs’ differing norms of worship practices, Bishop Dr Chong reflected from John 4:21–26 that to “worship in spirit and in truth” means that true worship of God transcends geographical locations and cultural contexts. While norms of worship practices may differ between the ACs due to their different cultural or sub-cultural contexts, all are seeking to worship God in the most authentic manner they know. So dialogues seeking unity in worship practices need to done in humility and with an interest to appreciate the spiritual truths and cultural concerns behind the worship practices of each AC.
Secondly, from Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” in John 17, Bishop Dr Chong reflected that Jesus’ prayer for the unity of His disciples was not to counter a situation of disunity, but a prayer for an existing unity to be maintained. It was a prayer anticipating the tough challenges that the disciples would have to face.
So the present impetus behind discussions on the unity of MCS is not to combat signs of disunity, but to grow in unity. The call for a better expression and practice of unity is also set against a backdrop of anticipated challenges that MCS may face, for which a tighter connection may enable better mutual encouragement in the faith and allow for nimbler responses to such challenges. Therefore, dialogues on the unity of MCS need to consider what is helpful and good for future generations of Methodists in Singapore.
Lastly, reflecting on John 21:15–19, Bishop Dr Chong called on the pastors to remember the meaning behind the word “pastor”, which Jesus had given to them and their given task of tending to Jesus’ flock. He further exhorted the pastors, regardless of AC, to recognise all MCS churches as Jesus’ sheep, and to tend all whom Jesus gives to them in the spirit of Jesus the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).
Also aiding the pastors in their deliberations on worship practices was the Rev Dr Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church and Professor of Worship in Boston University. Her presentations shed light on the historical development of some of our worship practices today and their implications for the discussions on worship practices in MCS’s context.
Over the three days, the MCS pastors also enjoyed the spiritual refreshment of fellowship with one another across ACs over meals; worshipping in Tamil, Mandarin and English; and communing as one at the Lord’s Table.
Pastor Poh Zhi-Hui is currently serving as an Assistant Pastor at Toa Payoh Methodist Church.
Photos courtesy of the Rev David C. S. Wee