Vicar Writes

Vicar Writes

ABOUT THE VICAR

Terry Wong Photo

Revd Canon Terry Wong is the Vicar of the Cathedral. He writes weekly for the weekend Service bulletins and the articles are posted on this site.

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All 2017 January Vicar Writes

29 January 2017

Use or Enjoyment?

By Terry Wong

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:2,3

St Augustine, as he reflected on gratitude, identified two fundamental modes of relating to reality: use and enjoyment

 

To use means taking up what is currently before us for the purpose of some greater end. Most of us are working towards a greater purpose and aiming to achieve something. This will be especially true in a society like ours. Some of these purposes are focused on self.  There was a stage when we tried to get the best degree possible to secure a better future. Some of our fellow students become our competitors. Then we go through a stage of searching for a life-partner.  Every friendship, connection and Facebook post become an opportunity to project a better image of ourselves. We started working and we join an office where we join many of our colleagues in the same race. If a promotion is possible, you want it. 

Using, using, using: people, things and opportunities to push ourselves a bit further ahead. 

Others have more altruistic motives. They share the same mode of use in life, yes, but for the sake of others. And as above, every stage of life provides a context and opportunity for this. This is to be lauded for Jesus did tell us, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his own soul?” You may have seen movies like Regarding Henry, Patch Adams or the more recent Up in the Air  and wept some tears of regret. 

The mode of use in life has its place for self or others. 

Enjoyment has a different character. When we enjoy something, we are grateful for it, resting in the blessing of its presence. Some of you will remember the first time you held your firstborn in your arms. Your child gave you a new incentive to leave work early and rush home. When I was on a 3 weeks mission trip after Sarah was born, I was terribly Sarah-sick by the second week. Someone said that the home is a destroyer of ambition. Indeed. Time seems to stand still when I am at home with the people I love. Or it may be a book, a friend or a cup of cappuccino. Or it may be a moment spent with your aging parent. 

So which is better, use or enjoyment as modes of living? We can debate about it. 

St. Augustine teaches that we can only truly enjoy God and others in God. If we live to enjoy God, that is the ultimate. For the things and people we enjoy without God, is finite and often end up in sad memories. But in Christ,  we are living not just for the present but for eternity. And in enjoying Him, we see people, things and the world around us with a different perspective.  

Perhaps there is something after all in the first line of the Shorter Westminster Catechism: “Man’s chief aim is to enjoy God and glorify Him forever.” 

22 January 2017

Remembering Our Roots

By Terry Wong

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. Psalm 143:5

There is something unique about Chinese New Year.

What is it?

Is it about the food? Bak Kwa, Choi Keok (Chai Buay) and Lohon chai (Chap Chye)?

My late Mum often made Yin Tai (braised pork knuckles) for the Reunion dinner. It was spectacular as the skin and fats were the first things you saw. When it is placed on the table, the whole thing shimmered. No kidding. If you looked carefully, you can also see an image of yourself after the shimmering stopped. You dug in with your chopsticks, shattering your portrait. You let a piece melt in your mouth. The flavour and texture hit you as the unmentionable swirled in your chops – rich, creamy, fruity, spicy and aromatically complex. Swine can be better than wine, as they say.

Carnal and carnivorous, the Wongs had a way of celebrating CNY. 

Or is it because of how we laugh ourselves silly watching the funny Jackie Chan movies? This will be more common in Malaysian homes but Cantonese humour indeed is in a class of its own. Or is it being enthralled by the endless kungfu movies, which do not seem to run out of moves? 

Or is it the sound of fire crackers? In squeaky clean Singapore, I have to say that I miss the noisy CNY atmosphere in Petaling Jaya. Malaysia boleh. This extends to huge rows and rounds of fire crackers, with a mother lode of it towards the end, which ends with a huge bang, made to shake you out of your skin. In the aftermath, with your ears still ringing, we could see the red evidence littered all over the garden. I often wondered that it should be easy for the local police, aurally and visually, to locate the crime scenes. When they did come, more reds were handed out. No matter what the laws were (and still are!), this noisy tradition cannot be silenced. 

But does this make CNY special? If there is an event which holds memories as far back as I can remember, right to the early years of my childhood, it can only be this festival.

This makes it special: it is about family.

It is about the process of traditioning, where we can never forget what made us, the cultural environment which we grew up in. Every CNY connects us to the past, including memories of some beloved family members who have passed away. It connects us to customs and traditions. Some were long abandoned (like gambling), especially when one embraced a new faith. But I am glad much also remains, like ang pows, how we wish one another at the stroke of midnight on the eve, and of course, how family and friends gathered around the same classic dishes and snacks: Kueh Bangkit, Kueh Kapit, Pineapple Tarts etc.

