Form and function in education and worship

NTU new buildingWhen form fits function

Last week Channel News Asia reported a bold architectural design for its new Learning Hub. It made me think about form and function in education and worship. The design had tutorial rooms that looked circular and were stacked up into towers. The design was stunning and eye-catching. More importantly it’s form was aligned to its function beautifully. “The seven-storey learning hub will house 55 new-generation classrooms of the future, designed to support new pedagogies by promoting more interactive small group teaching and active learning,” is how Professor Kam explained the design. The building suited the pedagogies that maximized learning. I liked it immediately. It was Winston Churchill who said, ‘We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.” These NTU buildings will create a sense of community, like a family or clan gathered around a fire or a meal inside a circular shaped African hut or Mongolian yurt. The context of informality, collaboration and interaction will create a productive learning HDB church buildingenvironment.

When form and function diverge

The church building too should be an apt expression of its theology, worship, community and context. We have all kinds of church buildings in Singapore. The early church buildings in Singapore were forms imported from the west that gave token consideration to the Singaporean context, mainly its weather. Case in point is the oldest church building in Singapore: the Armenian Church consecrated in 1836. Most of the buildings in the 70s onward were pragmatic, space-maximizing utilitarian buildings built in the suburbs or in the HDB sites in the new housing estates. As land is scarce and expensive, maximizing usable space for various activities took priority over aesthetics. However I must say that the Catholics have done more justice in terms of constructing church buildings that aptly express their ideas of theology, worship, community and context much more than the Protestant churches. An example of this is St Mary of the Angels at Bukit Batok East, so beautiful it even won an architectural award.

starvista1The mega-churches impact form and function

The church scene today resembles the income gap we see in most developing countries. With the rise of the mega-churches like City Harvest Church and New Creation Church we are seeing astronomical amounts being spent on facilities of spectacular scale and impact and mixed usage. This is partly due to the limits placed on the size of buildings that can be constructed on the HDB sites made available for bidding. They would be grossly inadequate for their regular meeting attendances of over 20,000.
When God’s people realize they are God’s real building

On the other, hand there are hundreds of churches, gatherings of God’s faithful in sizes of 50 to 300 members who meet in purchased or rented premises in unglamorous industrial buildings, commercial buildings, private schools, houses, cinemas, hotels and other such buildings. These are churches who have a sharper realization that the church is not a beautiful or spacious or practical building that houses God’s people, but a gathered people and community that houses God. They know they themselves are the dwelling place of God. It is in living out this revelation that we see form and function finally in embrace in the living entity called church.

Kong Hee arrested: weep and do not throw stones

Weep with those who weep

It has been fermenting for some time, about two years- this City Harvest Church investigation. We have heard rumors that the court case was postponed because of the recent elections. More recently rumor had it  that it was going to be squashed as they could find nothing. Now it is a sobering fact that some serious charges will see its day in court. It won’t be an easy time for City Harvest Church members or for the church as a whole, particularly if you are a mega-church. Its time for the Singapore church to weep with those who weep, and to pray and trust God to work good out of this shameful and hurting period. This is not a time to throw stones, but to feel the pain of others as if our own.

The Straits Times online report

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and four others, including former board members, were arrested on Tuesday morning following a probe into financial irregularities of the church by both the police and the Commissioner of Charities (CoC).

Among other things, the CoC found financial irregularities of at least $23 million from the church funds. Its spokesman said the funds were used with the purported intention to finance the wife of pastor Kong, Ms Ho Yeow Sun’s secular music career to connect with people.

‘There was a concerted effort to conceal this movement of funds from its stakeholders,’ said the CoC spokesman.

City Harvest church founder Kong Hee (above) and four others from his ministry were arrested by the police in an early dawn raid on Tuesday morning, two years after investigations first began into the homegrown church.

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and four others, including former board members, were arrested on Tuesday morning following a probe into financial irregularities of the church by both the police and the Commissioner of Charities (CoC).

