Woodlands Evangelical Free Church: shining light in the north

Much has changed

The last time I visited this church they were still called Bukit Timah Evangelical Free Church and they were located at King Albert Park. The pastor then was Rev Lee Twee Kim and his wife, Poh Choo, who was for a while my Sunday School teacher. When I was in Primary school, my parents sent me to the Sunday School there, to learn good morals, I suppose. A van would faithfully pick me up from Woodlands EFC near the Woodlands MRTthe Princess Elizabeth Estate bus terminus, and send me to church where I would listen to Bible stories with flannel board illustrations, and weekly we would receive pretty cross-shaped bookmarks. The church was at Yarwood Park, and then it moved to the Singapore Bible School premises at Adam Road. They were quite serious about their work for I remembered how the teachers came to visit my home when my brothers and I were absent for a long stretch. I doubt Poh Choo, would ever have imagined that the boy who occasionally attended her Sunday School class, would one day be a pastor.

New modern facilities for expanded ministry

This Sunday morning, I visited the church of my childhood again. Woodlands Evangelical Free Church is its new name, as it has moved to the heart of the Woodlands HDB housing estate , a 20 minutes car drive away from where it once was in a wealthy suburban area. They have been in Woodlands since the middle of 1990’s but have just moved in July 2011 to a spanking new building. They have outgrown the first building so they tore it down and erected a completely new one for 8.5 million. Compared to the former building, this new facility is superior in design and finishing. The place of worship gave me a feeling of being in a modern worship space, with a beautiful ceiling that reminded me of a rippling effect of God’s grace on the surrounding community. The fan-shaped configuration and generous seat space maximized warmth and eye contact with the ministers on stage. The fellowship hall at the ground floor has tripled in size and the ceilings were padded with material that absorbed sound so that Kenny and I could chat without shouting to be heard.

500 in attendance at 11.15 service

Pastor Edward presiding over communion

Strong in exposition, active in ministry

It was meant to be a surprise visit and I was looking forward to hearing an expository message on a new series Rev Kenny Fam had started on the book of Ecclesiastes called “Purposeful Living in A Secular World”. This church has a tradition of expository preaching of the books of the Bible, even from the days of his predecessor. However, most surprises get unsprung, and it was so in this instance: it happened to be the Yellow Ribbon Sunday and they had invited a guest speaker, Rev Chiu Ming Li, a prison chaplain, to share God’s Word and something about the Yellow Ribbon project – which ministers to prisoners and help them re-integrate back into life after they have served their prison term.

The service started at 11.15am and I was glad there was a car park lot available at the open air car park next to the church. The songs were familiar worship choruses of the decade ago, sedate songs people aged 35-55  would be happy to sing. It was communion Sunday and I liked it that they took their time to celebrate it. They had two videotaped testimonies of ex-prisoners whose lives Rev Chiu Ming Li preachingwere transformed by Christ while in prison and  have settled well into the church and life. That was encouraging. What I drew from the message was a glimpse of what it meant to have rivers of living water in your life. He was painting a portrait of a person who can feel as God would feel, a human alive to feeling the pain of others, who would make life’s decisions from that posture, and who would live courageously, nobly and with hope. His avoidance of cliches about the abundant life, and his use of fresher words like “courage”, “noble”, “admirable” to describe a person overflowing with rivers of life, concretized for me what such a person would look like.

fellowship deck

Shining light in the north

There were about 500 in attendance in this main service in an auditorium that seated 900 and I thought it was wise of them to cordon off with red plastic tape the two wings of about 200 seats each. The church has a total of about 1,200 in attendance. Besides their expository preaching, the church is also very strong in community work, prison ministries and missions. They are a shining light in the north, a witness to that needy and neglected part of Singapore.

After the service, Kenny Fam showed Kenny Chee around the building. The church office smelt of brand new carpets and furniture, with Kenny with Kennyglass-walled offices for all the pastors and open space for the administrative and support staff.  We went downstairs and he bought me lunch, Malay nasi goreng in a packet, and we chatted briefly while talking. This was no time to catch up as he had a speaking engagement in the prison and had to rush off. It did not matter as I have known Kenny for some time. We meet with Rev Vincent Hoon of the Anglican church about 4 to 6 times a year. He is a person of integrity, full of faith, and with the courage to speak and stand on his convictions which were formed out of his study of Scripture, years of reflection, and life shaping experiences. Anyway I’ll meet him with Vincent another day. We will have more time then. Sundays are usually not good days for lim kopi with pastors. They are usually busy; their minds can be occupied with many matters; or they may be tired from the day’s output.

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.