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26 March 2020 | Vicar Writes

An Online Season

By Terry Wong
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26th March 2020

Following the government’s directive, we are suspending our Services till past 30th April. During this season, our Services will go be going online. 

A word about Online Services. Many, including myself, have found it helpful to be intentional in setting aside time to participate in the Service. If you can do so with someone else or with your family, that will be even better. Follow the “rubrics” of the Service - pray, sit, kneel (if you are able) or stand.  Have your Bible in front of you and participate in the readings. We are keeping the Services very focussed with a duration of under an hour. 

We have inherited some beautiful prayers in our Morning Prayer liturgy such as the rich Prayer of General Thanksgiving. Some of these prayers were penned through the centuries by saints of the church and when we pray them, we are enjoined in space and time with the wider communion of saints.  

It should also be obvious that we will be running our Holy Week Services online. Perhaps for the first time in our church history, there will be no making or distribution of Palm Crosses. I can imagine that there will be many digital iterations of these crosses. It will however be an opportunity to share some liturgical prayers and rich hymns/songs and meditations to facilitate our worship and observance. For Maundy Thursday, we will be observing the Tenebrae in a different way. Good Friday will have her usual 7 meditations on the cross, accompanied by prayers and hymns. Easter Memorial Service at (3 pm) will be a simple Service to remember and thank those who have gone before us.  And you are welcome to wake up early on Easter Sunday, at the break of dawn, to recapture the emotions of the first Easter morning.  

There have been many Zoom meetings across the Cathedral community. Our PCC has been able to convene fruitful planning meetings via this channel; likewise, our staff and many Connect and Ministry Groups. The desire to communicate, connect and love is about the intention of the heart.  The forms and tools are always secondary, whether it is the ancient art of putting ink on papyrus or the modern form of sending bytes into the digital space. 

Another matter which some of you may have already experienced is an old-fashioned phone call from a pastor or staff. We are starting with our seniors, especially those whom we think may be less connected online. Or so we thought, as some have surprised us with their awareness of the online tools. It is also an opportunity for our Service Teams to have a better sensing of what is happening on the ground and perhaps during this season, this is an opportunity for new bonds to be formed or strengthened. 

Brothers and sisters, I indeed thank God for every remembrance of you, borrowing the words of St Paul in Philippians 1:3. Stay safe and walk closely with the Lord. 

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21 March 2020 | Vicar Writes

Reflecting From History

By Terry Wong

The people of God have been serving as a community through thick and thin and have weathered many epidemics. In our Old Testament, the many detailed teachings about personal and community hygiene, quarantine and food laws were simply because these were laws for a gathered community.  

The Christian response to plagues begins with some of Jesus’ most famous teachings: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; “Love your neighbour as yourself”; “Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.” Put plainly, the Christian ethic in a time of plague considers that our own life must always put in service of our neighbour.

Historians have suggested that the terrible Antonine Plague of the 2nd century, which might have killed off a quarter of the Roman Empire, led to the spread of Christianity, as Christians cared for the sick. The more famous epidemic is the Plague of Cyprian in the third century, named for a bishop who gave a colourful account of this disease in his sermons. Probably a disease related to Ebola, the Plague of Cyprian  set off a crisis in the Roman world. But it did something else, too: it triggered the explosive growth of Christianity. Bishop Cyprian told Christians not to grieve for plague victims  but to redouble efforts to care for the living. His fellow bishop Dionysius described how Christians, “Heedless of danger … took charge of the sick, attending to their every need.”

A century later, the actively pagan Emperor Julian would complain bitterly of how “the Galileans” would care for even non-Christian sick people, while the church historian Pontianus recounted how Christians ensured that “good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith.” Other church leaders observed and clearly taught that Christians were not immune to epidemics, who died along with everyone else. There is no “faith crisis” if Christians got their faith right and biblical in the first place. This is something which Singaporean Christians need to reflect deeper on. 

This habit of sacrificial care has reappeared throughout history. In 1527, when the bubonic plague hit Wittenberg, Martin Luther refused calls to flee the city and protect himself. Rather, he stayed and ministered to the sick. The refusal to flee cost his daughter Elizabeth her life. But it produced a tract, “Whether Christians Should Flee the Plague,” where Luther provides a clear articulation of the Christian epidemic response: We die at our posts. Christian doctors cannot abandon their hospitals, Christian governors cannot flee their districts, Christian pastors cannot abandon their congregations. The plague does not dissolve our duties: It turns them to crosses, on which 'we must be prepared to die.”

