Vicar Writes


All 2017 November Vicar Writes

26 Nov 2017

In my sermon, Diffusing the Light, I mentioned the life and work of Thomas Bray and SPG. I would be remiss not to mention the work of the more extensive Church Missionary Society (CMS) which came into the scene a hundred years later.

CMS was founded on 12 April 1799 at a meeting of members of a group of activist evangelical Christians whose number included Henry Thornton and William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was asked to be the first president of the Society, but he declined to take on this extra, significant role, and became a vice president. The founding Secretary was the Rev. Thomas Scott, the famous biblical commentator. Eventually, the CMS became a central vehicle of Anglican mission in West and East Africa, in India, the Far East, and parts of Canada.

The CMS grew out of a revitalised – or literally “revival” – evangelical faith.  And “revival” religion spread, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in different Protestant directions. But within Anglicanism where, with John Wesley, we can say the revival began in a new way, it was nonetheless always a social phenomenon, at least originally, one that was geared towards the same kinds of goals as Bray’s vision: building up a Christian “society” as it were, of common faith, life, and work.  The CMS kind of mission had vigour, of spiritual demand, possibility and power, and a willingness, finally, to try new things. It also leaned more towards the personal conversion of individuals and CMS worked freely with other Protestants in the field.

CMS’s contribution to the Anglican Church in Singapore is significant, helping to shape a largely evangelical approach to the Word, Ministry and Society. In the well-researched paper released in 2012, The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy, Robert Woodberry focused on the positive and major influence of “Conversionary Protestantism” on many societies. His work has been lauded in many august academic institutions. The pdf copy of his work is downloadable through a google search.

This major factor is ignored by many and it is of course, in keeping with the spirit of the times, all too easy to say that Western missionaries have messed up other cultures. But a careful observation of our life’s experiences or societies simply does not bear this out. My own experiences may be anecdotal, but indeed, “I once was blind, but now I see.” The tune which John Newton heard as a slave trader, which inspired his writing of Amazing Grace, very much expressed the work of Christian activists like William Wilberforce, who believed as Christians have always done, that God has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. That light reached my world when I was 13, which was then all wrapped up in a crowded terrace house in Petaling Jaya. I can only give thanks for what the Gospel has done for me and my family.

Missions month in SAC may be over. But actually, every Sunday is Missions Sunday. As we gather to worship, we leave with the refrain that we may go out to “love and serve the Lord.”

Those who have come before us have lighted the way. May all those who come behind us find us faithful.

19 Nov 2017

The repair and refurbishment of CNS is now completed. A new walkway to West House has also been laid. You can see some of these changes in the overhead photo above. Those at the Nave may have noticed some new sound speakers, the repositioned Sound and AV control desk (at the back) and the new “Ascension” Chapel at the north side of the Nave. It will take a while for the teams to get the sound right, so do be patient. All in all, we can expect better and more distributed sound. It will also take some time to furnish the new chapel. In due course, we will also explore linking Graham White Chapel with the Nave, mirror-imaging the way South Transept is integrated.

A lot of hard work has gone into it and we want to thank our staff, Kevin Quek and Dennis Low, Lee Chi Kuan, who co-chairs the Building Development Committee (BDC), and Revd Peter Cook. We are grateful for the many good team decisions made along the way as everyone was motivated to work towards what was best for this house of worship whilst keeping within reasonable costs. Work has also begun on the restoration of our organ pipes, made possible by a generous donation from one of our members. This is both a musical-improvement and heritage-restoration project. The project will take a year to finish as the expertise to restore the pipes can only be done abroad. Work has also started on the repairing and repainting of some of the walls in the Nave. However, some of the unsightly patches will remain for a while as a long-term solution is still being worked on.

The Senior Staff team had an inspiring and participative Planning Retreat recently. We have decided on the theme, “Pursuing the Heart of God”, a fitting one for 2018 which has been declared a “Year of Prayer” by our Diocese and the National Council of Churches. In my Vicar Writes two Sundays back, I wrote an article on “Pursuing the Heart of God.” This can be read on our website. One of the steps we are taking is to make our daily lectionary readings more accessible using our app “St Andrew’s Cathedral SG” (check for info in the Bulletin’s notice page). We want to encourage many of you to consider using it for a year, either following both the morning and evening prayer readings or just using a single set. We will also insert prayer items that will help guide us to pray together as a Cathedral  and community.

On 26 & 27 January 2018, we will be having our Leaders Conference. There, we will share more deeply about our plans for the year.  From February onwards, we want to build upon our Cathedral@Prayer, renaming it “Prayer & Praise” and putting more effort to give it the attention it deserves. Most important of all, the key to putting in “more effort”, is our participation as a Cathedral and making it our top priority.

12 Nov 2017

When I was serving in St James’ Church, we started the PeaceIran Project (2003) to help earthquake victims in the Iranian city of Bam. There was wide involvement from not just full-time pastors but many lay as well. The project required various skills. Most were not trained theologically or missiologically, but the work was such that there was room for many to serve. I noted that some will if they knew how. Even seemingly quiet members who were hardly involved in regular church ministry volunteered.

We sometimes preach until we are blue in the face about the need for commitment and sacrifice. We give altar calls and cajole people to “surrender all”. But all along, what may be needed is wise and astute leadership that will make it possible for people to serve. People are not able to cross to the other side because the bridge has not been properly built. We can take a leaf or two from early Anglican missions work, where huge efforts were made at paving the way for people to go.

