Education has always been a vital core ministry of the Methodist Church. Its missionary work in Singapore began in 1885 and the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), a primary school for boys, was established the following year.
Two primary schools for girls, Methodist Girls’ School (MGS) and Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School (FMGS), were subsequently set up in 1887 and 1888 respectively. Like mustard seeds, these have burgeoned. Today, The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) has 15 schools and educational institutions, which include primary and secondary schools, a junior college, an international school, a private school and a music school.
John Wesley believed education was vital to a fuller, richer life. G. M. Best, author of Education from a Methodist Perspective, wrote: “John Wesley was as much an educator as a preacher. Methodist involvement in education stems from his passion for education, which was rooted in his understanding of the Bible and centuries of Christian tradition that the Church should be engaged in constantly seeking and understanding what is the truth by which we should live.”
Professor Richard Heitzenrater, my teacher at Duke Seminary and an eminent scholar in Methodism, said: “Knowledge, for Wesley, was not so much a purely intellectual attribute but rather a channel of self-understanding, which is crucial for salvation.”
Wesley believed everyone should have access to education regardless of their gender or class. He set up schools for the children of coal miners so that they would not be deprived of education because of poverty. Wesley also devoted himself to raising the quality of education for the younger generation. He believed that education could help build future social leaders of character and responsibility.
In Education from a Methodist Perspective, G. M. Best stated several general principles, including the following:
- Education should never be confined to utilitarian purposes: it is about the acquisition of wisdom so that individuals can give a proper direction to their lives in a fast-changing and complex world; we provide an education so that they can not only earn a living but also keep out of trouble. Our Methodist schools aim to help students develop wider perspectives and critical thinking skills so that they can constantly re-assess themselves and their positions, and make decisions accordingly.
- Education is not just about what we learn as individuals. It is also what we learn together as communities. It is about encouraging mutual respect and understanding, appreciating the importance of forgiveness, reconciliation and renewal, while respecting cultural diversity. Schools build not only the individual but also the community. In the modern context, there is strong emphasis on such higher values so as to develop engaged communities of high integrity.
- Education should promote self-discipline and hard work and recognition that the more we are given, the more is expected from us. It should equip a person with the right habits and for a life of service to others. People who use their talents in service for God and for others have the greatest impact on society. They cause others to question the source of their motivation and satisfaction and to wonder how they too may find similar meaning in life.
While the schools of MCS abide by the principles established by Singapore’s Ministry of Education, they also uphold the inherent spirit of its mission in education. Students will continue to be nurtured and developed in our Methodist schools, which are rich in history and tradition, to fulfill their roles and responsibilities towards self and society. This is part of our social principle related to responsibilities in community life, where we seek to work towards societies in which each person’s unique value is recognised, affirmed and strengthened.
The best is yet to be! Glory to God!
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.
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