How do we apply this in our modern societies, especially given the fact of how modern healthcare has evolved? It will be seen as foolishness if we needlessly sacrificed our lives. Acts of self-giving must be truly giving,  i.e. of some benefit to others, even when no one is watching. Many who are serving in healthcare work are already imbibing these values, even if they are not of the Christian faith. Bishops and pastors should not abandon their posts but the way we offer in situ leadership will be different today. We who are “on the pews” will also need to reflect. The Christian motive for hygiene, sanitation and other forms of preparations should not arise solely from self-preservation but in an ethic of service to others. 

The Church needs to help to “flatten the curve” and “gather responsibly.” But the dispersed Church community also needs to be out there - leading, serving, encouraging and giving.  

This article draws from Lyman Stone’s "Christianity Has Been Handling Epidemics for 2000 Years” at https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/13/christianity-epidemics-2000-years-should-i-still-go-to-church-coronavirus/ and Revd Daniel Wee’s video talk at https://youtu.be/Qw0yC8mpqD4. This audio talk is also being looped at Cathedral SG Live. 

14 March 2020 | Vicar Writes

What Book Will You Be Reading In Lent?

By Terry Wong
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There are some Christians - clergy and bishops included - who would observe Lent by going through a book. Just one good book and to read it entirely during the 40-day Season of Lent (sans the 6 Sundays in Lent). This also make sense in this Covid19 season. 

Reading a good book can be very enriching. It takes some discipline and thus, finding a book which you derive some delight in reading will be helpful. If your working hours are hard and long, you may have to do with half an hour of reading just before bedtime and doubling that time during weekends. If you focus and stay on just one good book, you will be surprised how much you can gain from it. 

What kind of book should you read? Being a pastor, you would expect me to recommend a good Christian one and I will. Every person’s reading habits will be different and we all have different topics which we are more familiar with. For some, a book like Eugene Petersen’s classic, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction would be a helpful read whereas others will find too heavy. Almost any book by John Stott would be a good read. Some new to the Christian faith may find Stott’s Basic Christianity helpful. Those who grew up reading good literature may prefer to wander in the world of C.S. Lewis. His list is rich and wonderful such as Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce and Surprised by Joy

We have some good local Christian writers though it can be challenging to get a hand on those due to weak local distribution channels. We do try to carry some titles at our Welcome Centre. 

As for current authors, Timothy Keller’s works are very accessible for the modern reader. The Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren is unique or the beautifully written Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas, which tells the story of courageous William Wilberforce and the abolishment of slavery. Those seeking to know deeper about Anglican faith, history and distinctive will find Anglicanism by Stephen Spencer helpful. For some “hardcore” reading, On the Thirty Nine Articles by Oliver O’ Donovan will satisfy. I have been going through The Medieval Church by Carl A. Volz, filling in the gaps not covered by my Church History classes in theological college. And of course, knowing our own history is important and Joseph Thambiah’s History of Anglicanism in Singapore 1819-2019: The Bicentenary of Divine Providence, which is now available on Kindle and very affordable. 

What about “secular” books? Bill Bryson’s The Body would be fascinating whereas the needful Orientalism by Edward Said will need a few seasons of Lent to read through at my pace.

For daily devotional readings, there is of course the Lent Devotional 2020, Follow Him by Bible Society. I am deeply enriched by the writings of Henri Nouwen, i.e The Way of the Heart or Raniero Cantalamessa’s Life in Christ, which has stayed with me for many years now. 

Do pick your read in Lent and be blessed.

8 March 2020 | Vicar Writes

The Opportunities in times of Crisis?

By Terry Wong

While the Covid19 fatality rates may be low, it has caused a severe crisis and disruption in many sectors of society. And as countries join the list of cases, this is being multiplied across the world. It is a very severe crisis. We know that many businesses are very badly hit.

U.S President John F. Kennedy employed this phrase in some of his campaign speeches: "In the Chinese language, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.” This idea became mainstream in the Western world in the 20th century and I am sure some of you would have heard or even employed this idea.

