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All 2019 December Vicar Writes

28 December 2019 | Vicar Writes

Of Creeds and Covenants

By Terry Wong

We need to reaffirm our creeds and renew our covenants (i.e. our promises and vows) from time to time. Our lives will be drifting, free-floating or going down the rabbit hole aka Alice in Wonderland - often heading into disaster zone - without these creedal anchors and the "ties that bind”, may it be family, marriage, friendships, church commitments or faith.

Coming to creeds, the important ones are the The Nicene Creed, The Apostles Creed and our Baptismal Creed. We don’t read The Apostles Creed enough, which ironically is better framed for a public confession. In part, this is because it is found in our Morning Prayer (Matins) liturgy but we don’t do Matins on Sunday. As for the Baptismal Creed, we get to reaffirm it during Easter Sunday and our New Year Services.

Why are these Creeds important? The most obvious reason is because they frame our Christian beliefs. As with all creeds, we need to reaffirm them as our beliefs can get unclear and woolly with time. Some of us may have been experiencing an overload of pain and suffering. Sometimes these tragedies can void us of any sense of meaning and purpose in life. There is just no energy left to carry on. Reaffirming these creeds steadies our lives, reminding us of the timeless grace and faithfulness of God.

The Creeds also join us with the communion of saints in space and time. Like Elijah, we realise that we are not alone (see his lament in 1 Kings 18:22 and the Lord’s reply in 19:18). In time, we affirm with believers through the ages. In space, we are reminded that we are part of a much wider Body. It is strange how narrow-minded some parts of the Christian family can be and we are so easily divided over many secondary issues. The Creeds remind us of what truly matter and what can bind us together regardless of race, culture, church affiliation and nationality.

If creeds remind us on what we should hold on to, covenants focus on our resolve to have a “long obedience in the same direction.” Confessions are one thing but it can be quite another to live them out consistently. The way promises and covenants work is that they are meant to be kept all the time. Imagine telling your spouse that you would like to remove your ring and have a short vacation from your marriage! If we only keep our promises some of the time, we know we have failed. This is one reason why we confess our sins, failures, shortcomings and renew our covenants regularly. It is confessing how much we need His grace, that we may be forgiven and renewed to live out our promises.

May we renew our faith and commitments as the year turns.

Have a Blessed New Year!

22 December 2019 | Vicar Writes

Inspired By Those We Sing Of

By Terry Wong

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

This Bicentennial has been a very special year for many of us. We have looked back. We have researched. We have dug up hidden “artefacts.” I echo the feelings of those who have worked hard in the past: we have been richly blessed by the lives of those who have come before us.

It wasn’t difficult at all; if not a huge privilege; for us to write, tell and sing of them. Our mission and motivation at working hard at the Bicentennial Christmas Carol Services; including the publication of a special edition of the Courier; were simple: we needed to tell their stories well, that our Father may be glorified. And after that, we recede into the background. For the real heroes and heroines are not on our stages, pulpits or pews today. They are long gone. To bask in their glory would have diminished the very stories we are attempting to tell.

In the process, what lessons can be drawn from these historical observations?

Think of the Christian faith of some of our English forebears which formed their values and shaped the way they seeded our society. While there are some truths about how the imposition of a Western world view has its own ills (i.e Edward Said in his magisterial book Orientalism), a belief in a God of Creation should underline our conviction that every culture at every season needs to be challenged by His revelation through Word and Creation (Psalm 19); even if at times, this had to come through another culture.

The English Reformation in the 16th century and the flowering of education (through breakthroughs in printing) led to a Christianisation of a nation where almost every child needed to study Greek and Latin in schools through catechisms where Biblical truths were carefully taught. The same education finally led to the abolishment of slavery: we should be familiar with the heroic efforts of William Wilberforce. Stamford Raffles was a very close friend of William, and they lived as neighbours. Raffles shared some of these values and permitted Christian missionaries to serve in the earlier years of our city.

Another lesson to be drawn is the authentic unity that was forged “in the trenches” of the war years. Both Changi Prison and the Cathedral served as hubs for Christians of every stream. Today the Church has undoubtedly benefited from the wealth of the city and has gained significant social standing. Unlike our counterparts in the war years — who were literally disrobed and stripped to their bare bones — today, church leaders meet under very different circumstances, often adorned in glorious array.

My last word shall be this: that we need to drop the celebrity culture and consider what being Christ-like means. We would certainly honour our forebears if we love everyone equally, as Christ has commanded us. These include people of other faiths and closer home, Christians from different streams need to respect one another.

We have sung about them. By His grace, let’s also live like them.

15 December 2019 | Vicar Writes

Walking On Egg Shells?

