The Vicar Writes
THE VICAR WRITES – ADVENT
My dear SJSM Family,
A lot of people find Advent somewhat confusing, but can’t put their finger on exactly why. Let me try to explain. There is a tension in Advent, both in terms of the focus and the mood. The meaning of the word ‘advent’ is ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’, and this tells us that this is the season in which we focus on the coming of Jesus. But there are two comings of Jesus: his first coming 2000 years ago, and his second coming on some unspecified date in the future! So we look back and reflect on the significance of his first coming and what he accomplished, and at the same time we look forward and order our lives in keeping with the certainty of his second coming. This is the first source of tension in Advent.
And to add to the complexity, there is also a tension in the mood of advent. On one hand we are to engage in self-examination (much like the season of Lent, hence the same liturgical colour, purple), which leads to us feeling sorrowful and repentant as we are confronted by how far short we fall of God’s holy standards. On the other hand we are to enter into the joyful and hopeful anticipation of the peace and salvation Jesus brings! So you see, even our emotions are pulled in seemingly opposite directions. No wonder some of us feel a little confused and cross-eyed!
This Advent is extra special for a few reasons. Firstly, it marks the start of our Jubilee Year! You see, the inaugural service of the newly merged St John’s – St Margaret’s Church was held on the First Sunday of Advent, 28 November 1971. That means this weekend (28 & 29 Nov 2020) marks our 49th birthday as a church, and we begin our 50th year, which is our Jubilee! The First Sunday of Advent is the Liturgical New Year, ie the beginning of the annual liturgical cycle. And the liturgical calendar is based on the narrative of God’s redemptive work in and through Jesus Christ. The 4 Sundays of Advent build up towards Christmas, which marks the Incarnation of our Lord.
A year from now, we plan to hold a celebration service for our Jubilee to mark the completion of our first half century as a church. Now we know that our birthdays fall on different days of the week every year. That’s because a 365 day year is 52 weeks plus 1 day. So every year our birthday advances one day of the week (Eg Sunday to Monday to Tuesday) and every leap year (ie every 4 years) it advances 2 days of the week. Not everyone’s 50th birthday falls on the exact same day of the week that they were born. But very interestingly in the case of SJSM’s birthday, due to the number of leap years contained in this 50-year period, our 50th birthday (which was originally a Sunday, 1st of Advent) lands exactly on a Sunday again. 28 Nov 2021 is the exact day of our 50th anniversary and it is once again the First Sunday of Advent!
In this year ahead, by God’s grace, we are going to see a number of New Things take place, like the opening of the SJSM Kindercare in January, the completion of the PSW construction project, our first virtual church camp and discipleship symposium in June, the opening of our SJSM Nursing Home in July, and our Jubilee Celebration Service in November. In addition, we will have several changes to the staff team, as we bid farewell to Ps Lewis end of this month, we welcome Deaconess Bessie Lee and Archdeacon Wong Tak Meng in January, and Ps Daniel and I will be posted out in end March and end June respectively. There will likely be a Vicar’s induction around September/ October for Ps Alvin. And at the staff level, we are building up our team of Zone Pastors to the desired number so as to strengthen pastoral care through our cell system.
So the sense we have is that as we enter the 5th and final year of this 5-year period themed “Be Transformed: Metamorphousthe!” we will see the transformation happen before our very eyes. It will be very difficult not to “perceive it”! But because we are by and large not the greatest at navigating change… [Q: How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb? Ans: Change?!]… so we need to ready our hearts in anticipation of this raft of ‘new things’ that God is bringing about. And our sermon series will therefore be one of the ways by which God’s word anchors and prepares us.
Our theme for this year’s Advent series is Doing A New Thing. It is drawn from Isa 43:18-19, which says: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (ESV) So here is the series.
28/29 Nov: When He First Came to Dwell In Person: The Incarnation [Ps Joshua Sudharman]
5/6 Dec: When He First Inaugurated the Kingdom: The New Covenant [Ps Daniel Teo]
12/13 Dec: When He Will Be With Us Forever: New Heavens and New Earth [Stanley Tay]
19/20 Dec: When He Brings SJSM Into A New Season: The Jubilee [Ps Alvin Toh]
In closing, may I remind us that although Covid-19 and all the related challenges have put us in difficulty, we must not look inwards and forget that all around us there are people who are struggling in their own strength and missing out on the most precious gift of all, a relationship with God. So let’s use this Advent period to invite our friends and family to a private Christmas gathering at which we can gently nudge them to consider the Reason for the Season. Let’s do this in partnership with our Cells, for the glory of God!
In this issue, Ps Joshua addresses a few FAQs on the new cell zonal system.
8/9 August 2020
My dear SJSM Family,
Two Sundays ago, on 26 July, we had a PCC Commissioning over Zoom. It was attended by about a hundred SJSMers. As a follow-up to this short but significant gathering, I’d like to share some reflections on it for our collective understanding.
During the PCC Commissioning, I shared a short reflection on Ps 78:70-72 which says:
70 He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; 71 from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. 72 With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.
The key lesson was drawn from the last verse, which sums up David’s leadership as comprising uprightness of heart AND skillfulness of hands, or in other words, character AND competence. This is the combination that is needed in church leadership. Character without competence is not enough; neither is competence without character. Both must be present. To use an analogy, if the church is represented by a sailboat, character is like the ballast or keel that keeps the boat upright even in turbulent waters, while competence is like the sails and rudder that give it speed and direction. Both are essential. And above all, we must remember that the captain of the boat (ie church) is Christ, and not any other human leader!
Those who were present witnessed the PCC members being asked the following questions:
• Will you be faithful in prayer and in the reading of Holy Scripture, so as to grow in intimacy with the Lord your God?
• Will you humbly acknowledge your need for God’s wisdom, and continually inquire of the Lord in all your work for Him?
• Will you do your best to pattern your life and that of your family in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to all people?
• Will you in all your concerns seek not your own glory but the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ?
And the Wardens, in addition, were asked:
• Will you in Christ’s love care for this Church, guard our obedience to the faith, and be faithful stewards of God’s household?
To all the above, they pledged: We will, the Lord being our helper. They will need the Lord’s help to keep these pledges, and we must all pray for them to receive that help.
Two new features of this year’s Commissioning were the inclusion of co-opted members in the Commissioning, and the sharing of brief reflections by the Wardens.
The Constitution stipulates that the PCC may co-opt up to 5 members. These co-options are typically proposed by the Vicar in consultation with the Ex-co (Wardens, Hon Secretary, Hon Treasurer and Vicar’s Office) as well as the whole PCC. We use the co-opted positions to:
a. Bring in expertise we feel the PCC lacks
b. Balance out PCC’s composition in terms of gender and age composition
c. Test out people we believe have leadership potential
Because we were not under the usual time pressure that we face when the Commissioning is done within E1 service, we were blessed to hear both our Wardens share their personal thoughts. Our Vicar’s Warden, Prof John Lim, shared how he received a fresh perspective on Rom 8:28 from reading Bishop NT Wright, where the accent was not on “all things working out for our good” as much as on “all things working out for God’s greater glory”. Our new People’s Warden, Daren Ng, expressed how he felt daunted stepping into the role ably held by our sister Ling Kay Bin for many years, and felt a sense of heightened reliance on God, and also privilege to be following in the footsteps of his late father, David Ng, who once served as People’s Warden of SJSM.