Today, I am a Singaporean, a Christian and a Pastor to boot. Many of the Wongs have since found our faith in Jesus Christ. But I have not ceased to give thanks to the Lord for my childhood home in PJ, the Wong family and that we are undeniably Chinese, blessed with traditions to remember and celebrate.

In every cultural festival, we celebrate and remember our roots. You will have your own.

Remember how He has wombed and homed you, along with the loved ones you grew up with. 

Have  a blessed Chinese New Year everyone.

15 January 2017

as the year starts…

By Terry Wong

There has been a very good response to the Cathedral Bible Studies. For a start, the teaching will be anchored by the core team. Once the template is firmed up and vision/values established, and with the team-teaching approach, we are planning to include more on the teaching or facilitators panel. The team has worked very hard to plan this and more work lies ahead. This is very much about the life of the Cathedral and the responsibility of helping members to get into the Word. In a busy society like ours, this needs a consistent and sustainable focus and dedication. 

If CBS is where we dig deep in the Word, it is in our Connect Groups that we grow, serve and learn with a part of His Body. If you are not in one, please do consider joining one. 

In evangelism, we are blessed with the ministry of the Alpha Course. This weekend, Pastor Hambali and Joel Tan will be attending a special pastors training exposure in Holy Trinity Brompton, London. We want to continue to invest in our younger leaders as we seek to refresh the Alpha ministry. The new eleven:30 Service is also seeking to twin with the use of the Course to reach the unchurched.

The eleven:30 Service is barely a month old but it has been doing very well as it meets in the refurbished Prayer Halls. They celebrated their first Holy Communion together last Sunday. While it was set up primarily to create space for the younger among us to lead and serve, it is a Service which is open to all. In one of the Sundays in February, we hope to organise an official launch. 

I was privileged last weekend to be at most of our Weekend Services. I am reminded again of the diversity in each Service but they share some important common values. I am heartened to see the effectiveness and faithful ministry of the Service Pastors and their leadership teams (both staff and lay) as they seek to do their best to build effective and strong Services.

I sat in the Cathedral Women Fellowship (CWF) meeting last Saturday. It was good that we were able to have some discussions as they seek to find areas of needed service and ministry with changing times. If you have any thoughts and suggestions do let us know. With effect from 20th of January, the Coffee Corner at Graham White Library will be closed due to lack of volunteers and how some of these needs are already being met through the Cafe. We should pause and give thanks for how this Corner has served so many over the years, bringing a bit of home and warm hospitality in what is largely a cold historical building. We are grateful to CWF for anchoring this ministry. 

The Graham White Library has a multipurpose use and we have added one more role for it: as a base for the Nave Tour ministry. In the weekdays, we hope to set up a simple lounge so that visitors can gather and have conversations about history and of course, the faith. We are also planning to refurbish the kitchen so that it is better able to serve the current needs of our community and ministries.   

8 January 2017

2017: Another year to read

By Terry Wong

As followers of Christ, every year presents an opportunity for us to grow. Life experiences will come to you naturally as sources of enrichment (or otherwise) and often, these are outside your control. But you have the ability to think, to speak, to read, to reflect and unless you are facing a serious illness, you have the energy and time to ensure that your life is internally directed, and not driven by external circumstances. 

This is why it is essential that you are reading, meditating and reflecting. You need to find a regular system that fits best for you but undoubtedly, you cannot hope to drink from God’s Word if it is a quick stopover. The mind needs time to settle in and pull away from the daily cares and concerns. Another wonderful opportunity is to participate in our Connect Groups, Cathedral Biblical Studies (CBS) and other CE courses.     

Reading, especially good books, is another important source of growth. Trust me, if there is something that you will be doing in 2017 without regret, it is reading. You will look back and be glad that you did. I will share with you some from my 2016 list but bear in mind that I am a pastor. My list may not be helpful for you but nevertheless, I hope it inspires you.  

Top on my list for 2016 is “Desiring the Kingdom” by James K. A. Smith. A Christian philosopher, he asks us to reflect carefully on how and why Christians grow (Christian education) and the process by which they do (worship). He dug deep into Scriptures and history (Augustine, Calvin) and challenges the modern fixation on information gathering as the only source of growth. Having been in ministry now for 40+ years, I do agree with him on many points from my own observations. Much of what he said here helps me to reflect on our life and ministry here in SAC.    

