Living our Faith in the Workplace

Living our Faith in the Workplace

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11 September 2017

Living our Faith in the Workplace

Jeremy Gwee’s career in financial services spans the last 37 years. He is currently Country Chief Operating Officer with HSBC in Singapore. Prior to HSBC Jeremy worked for IBM, James Martin & Co, Ernst & Young, American Express, Deutsche Bank and Malayan Banking Bhd. He worships regularly at the 4.30 pm Saturday Service. He is married to Jessie and they have 2 children. Here he shares his testimony and concerns about how Christians may live out their faith in the workplace. 

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I will never forget Professor Paul Stevens’ words in his lecture on the theology of work in 2010. Looking back to my years in school and my career in banking and financial services, I can testify that God moulds and prepares us for His service through every experience. Everything happens for a purpose.

Early Formation in Catholic Schools

I came to know of God at the age of 3 when I attended the Good Shepherd Kindergarten. The first catechism class taught us that there is one God and He made me. Every morning began with prayers followed by catechism. We learnt to say grace before and after meals. This was my routine through my experience of my primary school at St Michael’s, and my secondary school and pre-university at St Joseph’s Institution. 

I am very grateful to God for this passage through these Catholic schools. The prayers we prayed from the prayer books are from the Bible. As such when I read the Bible today I search for words to converse with God in His vocabulary. Devotion also comes naturally because mornings always began with prayers. 

Most memorable of all is the fellowship with the Redemptorist priests at Novena and the La Salle Brothers. The priests made us very comfortable with confession and the brothers were wonderful teachers. Each of them imparted something in my life such as writing neatly, the love for literature and history, not fearing maths and many others. And they were always available for a chat. Any student could go to the Brother’s quarters and ring the bell to ask for help with homework and it meant a lot. It is this devotion that motivated me to want to be a Brother. Their lives demonstrate that “Like Jesus, we must become the “visible expression of the invisible God. People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”  

Then I met my wife-to-be at university. I dropped the idea of brotherhood. She was a Bible Presbyterian and knew the Bible well. The fatal attraction was my curiosity to find out how she could memorise so many Bible verses! I had my reservations about going to her church because I felt that the way Christians evangelise is an insult to my knowledge of God and salvation. How then can I marry this good Christian girl? But God answered my prayers. 

Of Banks and the Methodist Church

My first job after graduation was at Maybank. In the credit administration department where I worked, some of my colleagues worshipped at Kampong Kapor Methodist church. I ignored their invitation because of my bias towards Methodists. I associated Methodists with ACS and MGS. As for someone like me from SJI, I would be a peasant in their midst. Finally, I visited their church. The sermon that morning was about self-righteousness (Luke 18). Though I heard it many times in catechism classes, this time somehow the preacher convinced me that Protestants are not that bad after all. So, we became Methodists and got married. My journey in the Methodist church gave me the opportunity to serve as a lay person, as membership chairman, as member of the finance committee, building committee and in Christian education. This service was something that I did not experience in the Catholic Church. My most memorable time was to be part of the team to set up and lead the prayer and praise service at Paya Lebar Methodist Church. Through this experience I was introduced to the Pentecostal world. Through this ministry I got to work with Maureen Onions who introduced me to
SAC’s 9 am service then held at the Victoria Concert Hall. This was my first encounter with SAC. 

On the work front, I moved on from Maybank to Deutsche Bank and then into financial services with Ernst & Young and IBM. People often asked me why I did this. Banking in the 1990s saw the ills of foreign exchange and derivative trading surfacing. I felt that such work has no meaning. Every day you turned up for work to gamble. As a Christian, it is natural to ask whether Christians should be in this occupation. This began my search to find out what work Christians should do and how Christians should work. It was not till 2010 when I was introduced to the theology of work that I began to find answers to these questions. 