In sum, the PCC Commissioning was an important milestone to highlight the importance of the PCC to SJSM’s wellbeing, and the necessity for SJSMers to cover the PCC in prayer. I urge us to give our fullest cooperation and support to the PCC, especially because Covid-19 disruptions mean this PCC year will be shorter than 12 months (July to Apr), and we are entering our Jubilee Year (50th anniversary), which makes the PCC’s role extra challenging.
The full list of PCC members is available here.
And if any would like to watch a recording of the event, please click the following link:
With much love,
4/5 July 2020
Overview of Sermon Series on 1 & 2 Timothy
My dear SJSM Family,
As we embark on a new series in 1 & 2 Timothy, here is some helpful background information (drawing heavily from the ESV Study Bible and material that Stanley Tay prepared for the leaders at IDG) that will make the journey through these two epistles more meaningful.
Genre – Pauline Epistle
Within the structure of the New Testament, apart from the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) which give four different perspectives on the narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus, the rest of the NT books are referred to as epistles (letters). Epistles are identified either by their sender (e.g. 1 John, 2 Peter, Jude etc) or their recipients (Romans, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians) or their subject matter (Acts, Revelation).
1 & 2 Timothy, together with Titus, are collectively referred to as Pastoral Epistles, and are named after their recipients. These letters contain instruction and apostolic directives on how these leaders are to address critical matters in the church. The sender is identified at the start of each letter as the apostle Paul. Timothy and Titus were younger co-workers of Paul whom he deployed at Ephesus and Crete respectively to attend to important matters in the churches there.
Since the 19th century, some scholars have expressed doubts about Paul being the author, even though the letter indicates it is written by Paul. They base their doubts on the following:
• The Pastoral Epistles seem to differ from Paul’s other letters in style, vocabulary, theology and church order
• The details of events mentioned in the letters do not seem to fit the narrative in Acts
• Writing pseudonymously in the name of a “famous” teacher was “acceptable practice” in the 1st century
These objections have not convinced a significant body of biblical scholars who have countered these arguments by pointing out that differences in style and vocabulary are not unusual for a creative mind like Paul, and the events don’t line up with Acts because Acts is not the end of the story for Paul. Acts ends with Paul in prison, but according to certain early church witnesses (1 Clement 5.7 and Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.22.2-8) Paul was released from his first Roman imprisonment, did further mission work, and then was imprisoned again a second time, leading to his execution. And between his first and second imprisonments was when these epistles were written. The implausibility of the early church accepting a work as having apostolic authority when essentially it lied about its origin also makes the ‘pseudonym’ argument untenable.
What we know about Timothy
• He was Paul’s spiritual son (“true child in the faith”, 1 Tim 1:2) & trusted co-worker from his second missionary journey through Lystra (Acts 16:1). (Remember, Paul was single.)
• He was the son of a mixed marriage: his mother Eunice was a Jew (who instructed him in scriptures) & his father a Greek (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim 1:5).
• He was set apart for mission work: confirmed by prophetic utterances (1 Tim 1:18; 4:14) and endowed with spiritual gifts through laying on of hands of the elders and Paul (2 Tim 1:6)
• He was left by Paul in Ephesus to deal with a difficult situation: false teachers (probably local elders) leading some of the house churches astray (1 Tim 1:3)
• Paul’s letter to Timothy also meant to be read to the whole church: to strengthen Timothy’s hand in stopping these straying elders and some younger widows who had joined them
• He seemed to have a diffident personality (2 Tim 1:7) and suffered from some physical ailments (1 Tim 5:23)
• According to tradition, he became the first bishop of Ephesus and was stoned to death in AD 97
Ephesus – an important church
The church at Ephesus is mentioned in four parts of the NT. It is first mentioned in Acts 19 and 20 when he visits Ephesus for the first time and plants a church there. Then some years later, Paul writes an epistle to the Ephesians, probably during his first imprisonment in Rome. Then, as mentioned earlier, after his release from this imprisonment he writes the pastoral epistles - 1 Timothy between his imprisonments, and 2 Timothy during his second imprisonment. Finally, the apostle John writes to the Church in Ephesus in Revelation.
On the basis of these multiple references we can infer that the Ephesian church had a significant part in God’s plan for the Gospel. And based on the fact that the latest book (Revelation) makes no mention of false teachers being a problem in Ephesus (they were in many respects a commendable church but they had lost their first love, Rev 2:1-7) we can infer that Paul’s pastoral interventions through his pastoral epistles, not to mention his prayers, probably played a part in eradicating false teaching which was the main problem Paul addressed.
Key aims in 1 & 2 Timothy
Paul’s purpose in writing the first letter to Timothy was essentially to challenge him to:
• Combat false teaching with God’s word & sound doctrine
• Live out the gospel & encourage Christian conduct
• Develop qualified leadership & organise the affairs of the church
• Stay faithful to his ministry
Paul wrote Second Timothy as his last instructions and encouragement for Timothy to:
• Remain passionate for Christ
• Hold on to sound doctrine & defend it against all error
• Endure hardship in midst of growing persecution and apostasy
• Encourage believers to stand firm in the faith & to finish the race
Why this series is relevant to SJSM
a) . Discipleship (which is SJSM’s Main Thing, and this is the Year of Personal Discipleship) is taught and modelled in these epistles
I am writing these things to you so that... you may know how one ought to behave/act in the household of God, which is the church of the living God (1 Tim 3:14-15)
What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses
entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim 2:2)
• Paul instructs both Timothy and Christian believers on various aspects of discipleship and life of the church
• Paul disciples Timothy and urges him to follow Paul’s example in intentional discipleship, preaching the word and enduring hardship (2 Tim 1:13; 3:10-11)
b) . Leadership (which we have been thinking about at parish, Diocese and even national levels) is a major emphasis in these epistles
As a young minister, Timothy was faced with all sorts of challenges. Step-by-step, Paul patiently instructed him, and in doing so, he instructs us. (Max Lucado)
• Importance of character and godliness
• Common passion for changed lives & healthy church
• Cultivation of steadfastness, resilience & fortitude
I trust that we will look forward with great anticipation to a wonderful few months reflecting deeply on the letters of Paul to Timothy. I am confident that the Lord will speak in powerful ways to us!
15/16 February 2020
My dear SJSM Family,
How are you? I am thinking of all of you and wondering how all the developments of the COVID-19 are affecting you. As I sought the Lord for what He would want to say to us as a church in this season, I sense the Lord has 4 things for us to note.