By Terry Wong

Any attempt to thank our staff and members for serving is akin to walking on eggshells: as some are bound to be missed out. And so, sometimes pastors like to apply Jesus’ teaching on the parable of the unworthy servants:

"So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’
Luke 7:10 
 

This is indeed convenient (!) even if questionable,  as an imposition on anyone, unless it is from the Lord Himself. This principle may have undergirded my attitude towards serving in the church since I became a Christian at 13. I was actively serving in many areas, from ushering to playing the bass guitar in the worship team. I served on many committees, served as a worship-leader, sung in choirs (I am a very average singer!), served in many mission trips from the rural town of Mentakab (Pahang, West Malaysia) to the rural islands of Riau, travelling on a boat, served in newsletters/magazine teams and rather disastrously, even taught in a Sunday school class of small children! It was years into being a Pastor that I discovered that I could cook and that opened another door for serving, often behind the scenes.

The unique thing was the fact that it was drummed into us ( and many of my fellow Christians of that generation) that it is a privilege to serve in church. We were certainly no “strawberry generation.” Like "Gurkha soldiers" of the church, we were very hardy: we could take unfair criticisms, handled appreciation-deprivation work and served faithfully even if no one noticed. We stood up to a lot of imperfections in the church, knowing full well that we were very imperfect sinners; saved by His grace. We were easily contented, deeply loyal and never thought of changing church when troubles brewed or when we got hurt. In fact, we were trained to "ask not what the church can do for you, but what you can do for the church” (this is not from the Bible but paraphrased from J.F. Kennedy!). rather be anonymous, if you please.

In fact, when I came to Singapore for my studies, this was the same attitude I carried into the church I attended. It was a very small Anglican congregation then at St John's - St Margaret’s Church (1985) and by the second Sunday, they had put me up to play the guitar for the worship team! I became a parish worker in 1986, and a clergyman of the Anglican Church in 1992. So you can see, I have been stuck in a one-job-one-employer-one company ever since. In my entire life, I had only one job interview. How unexciting, right? smile

Now, this is just me and I am not asking you to do the same, though I trust it may encourage you somewhat. This idea will, of course, need to be balanced by many other teachings of Jesus and the Bible about the need for thanksgiving and giving honour where it is due. In fact, we are told again and again, that there will be heavenly rewards for faithfulness, of crowns and acclamations, such as “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”   I’m sure we would all look forward to that!

I did say at the start that we do have a list of people to thank. After the intense Bicentennial Services, a bumper Courier issue built on historical research, additional Bicentennial display panels at the linkway, a fantastic turn out at the efficiently organised Myanmar COH outreach, we know that many have been hard at work. Christmas is not even over yet and we still have some significant events in the lineup. 

However, I have conveniently found an excuse to say that I am running out of space. I shall lift my feet off the eggshells of personal acknowledgements in public and say: you know who you are...
and He knows!
I shall indeed thank the Lord for every remembrance of you (Philippians 1:3).

Have a blessed Christmas! (Signing off as a grateful Vicar and feeling relief!)

8 December 2019 | Vicar Writes

The Summoning

By Terry Wong

"Summon for me the people so that I can tell them my words,
that they may learn to fear me all of the days they are alive
on the earth and so that they may teach their children.”
Deuteronomy 4:10 (Lexham English Bible)

Most Bible versions will use terms like "gather" or "assemble" for this verse. But somehow the word "summon" conveys a greater sense of urgency or obligation, a mandate that needs to be obeyed.

To equate our nation and existence with Old Testament parallels may seem audacious and self-serving. And indeed some nations (and kings and queens) have abused these ideas of divine calling to justify the idea of their supremacy over others.

It is, however, a Christian idea that a people or nation’s calling and raison d'être for existence is divine in origin, not to stamp one’s supremacy but to obligate one to serve the world. It is a self-consciousness that we are a people who were blessed with blessings that were not our own (i.e. 1 Chronicles 29:14b). And arising from this sense of humility and gratitude, we serve.
 
Therefore, we are summoned

  • Out of our self-occupation to our sense of destiny to serve His wide purpose in time and space.
  • To pause to “say grace” over the spread on our table as a nation (Psalm 23:5), whether in seasons of abundance or want.
  • That we may gather and remember, for ourselves and those coming after us.
  • To sing, for we are a people who have songs from our shared history and destiny.

This is why these milestone gatherings are always important, Sunday Worship, Easter and Christmas Services and yes, Bicentennials. Surely, our 200 years of existence as a “founded” modern nation should be a moment for deep spiritual commemoration.