The Vocation of Anglican Theology gives summaries of the thoughts and works of important Anglican theologians (and there are not many). I find in there some gems, such as the writings of John Jewel and Michael Ramsey.  

Amazing Grace, authored by Eric Metaxas is superbly written and a very enjoyable and inspiring read of the biography of William Wilberforce, who served in politics in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was instrumental in the abolishment of slavery. His influence overlapped with the early years of the start of Anglican work in Singapore. It made me think of whether I share the same purity of motives in my own endeavour to serve out His cause. 

First Things is a monthly magazine published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. It seeks to ensure that faith has a place in shaping policies in the public square. The articles here have helped to equip me to better understand and deal with the relentless influence of secularism, which we sometimes (wrongly) assume to be the only credible voice in the West, and that Singapore is inevitably headed in the same direction. It has also helped me to be more discerning of the popular articles I find on the Net or The Straits Times, most of which are written by those wedded firmly to the spirit of the age.  

Orientalism, the classic by Edward Said is critical of the West’s patronising way of imposing a worldview and defining realities which are not native to the culture and experience of the people under their subjection. There is much food for thought here on the clash of cultures and how our own often shape the way we look at others.  This is increasingly important for Singapore, as we are now “patrons” to many countries around us.   It is also applicable to our own society’s inter-racial and inter-faith relations.

Space can only permit me to list these few books. I have a few more that are contant companions for bite-size reflections such as Augustine’s Confessions, Raniero Cantalamessa’s Life in Christ and Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion. 

May 2017 be another year of great reading. Don’t find the time to read: make time for it. 

1 January 2017

Thank You

By Terry Wong

It takes effort to say “thank you.” That was what my dear friend, the late Bishop Albert Vun reminded me of in his last sermon. As the year turns, I want to take some time to pause and give thanks, perhaps where it is least expected. And I hope it adequately expresses your inner thoughts too. 

In 2016, I want to thank the Lord for…

Every dear brother and sister who had been promoted to glory in 2016. They have left the cares of mortal life behind as they are embraced by a loving Saviour. We want to be thankful for every day we have spent with them. 

Every suffering that they and we had encountered. A broken body, a broken heart or dashed hopes. No matter how deep the pain was, we take comfort that it will be only for a “little while”, as You have always reminded us.  (1 Peter 1:6). Through some, we learned from it and grew. Through others, we never knew why. There can be only tears for You to wipe when we see You face to face (Rev 21:4).   

Every act of love that we have received, in small or big ways. And every act of love we can show to another. Some of us spent the year largely on care-giving. That there is someone we can love in the most mundane of ways, we are thankful.

Every person who has smiled and encouraged me. We have felt hurt - and remember - those hurtful words. Even for these words, they were moments for pause and reflections. A criticism was an opportunity for self-realisation that had led to change and growth. 

Every person we have got to know in this large community in the Cathedral. We are often lost, feeling lonely though not alone. Some of us do not feel significant and hardly anyone notices when we are missing from church. Yet, there was always someone less noticed, that we were able to reach out to.

Every pastor, staff and member who has taken the time and effort to share church with those who were not able to step into the church premise at 11, St Andrew’s Road. Stuck to the bed, wheelchair and often very much home alone (yes, even when I was in an old folks home), you have brought joy, fellowship, the holy meal and His presence right into my room. Cathedral came to me and for that, I am thankful. 

Every friendship that I have made. Being single had its moments of struggle. And envy, at the many happy couples that I see in church. Yet, I have made friends in church and over the course of the year, we have been family to each other. For that rich intimacy in Christ, I am thankful.

Every moment of restoration, for we are often lost, selfish and behaved like sheep gone astray. We do not feel we have deserved it but yet again and again, your grace was there. Life, broken as it sometimes was, could be renewed (made new) again.

Every moment I have been enriched in my relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I could think of many things that could have shortened my life in 2016. But I do not want to rejoice that I am still in one piece. Instead, I want to rejoice that come what may, my name is written in the Book of Life (Luke 10:20).

I know Jesus and He knows me. This matters most.

Thank You.

ABOUT THE VICAR

Terry Wong Photo

Revd Canon Terry Wong is the Vicar of the Cathedral. He writes weekly for the weekend Service bulletins and the articles are posted on this site.

Recent Vicar Writes

29 January Use or Enjoyment?
22 January Remembering Our Roots
15 January as the year starts…
8 January 2017: Another year to read
1 January Thank You