Still your soul
These are some of the verses that come to mind:
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10, ESV)
For thus says the LORD GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” (Isaiah 30:15a, NIV)
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131:2-3, ESV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV)
I believe the Lord is calling us to intentionally and deliberately talk to our souls and counsel ourselves to remain calm, to rest in God’s faithfulness, and to commit all our anxieties and fears into his hands (see Psalm 42 & 43 for examples of such self-counseling.). Let’s remind our souls that God is in control even though we are not, and He is good and works all things together for the good of those who love Him.
A lady came across a man changing a baby boy’s diaper in a public place, and she heard him say, “It’s ok George, everything’s going to be just fine. You are doing great, George. Don’t worry about a thing, ok George?” The lady was impressed, and said to the man, “Baby George is very lucky to have an assuring father like you looking after him!” The man replied, “Lady, this is my son, Michael. I’m George.”
The Sermon on the Mount contains an important section on judging others:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2, ESV)
One of the ways people tend to cope with their fears is by playing the blame game. If I can point the finger at someone else’s flaws, I somehow feel a little justified about my fears and vindicated about my sense of victimisation. And we forget that hindsight is 20-20, but foresight is not. Because this virus eludes detection on the basis of symptoms alone, we must realise how challenging it is to completely prevent infections from spreading.
I urge us to bite our tongue when we are tempted to pass derogatory or judgmental remarks about people or groups in relation to the COVID-19 situation. Once cases come to light or are tested positive, it is all too easy for us to say, “You see! They should have done this!” or “Why didn’t they do that?” etc. What this kind of reaction does is it feeds the climate where everyone’s actions are guided overridingly by optics than by a proper weighing of multiple complex factors. Let’s try to put ourselves in the shoes of the persons making decisions and have a little empathy, and judge not.
I was so encouraged when I heard that our Healing Ministry team had decided to proceed with the Healing Prayer Session on Thursday evening, and were expecting to pray for anyone who turned up. Of course, they still had to observe the same protocols for all other activities on the church site, like temperature taking and travel declarations etc. But I feel these brothers and sisters are to be commended for their servant posture. They are trusting God to protect them even as they offer their physical presence to minister to those with health needs.
Because it is very easy in times of heightened risk to become consumed with self-preservation, I am proud that our church staff, our healing team and many others within SJSM are balancing self-care with serving the needs of others. This is the balance I believe the Lord would want all of us to have. It’s not like we throw all caution to the wind. We do observe reasonable precautionary measures, but we don’t shut others’ needs out of our minds.
One of my fellow clergy in the Diocese shared with me that because he had no guarantees that he was not putting himself in harm’s way, he decided to sit his wife down and share with her where all his insurance policies were filed and what all his passwords were, and other important things to note in case something were to happen to him.
Most of us find it very difficult to talk about such matters with our loved ones. The “What if something happens to me or you” question is more easily avoided than addressed. Yet the Lord may be gently reminding us that this is the time to put our homes in order and have the difficult conversations we have been procrastinating on. It is not a sign of a lack of faith to make preparations for death. Rather, it is in the spirit of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who chose not to be presumptuous about God’s deliverance in the face of the king’s threat, when they said to Nebuchadnezzar:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16b-18, ESV)
So let us share our important passwords with our spouse, and our insurance plans if any, and discuss what kind of arrangements might be needed for the care of the family should anyone close to us be quarantined or diagnosed with the virus. Commit the discussion to the Lord before it happens and ask for the wisdom and courage to face the issues fully and honestly.
So my dear SJSM family, let us remember these four words that I believe the Lord wants us to keep in mind:
Still your soul
With much love and prayers,
1/2 February 2020
THE VICAR WRITES - WUHAN VIRUS, EGM FOLLOW UP
(1 & 2 February 2020)
My dear SJSM Family,
This is a difficult time. The world is gripped by the rapid developments pertaining to the Wuhan coronavirus, and so are we here in Singapore and in SJSM. Please read the accompanying Pastoral Advisory from the Diocese, and all future advisories that are posted. It would be a good practice while the virus is still a concern to check the church website for new updates before every visit to SJSM for church activities. Please also sign up to receive WhatsApp updates through the Gov.sg website.
What we sense the Lord saying about our posture
Although these developments may catch us by surprise, nothing surprises or shocks the Lord, who knows the end from the beginning. He already knows how this matter is going to unfold. But as with all situations, His sovereign control is not static or rigidly predetermined, but in some sense dynamically linked to our prayerful dependence on Him. What we must focus on, therefore, is our posture. Therefore, in addition to what has been conveyed in the Diocesan pastoral advisory, I ask us to remember these three stances: hungering for wisdom, refraining from over-reacting, and humbling ourselves.
The situation is so complex and multi-faceted that nobody has complete understanding, not even governments with all their state machinery and high-tech communications. And because we are bombarded by opinions, suggestions, recommendations from so many sources, confusion is a very likely outcome. So let us remember the promise in James 1:5 that says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let his ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” This wisdom is not so that we have complete mastery over the situation, but to have enough light to take the next few steps.
When a team of doctors briefed the clergy earlier this week, they shared that certain institutions had by that time ramped up their emergency response level so high in comparison to other similar institutions that their staff were already beginning to experience fatigue. And this highlighted the need for measured responses, because there is a very real downside to over-reaction, namely the unsustainability of such measures over the entire duration of the crisis. Just like a marathon participant who sprints as hard as he can at the beginning may enjoy a period when he is leading the pack, it is only a matter of time before his fatigue causes him to fall back behind other steady runners, and possibly even prematurely drop out of the race altogether. So let us refrain from over-reacting.
And thirdly, let us be very aware that decision-making in times like these is never straightforward and simplistic. Every decision can be framed in a number of different ways, and from one frame of view, an action may seem right, but from a different frame of view that same action may seem wrong. Differences of opinion are inevitable in high stakes situations of such complexity. Let us therefore humbly recognise that where others’ viewpoints diverge from ours, it is because of the complexity of the situation, and not a deficiency of love, wisdom or faith on their part.
Measures we are adopting at the moment
Weighing all the advice from the government and the Diocese, with our ears open to the Lord and receiving feedback from the community, the Vicar’s Office has decided the following:
Orange Blessing – we are proceeding as planned with some precautionary measures, which we have cleared with the Neighbourhood Police Post, and have been communicated to those who signed up as volunteers. We have included the following pastoral note in each of the bags that we intend to present to residents if their doors are open, or hang on their gates if their doors are closed:
Dear Dover and Ghim Moh neighbor,
Happy Chinese New Year!
We look forward to this time every year when we can offer our greetings and blessings to the residents of Dover. While the gifts we usually bring are simple – oranges and snacks – we consider it a privilege for our members to connect with you face to face through this annual tradition.
However, due to precautionary measures around the Wuhan Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and sensitive to the concern of residents, we are minimising physical contact and limiting our direct interactions with you. You may find this Blessing Pack at your door as a token that our thoughts are with you during this time.
The Pack contains the following items for your information and enjoyment…
May our God bless and protect you and your family now and through the year.