I have never quite fathomed why the bells had to be restored and enhanced in 2019. Yet the winds of the Spirit led us to do it and in a way, they have a summoning role to call us to worship. The coming Bicentennial Christmas Carol Service is a unique idea in itself, celebrating the event of the birth of the Christ and that of our nation in one breath. We are acknowledging the true Architect of our nation, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” (Ephesians 3:15).

This Thursday evening’s Service is an event not to be missed. If you have not been able to secure tickets, we will be preparing good overflow AV facilities at the CNS and Prayer Halls so that as many as possible can participate in this unique event.

My fellow brothers and sisters, whether you are a citizen, resident or visitor, join in to give Him the honour and praise!

1 December 2019 | Vicar Writes

The Christian Year and Lectionary

By Terry Wong

Using the Church Lectionary
We have just started a new liturgical year as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent. For a write up on the significance of the Church liturgical year, do read from this link bit.ly/do-tcc.

Until recent years, one can only access the Diocesan lectionary through printed copies. Now, this has been made available in our App (Cathedral SG) We have also included the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer and the occasional Cathedral prayer items. If you follow the lectionary, you will complete reading the Bible in three years and the whole Book of Psalms every month. Some will choose to just follow the Morning or Evening Prayer readings. If you are a new Christian, it will be easier to read the Gospel reading for the Holy Communion service as that is laid out in a daily sequence. The readings are also available in audio and this makes it accessible for those who are visually-challenged or for listening when you are commuting. Another blessing of using the lectionary is how it will connect you to special festivals or help you to remember influential Anglicans in the past whom have contributed to the life of the Church. It will also connect you to important events or developments in SAC or the Diocese.

I am aware that not many Anglicans here are used to following the lectionary. But one can always start and it will take a while to form a good habit. You can still use it on top of whatever devotional materials you are used to. One interesting thing about using the daily offices (that is another name for the lectionary) is that you are using something that has been with the Church since her early days. And if enough of us are using it, there is also a sense of our gathering around His Word and observing the liturgical year together as a community.

Photo

The Shape of the Christian Year
Much like the gospel the Church proclaims, the calendar the Church keeps revolves around these two divine movements:
— the invasion of the Incarnation, and
— the triumph of the Resurrection.
The former is remembered through the Christmas cycle, from Advent until Lent, and the latter through the Paschal/Easter cycle, from Lent until Pentecost.

The Incarnation (Christmas Cycle): from Advent to Lent
Advent:
The Church year begins with Advent, normally around the end of November or the start of December. It is a season where we await Christ’s second advent to judge the living and the dead and also to celebrate his first advent at the Incarnation. Christians await the return of Jesus the Messiah to renew all things.
Christmas begins with the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ on December 25 and extends for twelve days of celebrating the Incarnation.
Epiphany begins with the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ and extends to the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ [at the Temple; Luke 2:22-52]. This season commemorates the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles in fulfillment of prophecy, as exemplified in the visitation of the Magi.

The Resurrection (Easter/Paschal Cycle): from Lent to Pentecost
Lent:
Just as the Christmas cycle begins with a season of preparation, so the Paschal cycle begins with Lent – the period of fasting and penitence from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday. Because Lent lasts for forty days, not counting the six Sundays which are celebrations of the Resurrection, it recalls Christ’s fasting during temptation in the wilderness.

Holy Week: The last week of Lent, Holy Week, remembers the last week of Christ’s earthly life, beginning with Palm Sunday’s commemoration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Paschal Triduum (“three days”) begins on the evening of Maundy Thursday and lasts until evening on Easter Sunday. It includes: Maundy Thursday (commemorating the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet); Good Friday (a commemoration of the Crucifixion); Holy Saturday (remembering Christ’s time in the tomb); and Easter Sunday, which celebrates the triumphal Resurrection of Christ from the dead.

Easter — then lasts for fifty days — first for forty days until the remembrance of Christ’s Ascension to the Father’s right hand (Acts 1:1-11), and then for ten more days until the commemoration of the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41). This season emphasises the typological fulfillment of the feasts of Unleavened Bread and Weeks in the Christian celebrations of Easter Sunday and Pentecost.

“Ordinary” Time: The Season after Pentecost — The time between Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost, focusing upon the Tribune identity of God) and Christ the King Sunday (the Sunday before Advent, proclaiming Christ’s Lordship)—from approximately June through November—is called the Season after Pentecost, or Ordinary (numbered) Time.

This remainder of the liturgical year is “the time in which the church is to live out its calling in the world, fulfilling the mission of God”. Instructed in the school of sacred time, Christians go forth to love and serve the broken world which God has invaded, and over which He triumphs 
 


Recent Vicar Writes

22 Dec |

Inspired By Those We Sing Of

15 Dec |

Walking On Egg Shells?

08 Dec |

The Summoning

01 Dec |

The Christian Year and Lectionary