Among other things, the CoC found financial irregularities of at least $23 million from the church funds. Its spokesman said the funds were used with the purported intention to finance the wife of pastor Kong, Ms Ho Yeow Sun’s secular music career to connect with people.

‘There was a concerted effort to conceal this movement of funds from its stakeholders,’ said the CoC spokesman.

In a statement, the police named the five: church founder Kong Hee, his deputy, Mr Tan Ye Peng, former board member, John Lam Leng Hung, church investment manager Chew Eng Han, and church finance manager Sharon Tan Shao Yuen.

Two years ago, on May 31 2010, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) started an investigation into certain financial transactions of CHC after receiving information of misuse of CHC funds.

A police spokesman said that after a thorough investigation, the five would be charged with being in a conspiracy to commit criminal breach of trust as an agent. If convicted, each of them could be jailed for life and fined.

Mr Tan, Mr Chew and Ms Sharon Tan, will also be charged with conspiracy to falsify accounts. If convicted, each could be jailed up to 10 years and fined. All five will be charged in court on Wednesday.

For the full article by Chong Chee Hin go HERE.

Yahoo! News gives a detailed and clear description of the allegations in this article How did alleged misconduct at CHC take place?

Megachurches: authorities curbing the giants’ growth?

bed too short for giant

Grey area

Religious usage of facilities approved for commercial use was a grey area. The previous guidelines were not clear. Can a church use a cinema hall? Or a hall in an office complex, hotel, industrial building or conference centre? No one knew. If no one complained, the authorities would let things be. The public concerns over recent megachurch plans have prompted the authorities to set guidelines. They have drawn a line in the sand. On the whole the clarity is to be welcomed, but it may affect the giants of the land: the highly visible megachurches.

New guidelines affect megachurches

One new guideline is: “Each religious organisation is limited to use up to 10,000 sqm in any commercial space at any one time”.  10,000 sqm is huge for a small or midsized church but likely a squeeze for megachurches wanting to expand further without increasing the number of worship services on offer. Doing an amateur calculation, if seating 1 person needs only 1 sqm, at least 10,000 should be able to have seating space. With seating for 5,000, the church will still have space leftover for other things like aisles, the  children’s church, reception area and other things. At least 3 churches will be taking out their calculators and talking with their architects.

Another guideline that puts a lid on growth is that it can only be used twice in the week. Saturday and Sunday services are what most megachurches in commercial facilities have presently. In other countries, some churches hold services almost every night because the weekend services have been already been maximized to meet the burgeoning congregation. This won’t be possible for the megachurches using commercial space.

Questionable motives?

It is doubtful that the authorities are trying to curb the growth of megachurches since the guidelines are quite generous. They say no religious group is being targetted but it was likely that the rise of the megachurches and their recent publicity raised issues that just demanded clarification. Whatever the case may be, churches are too resilient to be limited by physical space or guidelines. Especially with today’s technological advances.

Here is part of the guidelines but read the full online article in the straitstimes.com:

The guidelines, set by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and Urban Redevelopment Authority, allow some flexibility for the limited use of commercial premises for religious purposes, while ensuring that the main use of the building is not compromised.

‘Though religious activities are generally not allowed in commercial buildings, URA is prepared to exercise some flexibility and allow commercial premises to be used in a limited, non-exclusive way by religious groups,’ said joint news statement on Tuesday.

Some of the new rules set limits on how often regilious groups can use commercial spaces for their activities, and a cap for the space they can take up for religious activities in any commercial building at any one time.

For example, the maximum space within a commercial development that can be considered for religious use cannot exceed a total gross floor area of 20,000 sqm or 20 per cent of the total area of the development, which is lower.

Each religious organisation is limited to use up to 10,000 sqm in any commercial space at any one time.

The premises also cannot be owned by or exclusively leased to religious organisations.

Owners of convention centres must ensure that the reglious use does not compromise the staging for events during weekend, added the statement.