St John’s – St Margaret’s Church
Holy Communion – our rhythm is to have Holy Communion (HC) every first and third weekends at our three English adult services. Proper administration of HC requires clear briefings for multiple categories of participants: clergy and lay readers serving the elements, ushers, adult members, parents with young children etc. Inadequate communication, which is the best we can manage in the short time available before this weekend, is likely to create unease which will interfere with the sanctity of HC. So we are buying ourselves more time by deferring HC till the third weekend, and will aim use the time to prepare clear guidelines for all to understand and follow.
Self-quarantine – all members should voluntarily refrain from attending gatherings in church and seek medical attention if they (or members of their household) answer Yes to any of these questions:
• Have you been to China in the last 14 days?
• Have you been in contact with anyone who has traveled to China in the last 14 days?
• Are you unwell: fever, runny nose, sneezing, coughing etc?
Children – Junior Church has instituted temperature taking even before the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak and will continue the good practice. Our facilities team will be stepping up the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting the rooms, furniture and frequently handled fixtures.
Many of us were present at the EGM in July last year, which was necessitated by issues relating to the electoral roll of SJSM and the way the quorum for AGM is defined. One of the important follow-up steps we agreed upon was to tidy up the electoral roll and identify the active members of the church. The first step in this process is to publish the electoral roll outside Christ Sanctuary for three weekends beginning today, and to get all those of us present to countersign against our names within this period. Please remember to do so as soon as possible as it will greatly help us bring our electoral roll up to date.
Finally, we recognise that there is a lot of material to read this weekend, and you may be tempted to give the PSW Newsletter a miss, but I want to let you know that there is some wonderful news in there that will be a welcome counter-balance to all the serious and heavy issues we have been discussing in the advisory and this TVW. I am sure you will be encouraged by it, and glad you took the time to read it. God bless, my dear family!
With much love,
THE VICAR WRITES
(11 & 12 January 2020)
My dear SJSM family,
Blessed New Year! It is good to be back with all of you! Last weekend, many of you came up to me to personally welcome me back, and I was really touched. Standing in front of the church and preaching felt quite strange because for almost half a year, I had kept a low profile, and suddenly to have hundreds of pairs of eyes looking at me took some getting used to again!
In this first TVW of the new year, I would like to reflect with you on some of the lessons I learnt over my 5 month sabbatical, especially the last month in North America. Firstly, I believe in sabbaticals! I think the granting of sabbaticals by the Anglican church is a stroke of genius that we should not take for granted. Not every church or denomination is as enlightened, and there are pastors who are envious of me because their church makes no such provision. The level of fatigue that accumulates in prolonged ministry and leadership is significant, and it takes a long period of disengagement from ministry to be replenished and rejuvenated. One of the factors contributing to emotional fatigue is what I call the empathy-swing factor. As pastors, we do our best to empathise with and enter into the emotions of those we are pastoring, and that means that sometimes within a single day, our emotions can swing from the joy of a wedding, to the hostility of a conflict situation, to the sorrow of a funeral, to the needs of our own family for play or intimacy. Each switch of gears requires energy and effort, and a degree of compartmentalisation that takes a toll. And the road to recovery is a slow recharge, which takes extended time. So I am grateful for the time.
The first four months were spent in Singapore, and only the final month was overseas. As I was nearing the end of the first four months, a certain degree of anxiety was rising up within me because the end of the sabbatical was in sight, but I wasn’t feeling as refreshed as I had hoped and wondered if I would be ready to return to work. But around mid-December, halfway through our overseas trip, I realised that I had begun to feel a lot better, a lot less tired and more refreshed. I put that down to the fact that the change of environment, weather and activities as a family played a big part in accelerating my recovery. Our minds are complex and we don’t fully understand ourselves, and it is possible that while we remain in familiar surroundings, without realising it, we are being reminded of our familiar roles and responsibilities, and our minds are stuck in a certain mode. But when our surroundings and the stimuli of sight, sound and smell change entirely, it signals to our minds that we can really let go of the load we are carrying and be renewed. This is probably why even in the corporate world, when teams want to do some creative thinking together, they hold off-site meetings or retreats, so that the change of environment plays a part in encouraging fresh ways of thinking.
Baggage loomed large in our family’s experience during our travels. Because we were unfamiliar with how to pack for cold weather, we ended up packing more than we needed – 4 large suitcases and 4 haversacks in total when we left Singapore, and even more when we returned post-shopping! This created space problems for us, when travelling in cars as well as when staying in rooms/hotels. Every time we were getting ready to move from one place to another, the task of distributing all the stuff across the bags so that we didn’t exceed the weight limit was an onerous task that caused tensions within our family more than once. It made me wonder about the invisible baggage we all carry, in terms of our thoughts, feelings, memories, fears, grudges, etc. How much of this is necessary and useful? How much do we struggle under the load of all this baggage that we lug around? How often do tensions arise between us and the people we share life with as a result of our baggage? Can we let it go?
The scariest day of the trip for me was the last day of skiing in Whistler. My wife chose to stop half a day earlier and was back in the hotel. The girls and I were out on the ski slopes, and when I told them it was time to head back, they pleaded with me for one final run down the slope, since it was our last day. I relented and we set off, even though I noticed that the number of skiers was fewer, and the light was beginning to fade. Anyway we proceeded to ski towards the ski lift that would have taken us back to the cable car station that brings us down to the base of the mountain. To our horror, we were told when we got there that the ski lift was closed. There was no choice but to continue skiing down the mountain to the mid-point of the mountain (maybe about 2 kilometers away) where there was another cable car station.
With light fading and skiers around us getting fewer, my heart sank, and I regretted not insisting that we stop earlier. To make things worse, the only slope going down was a “blue” slope for intermediate level skiers, and we had only done “green” slopes for beginners. Credit to my girls, they didn’t panic, and we decided we would take things slow and go down. At one point along the way, two of us took a tumble and it took us 10-15 minutes just to fit our skis back on, but we eventually managed. All the time I was praying for the Lord to protect us. I did feel His gentle assurance that He was with us, but my anxiety level was still high. At one point I stopped another couple of skiers to ask them how much further we were from the cable car station. They told me that it was about a kilometer away, but there would be snowmobiles coming down the mountain to pick up any stragglers and we could just ride down the mountain with them. That made me feel a little better. Eventually, though, we were grateful to reach a cable car station without needing to be picked up by the snowmobiles – we were the last passengers of the day for that particular cable car line!
Perhaps the lesson to learn is to inquire of the Lord and gather adequate information before making crucial decisions at transition times. I think of the Gibeonite deception in Joshua 9 when Joshua failed to inquire of the Lord and entered into covenant with the Gibeonites based on his assumptions. I too assumed (wrongly) that the ski lifts were open as long as people were still skiing down, and I should have checked first. I jeopardised my children’s safety and am grateful that the Lord watched over us and protected us. I am also grateful for all those who prayed for our safety. We are indeed vulnerable and weak, and we need the Lord to help us, especially when we make mistakes and misjudgments. As we head into 2020, let us not focus on our fears, but on the Lord who is with us to help and guide and protect us. He is our all-knowing Chief Shepherd.