Through my work experiences at Maybank, Deutsche Bank, EY, IBM and now HSBC, I learnt about being a Christian in the marketplace. I travelled often for work and this exposed me to how Christians elsewhere live and witness for Christ. For example, in Sri Lanka in 1988, I had the privilege to know a banker who was banker in the morning and principal at a Bible school in the afternoon. In Hong Kong, I came across a group of “ang mo (Caucasian)” CEOs from major international corporations teaching Bible studies based on biblical theology to people from all walks of life in City Hall every Sunday. I visited factories managed by Christians in China. Through these experiences I realised my spiritual learning cannot be confined to Singapore.  

Pursuing Theological Studies

While working in Hong Kong, I pursued my theological studies through Bakke Graduate University (BGU). In part, this desire to serve fulltime lingered on even though I did not join the brotherhood earlier on. The other reason is that I missed catechism class where I was taught about the faith systematically. I also found that relying on sermons and attending seminars over the years were a haphazard way to study the Word of God. I became convinced after reading Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days, that understanding theology is key to understanding our faith.  However, I found it very difficult to pursue theological studies part time and as a lay person until BGU gave me a chance. Studying theology of work and working in the bank at the same time, God enabled me to experience the practice of faith at work. 

During my study, I learnt about how Christians lived out their faith at work. There are some who behave like atheists at work. Many of us could identify with literature on the spiritual gap between Sunday and the other six days of our lives. The literature points out that many Christians at work are in a dilemma. Exercising our faith at work is not just about organising lunch time prayer meetings, doing Bible studies and evangelising our colleagues. It is about being conscious of the fact that the teachings of the Christian faith, while having little relevance to the technical content of our work, are very relevant to how we relate to our colleagues. My thesis then was to illustrate how Christians can engage in relational evangelism based on their understanding of the theology of work. 

It is a fact that many people are put off by hard sell evangelism. In some countries, we know that this is prohibited. But at work Christians are in close proximity with their non-Christian colleagues. If their lives do not impact their coworkers, then what’s the point of being a Christian? The Redemptorist priests and La Salle Brothers did not hard sell Christ but their lives changed the lives of many of the students that they taught. They were there when their students needed them. Every Christian represents the body of Christ out there in the world. They can embody the message and presence of Christ in the world.   

The Potential in the Cathedral

After returning from Hong Kong in 2006, we joined the 4.30 pm Saturday Service and Lim Cheong Ming’s Connect Group. Looking at the variety of ministries, one is spoilt for choice. There is no excuse for not serving. We believe that this is the community we are called to be a part of especially now that we have retired. My burden for Christians in the market place continues.  

The Cathedral has many worshippers who are working in the city. How are they coping? Can they relate their faith to their work? What is their Christian witness like amongst their colleagues? 

The Cathedral is also uniquely placed by God in the heart of the city and I believe this is no accident. We must not forget the biblical significance of cities. “Antioch, Corinth and even Rome itself were places where Christian communities had been established and where Christian discipleship was put into practice.”   Unlike other churches, her doors are open to the public throughout the week. It can be a hub for refreshing and equipping Christians to be the visible expression of God in their workplaces. Workers can drop in for morning prayer or communion, just like St John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong, or there can be lunch time or evening talks or book reviews like ECC in TST. The theology of work can be taught online. In Hong Kong, a group of Christians came together and made Bible study possible for anyone by accommodating people’s busy schedules. Within a week a class would be taught twice – one in a physical class room and the other over Skype for those who missed the class. As Christians, we should think of ways and means to make ourselves available to God to pour out His blessings through us to the city. 

The world is undergoing tremendous change. The status quo will be consistently challenged as disruption becomes a way of life. In this season, how can the Cathedral support Christian workers and their witness in the workplaces where change is constant? How can some band together to do ministry for the Lord? How can Cathedral be an “oasis in the city,” where all and sundry can come and find spiritual blessing? Proverbs 11:11 points out that “When right-living people bless the city, it flourishes.”  Join me in praying that the Lord may do a new work in our midst. 

If you have feedback on Jeremy’s testimony or ideas for marketplace ministry, please drop him an email at Acts172629@gmail.com