Chapel of the Resurrection: a church with stretch marks

the worship band

From Malan Rd to St Andrew’s Village

The 600-700 strong church was located at the St Andrews Junior College in Malan Road but have now moved with the school, to St Andrew’s Village at St. Francis Thomas Drive. Although I have heard about this very fruitful church, I have not been to their service before. It was therefore a pleasure for me to accept an invitation to preach at the Chapel of the Resurrection, plausibly the most reproductive church in the Anglican diocese. As I traced in my earlier post, this mother of many has given birth to six other churches that still bear witness to Christ’s resurrection.

Felt like home

Before the service began I met two ministers I knew. One was Rev John Sim, whose brother invited me to attend my home church. Back then John was an active lay leader in the Brethren church at Galistan Avenue. After he experienced the power of the Holy Spirit he moved to the Church of our Savior. After he was ordained, he was posted to a Woodlands extension, and then to the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. He had taken one of our children’s church camp, and I was pleased to briefly catch up with him.

Later in the worship hall, I met Rev Gerrard Jacobs, whose parents I knew from way back, and whose sister is Sister Rubina of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, Australia. He was here for a short while and would head for home in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he is pioneering an Anglican multi-ethnic work. Both of them were called out of fires of charismatic revival in the 1970’s and 80’s.

praise in the sanctuary

Pointing people to a covenant keeping God

It felt like home. The songs they sung, the light touch of tongues in the background, and the relaxed atmosphere. Before I knew it, I was at the pulpit preaching from Genesis 15 on the topic of “Our Covenant-Keeping God”. There were dark storm clouds looming over the world’s largest economy and it would overshadow Singapore, so I pointed them to the covenant keeping God. During the weeks before, I have been asking God to reveal Jesus Christ more clearly through the sermon, so that the hearers will love Him more dearly, and want to follow Him more nearly. That was my desire and remains my desire: that the message would bear fruit in the congregation.

Daniel with Claudia Heng

Spiritual intelligence and yet at ease with a child

After the service, Rev Canon Daniel Tong and I had some time of fellowship. The first time I heard of him was from his well known book, A Biblical Rev Canon Daniel Tong and KennyApproach to Chinese Traditions and Beliefs. This book is probably one of the better selling Christian books in the Armour Publishers’ Christian section. Later our paths were to cross when we met at a familiarisation tour for pastors to the Holy Land a few years back. While having coffee and chatting anDaniel's daughter standing beside interesting thing happened. A little girl, presumably from the Sunday School where he had earlier given out some awards or gifts, had skipped in and given him a hug and talked to him. She seemed like a niece or some relative but she was not. This Claudia Heng was cute and shy and I thought this was like some picture I had seen of Jesus holding a lamb in his arms. “Hey let me take a shot.”  I knew a Kodak moment when I saw one. It was just a snapshot but besides being a pastor with spiritual intelligence, he seemed to exude a care and ease with both kids and adult members of the church.

Church with a great legacy

chapel of resurrection

This church can stand tall as they have a great legacy of reproductive fruitfulness.  They have caught the wind of the charismatic winds in the 80’s and sailed strongly. This church can proudly rejoice and celebrate its wonderfully lasting legacy. They can show off the stretch marks from all the childbearing and sending out of their apostolic laypeople to start extensions. It can be draining as any mother of six would tell us. Hopefully one day in God’s time, they would launch out again in such self-giving love and faith. Until then, here’s an idea for all the daughter churches: plan an event for all the daughter churches to come together and say a heart-felt “Thank you” to mum.

Aldersgate Methodist Church: keeping tradition and yet stepping beyond

In the wrong place

It was a traditional service, but it took a step beyond the traditional.

Like clockwork it began at 8.30am and ended at 9.40am. That’s about an hour and a quarter, with the eucharist included. This was Aldersgate Methodist Church. It had been a long time ago when I last attended a Methodist service in 1981 when I was a seminary student.

I was early and ended up in an empty auditorium in the Fairfield Secondary School. Good thing an early parishioner told me that I was in the wrong place: they were the Holy Covenant Chinese Methodist Church.

When I entered the right church sanctuary five minutes later, in the primary school,  I felt the warm browns of wooden pews. There is something about wood that conveys stability and tradition. This Sunday I chose to attend the earlier traditional service rather than the contemporary service at 10.15am.

choir at entrancesinging in processionRev Dr Lorna Khoo at the tail end

In keeping with tradition and yet

After three violinists finished the prelude, the procession was led by the choir singing as they walked in redemptive red robes. The service continued with a call to worship and an old hymn, “O God Our Help In Ages Past”.