POSTCARD FROM SABBATICALAND
8 December 2019
My dear SJSM Family,
You are in my thoughts, and I pray each of you reading this is in a good place where you are able to give thanks for the grace of God at work in your life, even if you have had to endure some pain at certain points of your journey.
I am writing this to you while on the flight to Vancouver. My family is with me. I will spend a week or so at Regent College for a short sabbatical program. After that, we will be doing a couple of weeks of travelling in Canada and the US. We will be spending Christmas in San Francisco and flying back to Singapore the day after, arriving on the 28th. We intend to be at the Covenant Service on New Year’s Eve – the last day of my sabbatical.
It’s been an interesting couple of months prior to leaving Singapore. I’ve gotten up to about 90% of my thesis completed, by God’s grace. I’m still working on the final 10% while on this trip. I hope to have the completed thesis submitted by mid or late December. Most of my reading and writing has been done at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library within the National Library building at North Bridge Road. Being on sabbatical has greatly helped me sustain the levels of focus and concentration on this substantial body of work. I’m grateful for the time and space afforded to me for thinking, reflecting, praying and writing.
We’ve recently had a very significant Synod during which the main focus was on the leadership transition taking place in the Diocese, in anticipation of Bishop Rennis’ retirement next September. I “suspended” my sabbatical for the week of Synod and attended all the meetings. It was a delight to see the SJSM Clergy and Synod reps, and to be led in worship by the SJSM Worship team (who were invited to lead at the penultimate meeting of Synod). Archbishop Ng Moon Hing blessed us with very inspiring and thought-provoking sermons. On the final day, all the members of Synod submitted our confidential nominations. We will know by late February or early March 2020 whom the House of Bishops (meaning the Bishops of the four dioceses in our province – West Malaysia, Sabah, Kuching and Singapore) have interviewed and appointed as the next Bishop. Till then, the right thing for all of us to do is to earnestly pray that the Lord’s will be done and that the mind of Christ be given to the Bishops.
As a family, we have experienced a few milestone events. As a target to motivate myself to improve my fitness, I registered for two long runs: the Straits Times run (18:45 km) and the Garmin half-marathon (21 km) and am happy to share that I completed them both. My daughter Emma completed her O Levels. And just last week, we had an advance mini-celebration with family to mark Emma’s and my birthdays (which happen in a few days’ time). Our family also attended an advance Christmas celebration at Ewart Park Cell 2 days before our departure from Singapore, and I was pleasantly surprised when, midway through the evening’s program, they suddenly produced a birthday cake for me!
One of the things I have learnt through my long runs is the effect of visualising the finish line. Perhaps the hardest part of the half marathon was the final quarter, when I was really battling fatigue. But when I was able to get a sense that the finishing line was near and within reach, it gave me a real boost of encouragement and energy to keep going. And the more I was energised, the nearer the finish line came, and the nearer it came, the more I got energised. It was a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle. It had a powerful uplifting effect on me, such that my tiredness became less and less of a factor, and the hope of completion became compelling.
I’d like to relate this experience to Operation Home Stretch for PSW. By the Lord’s mercy, we have seen our fundraising “finish-line” brought nearer by several million! We are really so close to the finish that we can sense that what was once so far away in front of us will soon be behind us! And the more we sense this hope, the more we should be energised to do our part and close the gap by our generous giving. We too can experience the virtuous cycle and powerful uplift that God has intended for us at the end of an arduous and long journey. May I urge us all, in these final weeks of 2019, and maybe even into the early period of 2020, to dig deep and traverse this home stretch with a last burst of fire, to the glory of God! I realise this is made slightly harder by the government’s announcement of lower bonuses this year, but may our focus be on the Lord rather than on our bank balances.
I end with this word from Ecclesiastes 7:8. “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” This a practical word of wisdom from Qoheleth. Starting a matter is often fun and easy, but it takes patience to get through the tough seasons and complete what was started. Beginning a half marathon is easy, finishing is hard, but ultimately better/sweeter/more fulfilling than starting. Doing groundbreaking for a building or fundraising project is exciting and causes hope to swell, but seeing the project through multiple ups and downs and ultimately completing it is much harder, but in the end, much more joyous and thrilling than the initial launch. We are so near. Let’s give it all we’ve got! See you at the finish line!
POSTCARD FROM SABBATICALAND
14/15 September 2019
My dear SJSM Family,
It’s been a month since my last postcard from Sabbaticaland. How quickly time flies! My sabbatical has already reached the 20% mark. So far, I have really appreciated the opportunity to slow down the pace of my life, and as a family we have increased the frequency of our family devotions, which has been great! Progress on my thesis is not impressive, because I am concentrating more on reading than on writing for now. I’ve visited a few churches, caught up with some old friends, sipped many cups of latte, gone for walks, watched movies, and enjoyed quality time with my beloved wife and chidren. All in all, it’s been a great few weeks.
I want in this postcard to reflect with you on a significant experience I had this past month. We recently celebrated Singapore’s 54th birthday, and my family and I were blessed with tickets to watch the National Day Parade (NDP) Preview, the week before the actual parade. It was a wonderful spectacle, breathtaking in its grandeur, and most impressive in its degree of organization, creativity and precision. Being seated around the Padang gave it an appropriate sense of nostalgia for this bicentennial year, given the many historic moments in Singapore’s journey that took place at that very spot. And for me, it was made extra special by the fact that I knew certain SJSMers played key roles in making the NDP as good as it was.
Although some people find the military parade segment less interesting than the performance items, I’m always transported by the parade back to my national service days when we had to learn what these commands meant and execute them in our foot drills. Being a pastor now, one Malay word caught my attention more than others. The word is “hormat”. It means “salute” or “honour” or “show respect”. There are 3 points in the parade when the command “hormat” is given:
During the command to “hormat”, those not holding anything in their hands do a right-arm salute (with finger tips to their temple), those holding rifles present arms by holding their rifles out in front of their bodies, those holding swords bring their swords to their face, and those holding the colours (flags) lower them and drape them on the ground. These different actions and postures are all meant to convey one and the same idea – that of showing honour and respect to an entity or person who is higher in authority.
These symbolic gestures are loaded with meaning, meaning that I fear will be lost as the younger generations, increasingly influenced by an individualistic outlook on life, lose sight of the importance of authority and honour. Far from being archaic concepts that hold no relevance for the 21st century, “hormat” may well be the key to preserving unity in a fractious and fragmenting world, because the root of “hormat” is humility, and humility, as we all know, is precious in the sight of God (God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble).