In the mid-80’s I was involved in supporting the work of this missionary couple. One of them was clearly unhappy and not able to adapt to the local culture there. I also met another Singaporean couple serving in the same country but happy and doing very well. I wondered, “Will the Lord call a person to serve in a particular culture if he or she is not able to fit in?” And one sign of fitting in is joy and sense of being at home. I don’t think Missions is about one sacrificing himself or satisfying some inner guilt of not doing enough for Christ. I think such missionaries will end up being miserable.

We can’t serve well in another culture if we are miserable and if each day feels like a detention, i.e. we are in a place we do not want to be. This thought is by no means a sacred Missions principle. Sometimes, a person is called to do the dreaded, i.e. prophet Jeremiah. Even so, it better be the Lord’s calling. This thought did change the way I preach on Missions, not by imposing guilt but by asking people to serve out of a sense of deep calling. And we can be glad that our personality and gifts are never too far from what and where He may call us to serve in.

There was a time where some spoke negatively of short-term Mission trippers. I stand accused as well as I have been on many of such trips, including to Karachi, Manila, Riau Islands, Bam (Iran), Hanoi, Bandung and so on. But if we want more to be involved, such exposure trips can be helpful. Some trips involve strengthening an existing work.
The advent of low-cost flights has made such trips easier. Some have skills that are very useful. There are some who go to Cambodia and other deaneries simply to test water wells and help make them drinkable or less harmful to humans.

Using Air Asia’s tag-line “Now everyone can fly,” indeed, “Now everyone can go.” If you are bent on serving long-term, then I will say please get yourself trained and learn the language. But if you can make a difference just by being there for a few weeks to help strengthen an existing work, I will say, go for it.

I can vividly recall the first Diocesan Missions Conference which Bishop Moses Tay headed. There was a clarion call for our parishes to be Missions-minded, especially in reaching ASEAN countries around us. The idea of “deaneries” began to take root. Nepal had not joined the ranks yet. It seemed such a far-fetched idea then. Indeed, in the mid-80’s, the work in most of our deaneries were slow and we faced many discouraging setbacks. It seems like the pioneering stage is always difficult. But these difficulties seem to have laid a foundation for the success of future work. I was in Muscat, Oman, visiting some missionaries when I received news about Revd Gerry Khoo’s sudden passing away in Thailand. I remembered receiving the news with some tears. I thought then that the Anglican work in Thailand might have suffered a fatal blow. I was completely wrong, of course.

Jesus said...

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).” Amen.

5 Nov 2017

This is a first part of a series of articles on the work of Missions through our Cathedral.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”2 Corinthians 4:6

The Cathedral is often called a “Mother Church.” This very term is actually found in our own Diocesan constitution (Article 16.9). The simplest way to understand this term is to state the obvious: a mother gives birth to children and nurtures them. Over the years, many congregations were planted across the island. Some later became parishes, which form a significant part of the 28 parishes we have today, with multiple language congregations. 

 It will be right to say that it is in the DNA of the Church to share the Gospel and offer the love of Christ to those who do not know Him.  When you think of the Anglican Communion, you see a Church in missions. 

 One of the great figures in Anglican missions was Thomas Bray (1656-1730).  Bray was a humble, diligent, practical, and extraordinarily loving parish priest. He was an indefatigable parish catechist, a promoter of lay and clerical learning.  In 1699 he founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the SPCK, which by the end of the next century had established hundreds of parish libraries in America and England, set up charity schools, and finally translated prayerbooks and other bibles. In 1701, he founded the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the SPG, which became the first formal Anglican missionary organization, responsible for the support of priests among British subjects abroad and for the conversion of native peoples.

 Bray describes what mission is about in a famous sermon he gave called “Apostolic Charity”, and the focus is important to grasp:  “turning many to righteousness” (Daniel 12:3). Bray goes on to say that, for the English Church it is a special calling, since the particular “light” of the British Nation and of her Church is so real and particular as to “diffuse” itself into the world almost naturally, if it is indeed allowed to. To them, he says, is entrusted by God the “stewardship” of her special gift – that of a “pure religion” and “liberty” together in one people. How is this done? Through “preaching, catechizing, and instructing” via the missionary endeavor of her clergy and lay leaders. One can only lament how far our British friends may have departed from this idea with Brexit. When nation is reduced to a secular and economic notion, this will be the result.   

 The same idea was also conveyed through the words of one of her sons, Resident Chaplain William Humphrey in his sermon on Pentecost Sunday, 1856. He was addressing the congregation of St Andrew’s Church on the subject of Missions. “The Malay part of the population was cared for by the zeal and piety of Mr Keasberry; but for the Chinese and Tamil and general native population of the Island, it was high time that the Church of England should begin to make some spiritual provision.  “I am thankful to observe,” he said, “that through the blessing of God on the operation of the Chinese Female Mission, we continue to have many enquirers, whom we have every reason to believe to be sincere in desiring to enter the fold of Christ. Thus we cannot stop if we would. We cannot withhold our attention from those, who so pleasingly require it; so that the congregation of St Andrew’s must, in spite of itself, become a Missionary congregation – a centre of diffusing to others the light, and comfort, and peace of the knowledge of Christ and Him crucified. 

 Monies were raised for the new Mission. Soon after, Chinese and Indian church workers were employed to reach their own. One can say that these early efforts seeded the outreach that will reach later generations of Singaporeans. Though of course, it had to be more than a hundred years later of further social disruptions and war occupation before Singapore emerged as a society of her own with a national identity. 

 In that Service, Humphrey was trying to ask members to give a dollar for the work of this new Mission. This month, we will be asking you to consider “Giving a Hundred,” to raise funds for the work of “diffusing the light” to our six deaneries: Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal and Vietnam. May many “catechists” continue the work of preaching the good news to the many millions around us who do not know of the love of Christ.