Pastor Richard Seow leading the prayersThen they did what I thought was a beautiful thing to do, something you do not traditionally do. Beyond praying for the world, and the growing rich-poor divide in Singapore, they prayed for their “competitors”. They blessed and prayed for the churches around the Dover/Buona Vista area, which included 3 other Methodist churches, St John’s –St Margaret’s Anglican Church,  Shalom Baptist Church, Ebenezer Church, and even one that has yet to move to the area: the New Creation Church! And all these before praying for their own church needs! This 5 minute prayer said more to me about brotherly love and the unity of the Body of Christ than a hundred sermons. I very like it, to use Facebook lingo.

This was followed by the collection of the offering, and giving of announcements and the confession of the Nicene Creed.

Rev Dr Lorna Khoo preaching

Rev Dr Lorna Khoo had been in this new church assignment for about seven months and like Nehemiah had probably been just going around the city walls and surveying them before initiating changes. From the bulletin information you could see that she had begun to pray seriously about the region or parish that Aldersgate is in. She stood up and spoke a message about giving because it was a Pledge Sunday. It was an exposition of  2 Corinthians 8: 1-15 given succinctly in 15 minutes. Despite its compactness, it was filled with biblical goodness and clear powerpoints. The insight that interested me most was viewing the grace of giving from the angle of justice, an aspect of stewardship  that is seldom highlighted.

communion kneelers

The Eucharist was conducted prayerfully with liturgical efficiency. The participants went forward to the kneelers in the front circling the stage. There they received the elements that had been blessed and partook of it with devotion.

Contemporary service larger

The contemporary service usually attracted about 350 people, younger ones, but the traditional service attendance was about 150 faithfuls in the 45 plus age bracket. However, on this Sunday I could see that the congregation has thinned due to members probably out on a long weekend holiday in addition to the National Day holiday on Tuesday.

Brunch was on my mind and my right hand was full as I left the church doors out into the school carpark into the morning drizzle. I carried the Sunday bulletin, the Methodist Message – a denominational magazine, and Rev Dr Lorna Khoo’s book, Wesleyan Eucharistic Spirituality, which I bought from her.

Almost two months into the sabbatical

trekking the Bukit Timah hillListening to my body

Almost two months have passed. Physically, I have rested well. This April and May has been months when I listened closely to my body. Whenever I felt tired, I laid in bed and napped or slept. Most mornings I do not force myself to wake up. So it has been usually 8.30am or 9am when I have my breakfast. They say this is the best way to know how much sleep you need. My tentative conclusion is that I need about 8-9 hours of sleep each day.

Though I began with walking and jogging at the Chinese Garden, my preferred form of exercise and recreation is still trekking. So I have revived my Saturday trek with friends, and above that, during the weekdays I try to trek once or twice at Bukit Timah Hill or MacRitchie.  Such treks are gentle on the knees and on the heart. The air is great and the forest sounds and sights perk me up. Over the several weeks, I have been gradually trimming down and firming up.

Outside enrichment

The AGST MTh(Ed) modules were fun and the subjects and readings, lectures and interactions have been fruitful learning experiences for me. Forcing myself to research, reflect and write my papers have also been pleasantly smooth riding, despite my early anxiety.

Helping out as a facilitator once a month with the Focused Leaders Network (Church Resource Ministry Singapore) together with James Creasman, Bishop Moses Tay, and Rev. Walter Lim has been enjoyable. This is a platform for me to journey with pastors, in this instance, pastors from the Foursquare denomination in Singapore.

Spiritual refreshment

More time also meant more time for meditation, reading, reflection, prayer and journaling, and listening to sermons with my wife, mostly Paul White and Andrew Wommack. This last month I have been slowly nourishing my soul on Psalms 42 and taking time to pour out my heart or be quiet before Him.

Visiting churches as a layman is so nice, so nice. To be free from having to preach or minister and to fuss over program or people problems is like one prolonged sigh of relief. It was plain good, a cosy and relaxing change. It was pure indulgence: like peering into the horizon with sunglasses, and sipping watermelon juice at a beach, as white clouds quietly tiptoed by. And then being able to indulge my spiritual palate in different church services and sermons, like a wandering charismatic, has become a prolonged epicurean feast I hope I do not become addicted to.