The question that came to my mind as I watched the NDP was, “How do we in church hormat the Lord Jesus (Tuhan Yesus)?” Some may think of the different postures we adopt during worship, like lifting our hands, bowing our heads or kneeling down. Others may think of the different words we speak or sing, like Hallelujah or Praise the Lord or Glory To God! But I’d like to think that true hormat that pleases the Lord has to be a lot deeper than our external actions or words. It has to come from our heart, our mind, our soul, our spirit. Whatever words or actions it may entail, I believe true hormat to the Lord Jesus encompasses an attitude that conveys “I honour You, I respect You, I submit to You, and I will do as You command. My life is at your disposal.”
The army, if it is going to be effective at all in warfare, needs to form its soldiers to understand the spirit of “hormat”, not just in ceremonial settings, but when bullets are flying and bombs are dropping. The church, likewise, needs to form its members to understand the spirit of “hormat”, not just when we gather for our worship services, but out there in the world where fierce spiritual battles are raging and we are always under pressure to compromise our Christian witness.
May we examine our hearts to see if we truly know how to “hormat” the Lord, because it will make a huge difference to the way we live. Reflect on how you would respond to the command, “Hormat Tuhan Yesus, hormat senjata!”
I close with these words from 1 Peter 3:14-16, which connect our attitude of “hormat” with life in a hostile world:
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor (hormat) Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
POSTCARD FROM SABBATICALAND
3/4 August 2019
My dear SJSM Family,
It’s past 10 pm on Wed 31 July. I’ve just begun my sabbatical. My family and I celebrated earlier this evening by having a nice dinner together. Exactly 8 years ago today, on the 31 July 2011 (our P40 year), I ended my last sabbatical! It’s been a pretty eventful 8 years since then, to be sure!
I would like to share with all of you that last Sunday’s EGM was special in many ways, not least because we had our highest ever turnout for a general meeting in recent memory. The final number who turned up (including latecomers) was 809, when the quorum was 540! It was a strong show of support from all parts of the SJSM family, and it helped us bring closure to a rather challenging and stressful series of events.
Although there were still aspects of the preparation and process leading up to the EGM that could have been improved, like circulation of appropriate documents for our language congregations and the availability of coloured voting slips at the registration tables (we underestimated the final turnout… we of little faith… and had to do an emergency print!), they did not detract from the fact that we did try our best to uphold good governance. With all the key decisions taken at the meeting in April ratified and confirmed at the EGM, we have ensured the validity of the decisions and the mandate for the PCC to follow through, particularly in relation to taking up SLA’s offer of a 3+3 year tenancy arrangement after our current lease expires in July 2022. The final vote for the land lease issue was 600+ in favour of proceeding, 20+ abstaining and 20+ against.
My prayer going into last weekend was not only that our turnout would exceed the quorum, but that the Lord would preserve our unity as a church. AGMs and EGMs are high-stakes events, and it is important that even if we voice disagreements, we do so respectfully and gently, out of love for the Lord and His people. I am delighted that all who spoke up at the EGM did so in just such a manner, and I believe it honoured the Lord.
Looking ahead to the next few months, my prayer for SJSM is that we will really do all we can to promote unity, even while undergoing significant transformation and change on multiple fronts. Pastor Alvin and the leadership team need your prayers, encouragement and support. When proposals for change are shared, e.g. in the starting of a contemporary service targeted at younger adults, or a new organisation structure for staff, or whatever, I plead with us that our first response not be “How does this affect ME and require me to adjust?” but “How does this benefit US as a church?” That’s the mindset of a people who have left behind a consumer mentality and are committed to unity. That’s what owning the call to ‘metamorphousthe’ looks like. That’s how we embody the idea that SJSM is not a club that exists for its members’ convenience and comfort, but a disciple-making church that helps us live up to our potential for maturity, ministry and mission.
On that note, I end this postcard from sabbaticaland, and assure you that you will be much in my thoughts and prayers, even though I am intentionally disengaging from most communication channels that I’m usually plugged into (like email groups and WhatsApp chats). SJSM is extremely precious to me, and I count myself so privileged to be given the opportunity of serving as your pastor. Thank you for releasing me to rest for this season.
“Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place – the Most High, who is my refuge – no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” (Psalm 91:9-11, ESV)
THE VICAR WRITES – ABOUT OUR AGM
(13 & 14 July 2019)
My dear SJSM Family,
There has been an important and complicated issue that's been running in the background, that I am now informing you about, and it involves the AGM we held in April. Certain matters pertaining to the AGM were discussed by PCC, and escalated to the Diocesan Standing Committee (SC). The answer that came back from SC early this week was not what PCC had hoped for, and it necessitates a series of actions, the first of which is this long note of explanation.
Background to the issue
How our SJSM Constitution defines the quorum for AGM is as follows:
2 A Church Electoral Roll, comprising confirmed members who are 17 years of age and above, shall be maintained. Only those on the Electoral Roll shall be eligible to vote and to serve on the PCC.
4.4.1 The quorum shall be one-fifth of the names of the Electoral Roll. Should there be no quorum, the AGM shall be adjourned for one week, and the members present at the adjourned meeting shall form a quorum, but they shall have no power to amend the Constitution.
There is another related clause in the Appendix of the Constitution, which provides the Guidelines for the Fully-Developed Congregation (FDC), ie our Chinese congregation.
3 The FDC shall maintain a FDC Electoral Roll comprising confirmed members who are 17 years of age and above. Only those on the FDC Electoral Roll shall be eligible to vote and serve on the FDCMC (FDC Management Committee). Those on the FDC Electoral Roll shall also be on the Church Electoral Roll.
The method of computing quorum is not standardised across the Diocese. In fact, at the moment, SJSM has the highest numerical quorum for AGM in the entire Diocese. The two parishes that have larger memberships than SJSM, ie St Andrew’s Cathedral and Church of our Saviour, both have quorums of only 100!
The SJSM quorum is made even higher by the inclusion of the FDC members in the Church Electoral Roll (ER). The intent of the last sentence, when it was crafted, was to signal the unity of the parish, even as the FDC status conferred on the Chinese congregation a significant degree of autonomy. In the spirit of Psalm 133:1, which says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity”, we can all see the good intention behind the inclusion of this statement. However it came with some unintended downside. The one-fifth (20%) ratio is the minimum rate of representation across all the various congregations for an AGM or EGM. But because the FDC members hold their own separate AGM (usually one week before the parish AGM) and because of language difficulties, in practice very few FDC members attend the parish AGM. This puts the onus on the rest of the congregations to compensate by having higher than 20% representation in order to meet the quorum.
Having noted the above challenges, we have been doing very well over the years to meet our quorum. However, in 2016 I tracked the numbers and noted the trend that as quorum kept rising with rising ER, the gap between quorum and actual AGM attendance was narrowing. And in 2016, the gap narrowed to less than 2% of quorum, meaning we just scraped through!
I alerted PCC that we had to arrest this trend because failure to meet quorum and the impact of a postponed AGM would not just be inconvenient, but detrimental to the momentum and morale of SJSM, especially as we are in a critical season with PSW and Metamorphousthe. Some additional factors were:
• Because our adjournment period for an inquorate meeting is one week, unlike other parishes which stipulate only half an hour, we are likely to have a much lower turnout at the adjourned meeting. This makes it less conducive to taking major decisions for the church.