However, Chinese linguists and etymologists will disagree with this idea and explain that it was a mistranslation. This said, one reason why this idea may persist is because of one’s anecdotal observation of life. Or simply, it has moral value and power to encourage listeners during times of adversity. We did a lot of look-back during our Bicentennial last year. Taking our war years as an example, many opportunities arose from those 4 years of Japanese occupation which had a far reaching impact on the destiny of our church and nation. The cross-denomination solidarity within churches here would not have been the same without an ecumenical theological school like Trinity Theological College, which funnels many of our pastors and theologians. The idea for such a school was seeded in Changi Prison as church leaders were incarcerated and hobbled together during that period. And of course, the defeat of the British here and elsewhere in Asia signalled a post-colonial era of political independence. Out of the ashes, Singapore has succeeded quickly and brilliantly.

Even if the use of this idea as from a linguistic illustration is untrue, is it biblical? A book which spans a few millennials of human history will surely contain many accounts of "opportunities in crisis” and indeed that is so. The story of Joseph is littered with many turn-arounds. Joseph himself represented the story of how a life that was cast aside could, in times of crisis, find a larger significant and leadership voice. Or take the life of Jacob. He used many crises to advance his destiny, and his life in some way also represents that of the people of God.

More than anything else, a trust in God's sovereignty and control over our lives and human history can give us a different perspective towards setbacks as we believe that “all things work for good to those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).

If we think about the Cathedral, we can easily observe what lower attendances may result in; in terms of lost ministry opportunities and possible challenge to our financial health. In the midst of this, we have started new initiatives. As we live-stream our 8 am Service, a new channel is created for our worship service to reach out to many more, beyond those seated in the Nave. We have become more conscious of the need to upscale our approach to teaching through better use of video and online tools.

The new App has seen a significant increase in the use of SAC resources. Literally it is a season to “think out of the box.” Dots are being joined which are connecting SAC members to gifts and voices across our Cathedral and beyond this, to a wider world. Indeed, paraphrasing Isaiah 55:11, His Word that goes out from our mouths shall not return empty but accomplish that which He has purposed. Amen.

Personally, each of us are facing various challenges as well. Those with businesses and companies will be facing complex challenges. It can be a very stressful and depressing time for some. Let’s continue to pray for one another. May the Lord give you wisdom and strength to find new opportunities in your crisis.

1 March 2020 | Vicar Writes

Connecting the Church, Reaching the City

By Terry Wong

If you are alert, you will know that the title above is also the tagline of our new Radio Streaming App.

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The communications ministry of SAC has always sought to connect the SAC community to each other and the ministry and mission of the church. We also play a unique role as a Mother Church, connecting and resourcing our Anglican family here and in the deaneries. And as a church in the City, we are also a centre of spiritual and cultural influence, enriching the city in some unique ways. This is also consistent with the “physical” developments, may it be our building facilities or ministries.

This latest App simply enhances these directions. Firstly, we are using it as a conduit to the many media resources we already have, through curation or production. It is an “on-demand” library where you can have access to a wide range of resources for your personal enrichment. The resources include music and liturgy and tap on the rich heritage of the Anglican Church. Increasingly, there will be more educational talks and podcasts made available online. It goes without saying that online learning is now available in many universities in the world. Churches have every reason to do the same and add a biblical voice in the online sphere. Can you learn from the comfort of your home? Absolutely. We can imagine some DCBS talks or seminars being offered online. Some courses from our Faith and Life or Anglicanism tracks can be offered too.

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Scan the QR Code to get the app.

Now, the streaming feature of the app simply allows us to curate some content for your daily edification. This feature also allows us to add “info bytes”: may it be a prayer, a piece of news or a devotional thought. We will also curate good Christian music for you, providing the necessary background information. Some of these songs can be in sync with what the SAC community is using for their worship. Those heading the worship ministry can use this app to educate as songs and hymns have an influential role in shaping hearts and minds. This can include locally produced music and indeed, we do have many gifted local singers and songwriters.

There are also plenty of good sermons around, whether preached in SAC or elsewhere. We would love to curate some of this for you. Some sermons ought to be shared beyond the local congregation. There are also some great podcast talks from our ministry partners which we can curate for you.

I should use the word “Apps” for SAC has two apps which function differently and complement each other. There are almost countless possibilities. An App, as with everything else, is just a tool. It can only facilitate a vision. It is not a vision in itself. It can only facilitate a Church community in her daily pursuit of the things of the Lord and a rich Christian community. Like any good tool, it can remain unused or otherwise.

The biblical call to pray unceasingly and to be a church which meets regularly for daily edification is finding modern expressions in a fast changing world. As we tune our hearts to Him, we will find the right avenues to grow.

You can download the app now by visiting the following link on your mobile phone:
Visit onelink.to/9z88a2