Anxiety squashed by word

Even as the days passed, colourful as they were, with a Kuala Lumpur jaunt and a chest thumping week of witnessing the Singapore election, anxiety about whether the days were productively spent bugged me for a while. For a Singaporean, even resting and restoration is an objective to strain for. So as the days passed quickly you wondered if God will get everything done that I wanted Him to get done in me. Mercifully, some peace prevailed after the Lord gave me a status update, “Enjoy each day as a gift and trust Me to accomplish in you all that needs to be accomplished by the end of the sabbatical”. That is so assuring and going forward, I will rest on that word.

Google reader

Recently, I have also learned how to use the Google Reader. Transferred all the blogs and websites I usually read from my blogroll and Favourites and moved them all there for efficient access and pleasure. This has been available for some time, but I am usually a late adopter when it comes to such things. I am still not on Twitter.

Centre of New Life: insightful Pentecostal pulpit

Two churches in one building

It was an interesting concept. Two churches sharing one building is not new. It had been tried in the Clementi Bible Center, shared by the Bible Church and the Mt Carmel Bible Presbyterian Church; and in Yishun Christian Church, shared between an Anglican and a Lutheran church. This was of a different model: like a semi-detached house where each church had their own separate living space. No bargaining nor quibbling over prime time or space. The Center of New Life, and Victory Family Center shares a building on a HDB church site in Jurong West opposite the National Technological University, across the highway. It made sense to share, what with exhorbitant bids for church sites despite their limited 30 years lease. More churches should find a partner to do something similar.

praise and worship by Pastor Navin

This visit to Center of New Life was prompted by wanting to visit the church some of my trekking friends attend. Linda Teo, Eric and Christine Ng, Jeffrey, and quite a few others are members there. They used to worship at Orchard Hotel but two years ago they jointly developed this present site with Victory Family Center. While retaining the city centre’s Sunday worship services, now in River View Hotel, the bulk of the church moved west to its present site.

Pastor Terence Ong

Insightful preacher

The unique feature of the worship service was the preaching. This is an Assemblies of God church. Pastor Terence Ong, a good looking tall young man in his 30’s, preached from the book of Acts. It was the commencement of a series and in conjunction with the preaching on Sundays, the church was urged to read and reflect on the book of Acts during the week. What was interesting was that the sermon I heard was an intelligent man’s message. This was not the typical Pentecostal message with the emphasis on inspiration, loud passion, moving people to action, and probing the conscience.  This was a message that gave insights and perspectives that were creative and progressive. It enlightened and gave you food for serious thought. This was a message for the educated, the professional, the thinking Christian.

The pastor began connecting with the crowd by making some humorous remarks about the elections. Smart move as  everyone was thinking of that anyway. Then he went into the text  to explain the  concept of the kingdom of God, and how it related to politics and power. This was not the traditional Pentecostal interpretive framework: he moved beyond that. Was I seeing one of a new generation of Pentecostal young preachers who were widely read, and have ventured beyond the traditional and hackneyed? (I did wish he mentioned something about mothers though – after all one of those who waited with the 120 was the mother of Jesus – and it was ‘traditionally’ Mother’s Day!).

With friends

The service started at 11am and ended at 12.45pm. Mingling among the members, I chatted with Jason Jin and Sam, both of whom were from World Revival Prayer Fellowship a long time ago. Went for lunch with the trekking group at Lam’s Noodles at TradeHub 21 in supremely humid and hot conditions. It was nice to just attend church: carefree, relaxed, and be open to receive.

Lost shepherds in the city

Lost shepherds and waiting sheep

The Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah, the Vicar of St John’s-St. Margaret’s Church, and Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Singapore, gave an insightful message to priests and ordinands recently that was excerpted in the Diocesan Rt Rev Rennis PonniahDigest(Nov 2010). He was reminding the church of what it meant to be an Anglican priest in the church of God –the classical role of Anglican priests. Over the years, this has been greatly eroded, obscured, obstructed, and pushed aside by the pressures arising from expectations of congregations for their priests to function like CEOs. The result: lost shepherds in the church, and the consequence – more lost sheep waiting in the pews for their shepherds to do what they are truly called to do, and other sheep leaving for other pastures. The irony is that members want their priest to act like a CEO so that the church would grow, but the outcomes are exactly the opposite: priests and lay leaders suffering burnout and members leaving because they soul care has been ignored.