• Key presenters for the AGM may not be available the following week due to work and travel schedules
• Those who attended the inquorate AGM would feel that their time and effort had been wasted
• The logistics and cost of repeating the AGM set-up would impact staff and financial resources
PCC agreed to initiate the process of constitutional amendment in 2016 in preparation for AGM 2017, but when we wrote to the then Secretary of Synod, the proposal to amend the constitution was not endorsed, and the matter had to be dropped. We therefore tried our best to anticipate attendance indirectly through lunch orders for AGM, and to urge higher attendance through pulpit announcements and emails to cell leaders. We also undertook efforts to bring our ER up to date by removing those who were no longer worshipping at SJSM.
What happened this year
When lunch orders were lower than normal, we treated it as a red flag and intensified our announcements and appeals through email. We saw the lunch orders start to rise, but one week before AGM, lunch orders were still not at the levels we had seen before. I anticipated that we would fall short of the quorum but not by much (less than 10%), and it seemed like we were in danger of facing an adjourned AGM.
One possible solution that occurred to me was to check with the Diocese if we could legitimately re-interpret the quorum to exclude the FDC members, since the FDC members were unlikely to attend the parish AGM due to language difficulties and having their own separate AGM. Sadly and unfortunately, on the Monday of that week before AGM, Bishop Rennis' mother passed away, which came as a huge blow to him and the family, especially with Celebration of Hope just around the corner. I knew it would be unreasonable to burden him with a decision like this, so I took the matter to the Assistant Bishop and Secretary of Synod for advice on Wednesday that week. I explained the matter to them through email, but not perfectly. I should have attached a copy of our SJSM constitution with my email but didn’t. I asked them if we could interpret the quorum as 20% of the ER excluding the Chinese FDC members and gave my reasons. Both their replies were supportive of the new interpretation, although it was based on what they knew of the practices in other parishes with FDCs (eg Cathedral and St James’ Church). They hadn't anticipated that SJSM's constitution was unique in that it explicitly includes the FDC members in the parish ER.
Taking their assent to be sufficient warrant for reinterpreting the computation of quorum (a miscalculation on my part), I immediately notified the PCC by email a few days ahead of AGM that we would adopt this new interpretation of quorum at AGM, with the assent of Secretary of Synod and Assistant Bishop, and PCC was agreeable.
The original computation put the quorum at 540, and the revised computation put the quorum at 476. On the day of AGM, had the attendance been below 476, we would not have proceeded with the AGM, and postponed it by a week as stipulated in the constitution. Had the number been above 540, there would have been no issue and the AGM would have proceeded as normal. But very interestingly, the final attendance fell in between these two numbers at 509.
I announced after my Chairman’s address (when the numbers had been tallied) about the steps that I had taken to check with Diocese about the new interpretation of quorum, and announced that our attendance exceeded 476, and this announcement was greeted by applause from the members. We then proceeded with the rest of the agenda.
What happened after the AGM
A week later I received an email from one of our members, a lawyer, addressed to the PCC and listing reasons why he felt the new interpretation of the quorum was not valid, rendering the AGM inquorate and hence all the decisions taken there invalid. He assured us that he did this out of a concern for due process, and protecting the AGM decisions from potential legal challenge.
I immediately called for a PCC meeting to discuss our response to this challenge. The PCC weighed the arguments raised in the challenge and reasoned that the new interpretation of the quorum was actually valid on two grounds:
(1) the Diocesan Constitution contains a section called Schedule A in which it is assumed and expected that an ER member of one parish or congregation cannot simultaneously be an ER member in any other congregation of the Diocese, ie no dual membership allowed.
(2) The line in our constitution which stipulates dual membership for our FDC members is therefore inconsistent with Schedule A, and according to Diocesan Constitution Article 19.1 must be deemed invalid and void. [19.1 states that “Any provision in any constitution (or other analogous document) of a parish or congregation in the Diocese which is inconsistent with this Constitution (which expression shall include the Schedules thereto) shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.]
The resolution taken by the PCC was then submitted in writing to the Standing Committee (SC), providing all the background information to the challenge on the validity of the AGM. Since the argument invoked parts of the Diocesan Constitution, PCC deferred to SC as the authoritative body that is competent to interpret the Diocesan Constitution. The matter was submitted in late May and it took several weeks for Bishop and the legal team (including Chancellor and Registrar) to reach a decision, which was finally conveyed to Ps Alvin and me this week on Monday 8 July.
The decision was that on final analysis, there wasn’t sufficiently clear inconsistency between the two Constitutions to warrant voiding the statement in question (I will not mention the legal arguments here as they are quite technical). This meant that the computation of quorum had to follow the original method which includes the FDC in the ER, and therefore the AGM had failed to meet the quorum and was inquorate. The way to rectify this inquorate AGM would be to hold an EGM soon, to receive the notes of the inquorate AGM as reflecting the reports and decisions of the EGM without need to repeat and reopen each agenda item. Each major decision at the inquorate AGM would need to be ratified by a majority vote at the EGM.
What will happen this month
As the PCC had stated in our email to SC, if the final decision of SC is that PCC reached the wrong conclusion, we would take the necessary steps to rectify the matter under SC's guidance. So we are now calling for an EGM on Sunday 28 July at 11:15 am in Christ Sanctuary. Instead of having E1 and E2 at the usual times, we will have a combined service at 9:00 am that morning. Also, we are calling for a forum to allow for dialogue and discussion to help everyone better understand this rather complex matter. This forum will be combined with our CPG at 7:45 pm on Fri 26 July, so we will spend some time committing the matter in prayer to the Lord after we have discussed it. We encourage as many of us as can attend to make it to the forum, and we absolutely need to meet the quorum for the EGM this time, so please play your part in rectifying this problem by being there.
Because trust between the congregation and leadership is so precious and crucial to the health of the church, and we've seen other churches being badly damaged when trust was violated, I have always sought to uphold the highest levels of transparency and honesty in all matters, even when it's painful. Hence this message and this process.
Also, as Vicar, the buck and blame stops with me, and I therefore take the final responsibility for this messy situation. I apologise, and ask for your forgiveness, Church. This does not mean that we as a congregation don't also have valuable lessons we can learn from this turn of events. I hope we will prayerfully reflect on what the Lord might be teaching us collectively and individually.
SABBATICAL, SERMON SERIES AND SJSM SERVICES
(06 & 07 July 2019)
My dear SJSM Family,
You may be wondering why you have been receiving a flurry of TVW notes from me in the last few weeks, on the new SJSM logo, on Operation Home Stretch, and now this. It’s because when it comes to TVW, I have tended to operate on the basis of “having something to say” rather than “having to say something”. And with my leave and sabbatical about to start on 1 August, I find I have a fair bit to say by way of preparation!
