When one single Parish can be much for the Lord
As you may know. I served as National Director of Alpha Singapore for a few years from 1999 onwards. I was enriched in many ways through the association with the wonderful folks at Holy Trinity Brompton London and the exciting work of Alpha, which was growing rapidly here and worldwide. Marked by a love for the unchurched, a global missional vision, a child-like openness to the Holy Spirit, creativity with excellence, a gospel that reaches the spheres of politics, prisons and business, and a generosity Christ-centered unity towards Christians from other Churches, it was my privilege to be a part of this movement.
As the work grew more demanding, I stepped down to focus on parish ministry. In the past year, I am finding that my ministry here in the Cathedral is reconnecting me with HTB and Alpha in new ways. What precipitated it was of course our desire as a parish to reach young and globalised urbanites. It was Keith Chua, my warden, who first hinted to me that perhaps HTB could help us in this. Much has happened since and today we have vibrant eleven:30 Service and the Alpha Course seem to be going through a renewal itself.
Another step to take was to send some of our leaders to connect with what is happening in Kuala Lumpur and London. In January, Ps Hambali, Joel and Cheryl Tan joined a small pastors Experiencing Alpha programme in London. In March, we send a larger team, mostly from eleven:30 Service to the Alpha Conference in March in KL. Last week, Keith and Irene Chua, Vivien Chen, Ds Bessie, Jennifer and myself attended the Leadership Conference and Alpha Week events. There isn’t space here to share what we have experienced though we can certainly look forward to some articles in Courier-online or in our print issues. We hope to send more pastors and lay leaders for future conference in KL or London.
What is clear is that a single parish can be much for the Kingdom of God. My view of what a local church can be was deeply changed. It is not just about attendance but influence. One highlight of the post-conference Alpha gathering was an insightful and moving interview of both NIcky Gumbel and his predecessor, Sandy Millar. 40 years ago, when Sandy took over as VIcar, HTB was a small struggling parish attended mostly by senior people. There were very few young people. Sandy recounted the journey of the parish and we were amazed at what the Lord has done. Today HTB is a highly influential and fruitful parish. She has planted and renewed many parishes through the years. She has blessed the world and wider Body through Alpha, Marriage and other ministries. HTB has also done much to promote unity within the Body of Christ. It is a parish which is generous, uncompetitive (I hardly hear HTB leaders censuring other churches), missional in vision and most of all, she has stayed humble, prayerful, dependent on the Spirit and God-fearing. Nicky still draws a fixed Vicar’s salary and he does not benefit financially from the exponential growth of Alpha or the sale of resources. This obviously sets the tones for the rest of the work.
In their story are lessons which every other Anglican parish can learn from. This is one reason why I like our leaders to visit and get to know this parish. There are also many large churches here in SIngapore but I do not find the same matured and Christian values undergirding them. Indeed, we need to think deeply about what “success” should really mean when it comes to the work of the Church. In this, our young churches here which have benefitted from the rapid success of Singapore need to be linked with older churches in other societies and be held accountable. We need to reflect deeper, read His Word more carefully, treasure our Church tradition and history, understand better how we are fitting with the rest of society and think longterm. We are indebted to our Church pioneers and we owe it to future generations. We need, like David, to serve out His purpose in our generation.