Lost shepherds can find themselves

What he said so accurately reflects a clear and present danger in the other churches in Singapore too, not just the Anglican. The unbiblical expectations members have of their pastors to be like CEOs,  reminded me of what Goh Keng Swee and his team of systems engineers did to the Singapore education system in the 1970’s (they killed its soul, and teachers felt lost). What Rennis said would resonate with many pastors in this land. The same has already happened in urban churches in the United States too. Shepherds today, like the ones at Christmas, need a fresh and heavenly revelation of who God is. They need to eagerly seek the One in Whom they can find their true self and calling.  Here is an excerpt of his message:

So much is expected of the priest in the modern city – chairing meetings, organizing major projects, replying emails at the speed of smartphones and sometimes initiating financial ventures – that it becomes easy to lose our way and neglect the major tasks of our calling. The affirmation of men and meeting the expectations of our congregation for dynamic leadership and management can become our priorities instead of pleasing God through our faithfulness to our calling. As one of my clergy colleagues recently remarked, “If there is a parable to describe our modern situation, it may well be entitled the ‘Parable of the Lost Shepherd.’  The hundred sheep, safely in the fold, wait hungrily for their shepherd to find his way back to them.”

We do well therefore as priests to heed the call to vocational holiness – to being true to the central tasks of our calling. What then is our vocational calling as priests? In a word, I would say that our call is not to run an organization or meet people’s felt needs, but to build a community of disciples. I often have to remind myself, “I am not running a church, I am building a community.” With this in mind, the key vocational tasks of a priest can be identified as:

1.     Preaching / proclamation of the Gospel

2.     Discipling/teaching and equipping bands of people

3.     Interceding/shaping and leading corporate prayer and worship services

4.     Pastoral care and spiritual direction(ie the role of the “wise man” in the Old Covenant)

5.     Leading the people out in mission and community service

6.     Oversight of the flock and governance.

The greatest threat to fulfilling our vocational tasks is our management responsibilities in our urbanized parishes. I am not saying that management work is not needed in priestly leadership; however, they should not stand in the way of our primary tasks. This is clear in the early account of the early church where the apostles found themselves diverted from their vocational calling because they were personally managing the task of food distribution to the needy. They learnt to delegate this task to others in order that they may give their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Sadly, priests today may be delegating away their primary vocational tasks, while focusing on secondary ones. We are farming out the task of pulpit preaching to frequently-invited guest speakers, and the task of intercession to church intercessors. We are called to “prayer and the ministry of the Word”. We are called to “attend to God” in prayer and the study of His Word, and then to minister to people out of the strength of His presence. Are we attending to the needs of men (emails and mobiles) but ignoring our Lord (eg. Prayers and devotions)?

Singapore Christian Canaan Church: a happy servant church

New media connected

“I have read his blog. Then we became friends on Facebook.” That was how Pastor Richard Wong introduced me as the guest speaker in his church. New media is changing the way the world and the church works. More often than not people may meet online before they meet physically. This has been very much my experience in the last two years. We knew each other from afar and off-line, but recently we had lunch and we hit it off and shared our lives easily.

Jenny, Kenny and pastor Richard

Servant leader

Richard is hungry for the spirituals and yet is down to earth and a good administrator. He has been pastoring the church for close to two decades and still remains hopeful and enthusiastic. He sees himself above all as a servant. This serving heart has been his hallmark since the days of his youth, and it has been imparted to the church too.

The church building near St George'sMoving along

The Singapore Christian Canaan Church had come a long way from conservatism to Third Wave openness. This year they were moving into healing. This is a church of about 200 over and they have a building and worship team I envied. The worship team comprised half Filippinos and half locals. The elder Steven attributed their improvement to the training implemented by the youth and worship pastor.

A happy churchpreaching to produce a grace encounter

About 30 of the integrated congregation are Filippinos, mostly from the professional and service industry. The rest were mainly locals from youths to adults in their 50’s. The church was a family church: warm, welcoming, hospitable and all-embracing. This is their great strength: the love, unity and happy family feel was palpable. The congregation responded easily and positively to the message I preached, “The Church of the Prodigal Son.” This is a word I have been bringing everywhere I can as I feel it is a word in season for the church.

worship band leads congregation in song

engaged in praise

art renditionArt in the church

At the entrance to the worship hall, I caught sight of a large painting the size of a large notice board. This was evidence of how adventurous this church is. The pastor told me the  painting was done by a Japanese couple, during an art rendition at the Good Friday service, as the congregation sang two songs in worship of Jesus the Lamb of God.

Josephine and Richard Wong

Missions impact

Later Richard and his wife Josephine brought us out for lunch at Sushi Teh in the City Mall. Never did I know a relatively new mall existed in Little India, other than Mustapha’s. We talked about the missions work of the church in Bangladesh, Chiangmai and Sulawesi. We talked shop and about our families. It was wonderful to know how God worked in the world. Many are the risks taken but the Lord watches over His people.

We reached home after 3pm, satisfied and glad to have the privilege of serving the Lord and this happy church.

Depressed pastors: double stigmatization

depressed pastorsThere are actually Christians who believe pastors should never get depressed or burnout if they really know the Lord and have faith in Him. To them the two are contradictory. Why should that happen when the Lord is with them and they have the power of the Spirit, who by the way, brought the world into existence?  They forget Elijah, David, Jeremiah and Paul. They forget pastors have feet of clay too. They are made of flesh, blood and have hormones.They go through relational conflicts and experience loss too. They may work under as difficult work environments as executives, as this article USA Today showed……..

What kind of personal pain would cause a 42-year-old pastor to abandon his family, his calling and even life itself? Members of a Baptist church here are asking that question after their pastor committed suicide in his parked car in September. Those who counsel pastors say Christian culture, especially Southern evangelicalism, creates the perfect environment for depression. Pastors suffer in silence, unwilling or unable to seek help or even talk about it. Sometimes they leave the ministry. Occasionally the result is the unthinkable.

Experts say clergy suicide is a rare outcome to a common problem. But Baptists in the Carolinas are soul-searching after a spate of suicides and suicide attempts by pastors. In addition to the September suicide of David Treadway, two others in North Carolina attempted suicide, and three in South Carolina succeeded, all in the last four years.

Being a pastor—a high-profile, high-stress job with nearly impossible expectations for success—can send one down the road to depression, according to pastoral counselors. “We set the bar so high that most pastors can’t achieve that,” said H.B. London, vice president for pastoral ministries at Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. “And because most pastors are people-pleasers, they get frustrated and feel they can’t live up to that.” When pastors fail to live up to demands imposed by themselves or others they often “turn their frustration back on themselves,” leading to self-doubt and to feelings of failure and hopelessness, said Fred Smoot, executive director of Emory Clergy Care in Duluth, Georgia.

Most counselors and psychologists interviewed for this article agreed depression among clergy is at least as prevalent as in the general population. As many as 12% of men and 26% of women will experience major depression during their lifetime, according to the American Medical Association. “The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed,” said Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. But anxiety and depression in the pulpit are “markedly higher” in the last five years, said Smoot. “The current economic crisis has caused many of our pastors to go into depression.” Besides the recession’s strain on church budgets, depressed pastors increasingly report frustration over their congregations’ resistance to cultural change.

Nearly two out of three depressed people don’t seek treatment, according to studies by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Counselors say even fewer depressed ministers get treated because of career fears, social stigma and spiritual taboo. “Clergy do not talk about it because it violates their understanding of their faith,” said Scoggin. “They believe they are not supposed to have those kinds of thoughts.” Stanford, who studies how the Christian community deals with mental illness, said depression in Christian culture carries “a double stigmatization.” Society still places a stigma on mental illness, but Christians make it worse, he said, by “over-spiritualizing” depression and other disorders—dismissing them as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness. Polite Southern culture adds its own taboo against “talking about something as personal as your mental health,” noted Scoggin. The result is a culture of avoidance. “You can’t talk about it before it happens and you can’t talk about it after it happens,” said Monty Hale, director of pastoral ministries for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

For pastors, treatment can come at a high price. In some settings, however, it is becoming more acceptable for clergy to get treatment. “Depression is part of the human condition,” added Scoggin. “Some people simply find ways to gracefully live with it. Like other chronic illnesses, you may not get over it.”

Experts at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary suggest that pastors can help prevent depression by engaging in intentional replenishment weekly or monthly, confiding in their spouse and seeking spiritual direction with another pastor who ministers to them. They should also establish boundaries and set realistic expectations. “Jesus did not heal everyone, even though it was within His power to do so. No one is capable of successfully ministering to every person in need,” said Drs. Sidney Bradley and Kelly Boyce with GCTS. “Pastors can also normalize the problem of depression by teaching about it. This can help people understand it, and dispel the idea that Christians are immune from depression. Research has shown that when therapy is combined with medication, there is a 90 percent successful treatment rate. Depression is very, very treatable.” (USA Today 29/10/09)