The Diocese allows clergy to have a sabbatical after 6 continuous years of service. My last sabbatical ended on 31 July 2011, so I was eligible for my next sabbatical from 1 August 2017. However, in view of my Doctor of Ministry course entering the thesis-writing phase in 2019, I opted to defer my sabbatical till now.
The Diocese grants 4 months of paid sabbatical, and I will use a month of accumulated leave to make it 5 months, during which I will be writing up my thesis. In the month of December, my family and I will travel to Canada where I will do a short program in Regent College, Vancouver, followed by some holiday time in the US. Until end-November, we will be in Singapore, and while my family will be more regular in attending SJSM, I may only show up very occasionally as I will be visiting other local churches to broaden my understanding of how churches worship.
In order for the sabbatical to truly be a time of rest and refreshment, I intend to operate as though I am out of the country the entire time, meaning I will not be tracking emails, accepting invitations to events, doing counselling or other ministry engagements. I trust you will understand thatfully disengaging from ministry for a few months is needful so that I can be recharged for the long haul. A fatigued vicar is not much good to the church! And saying yes to one request and no to another can lead to unhealthy comparisons, so I intend to divert all requests for ministry to Ps Alvin and the staff team to handle.
In February this year, with my recommendation, Bishop Rennis appointed Ps Alvin Toh as Curate of SJSM, which means he is my deputy. During my period of absence from 1 August to 31 December, also with my recommendation, Bishop Rennis will officially appoint Ps Alvin as the Acting Vicar of SJSM.
That means that he will be empowered to carry out the role and office of the Vicar for this duration. I will be briefing Ps Alvin on the various aspects of the Vicar’s role as thoroughly as I can. I am confident that the staff team will give good support to Ps Alvin, and I appeal to all of us in SJSM to do likewise. Please keep him and his family in prayer at least as much as you have prayed for me and my family. When I return from sabbatical in January 2020, I will resume the role of Vicar, and Ps Alvin will revert to his role as Curate.
There is a small team that assists me in planning the sermon series, and we settled on the book of Ecclesiastes for this second half of the year for a few reasons. Firstly, we wanted to do an OT book, as our last OT book series was Ezra and Nehemiah in the first half of 2017. Secondly, we felt that Ecclesiastes resonates with many people’s sense of confusion and frustration at life and is a helpful follow up to Celebration of Hope in that seekers who attended COH can be invited back for this series. Thirdly, it is an uncomfortable book that many SJSMers prefer to avoid, and even scholars and commentators have widely divergent views about. So, we took the decision to preach through this book, trusting that the Lord will use it to disciple and grow us. We will begin the series entitled “Ecclesiastes – Is There More To Life?” this weekend and it will end in mid-November.
I commend to us the following outline of Ecclesiastes, taken from the ESV Study Bible (pg 1196):
I. Introduction and Theme (1:1-3)
II. First Catalog of “Vanities” (1:4-2:26)
a. The “vanity”of the natural world (1:4-11)
b. The “vanity”of wisdom and knowledge (1:12-18)
c. The “vanity”of pleasures, possessions, and accomplishments (2:1-11)
d. More on the “vanity”of wisdom (2:12-17)
e. The “vanity”of labour (2:18-26)
III. Poem: A Time for Everything (3:1-8)
IV. Fear God, the Sovereign One (3:9-15)
V. Second Catalog of “Vanities” (3:16-4:16)
a. The “vanity”of mortal life (3:16-4:3)
b. More on the “vanity”of labour (4:4-12)
c. More on the “vanity”of wisdom (4:13-16)
VI. Fear God, the Holy and Righteous One (5:1-7)
VII. Life “Under the Sun” (5:8-7:24)
a. Injustice (5:8-9)
b. Greed vs contentment (5:10-6:9)
c. Wisdom for living “under the sun”(6:10-7:24)
VIII. The Heart of the Problem: Sin (7:25-29)
IX. More on Life “Under the Sun” (8:1-12:7)
a. Wisdom in dealing with foolish authorities (8:1-9)
b. The importance of fearing God (8:10-13)
c. The limits of human knowledge (8:14-17)
d. The unpredictability of life and certainty of death (9:1-6)
e. Finding enjoyment as circumstances allow (9:7-10)
f. More on the unpredictability of life (9:11-12)
g. The paths of wisdom and foolishness (9:13-11:6)
i. The power of wisdom (9:13-18)
ii. Proverbs concerning wisdom and foolishness (10:1-20)
iii. Wise practices in light of the unpredictability of life (11:1-6)
h. Aging and the “vanity”of mortal life (11:7-12:7)
X. Final Conclusion and Epilogue (12:8-14)
When a church is newly planted, one of the first expressions of that church’s existence, if not the very first expression, is the worship service. Over time, other structures and programs may be added (cell groups, mission trips, training courses etc) and the church becomes more complex. But the worship services are still the mainstay of the church.
In this season of five years leading up to our Jubilee (2021), we should all by now be familiar with our theme, “Be Transformed: Metamorphousthe!”.
Much of the transformation is catalysed, energised and inspired by Project Spring-Winter, and the changes it will bring. Like a caterpillar withdraws into its chrysalis for a time of metamorphosis, and it literally reinvents itself so that it emerges as a brand new creature, the process of metamorphousthe for SJSM will involve quite a radical relook at all aspects of the church in light of what God is doing, so that we can be future-ready. So we need to discern in what ways the Lord would lead us to transform our worship services as well.
This sets the context for why I have asked that we all come together for two weeknights this month to be reminded about “The Essence and Expressions of Anglican Worship”.
The content of the two evenings, and the instructors for the sessions will be as follows:
Fri 19 July (7:30 pm):
• Dr Myrleene Yap, who serves as Dean and Associate Professor in the Singapore Bible College (SBC) School of Church Music will teach on Scriptural Principles of Worship for all Christians.
• Ps Alvin Toh will follow up with Anglican Distinctives and guidelines.
Tue 23 July (7:30 pm):
• Ps Joseph Lee, who serves Associate Professor in the SBC School of Church Music, will teach on the importance of Musical Expressions in Worship.
• I will pull everything together in terms of Implications for SJSM’s Worship Services going forward.
I urge that all or most SJSMers will make time to attend these two sessions. Cell meetings will (on the whole) be suspended for those weeks. And we need cell leaders to register their cell members so that sufficient copies of notes can be prepared.
With that, let me sign off and return to my sermon preparation for this weekend! Looking forward to sharing God’s Word and worshipping with all of you this weekend, and see most of you there at the two teaching sessions on Worship!
SERVICE PASTORS AND CURATE
My dear SJSM Family,
How quickly the first month of 2019 has passed! I want in this TVW to follow up on a couple of matters that I alluded to in my video announcement at the turn of the year.
Firstly, I want to announce some changes among the Service Pastors. In some parishes, the role of Service Pastor is played by the Clergy, but it has been the practice for many years in SJSM that a member of the pastoral staff has played the role. In SES, the Service Pastor has been Stanley Tay, in E1 it has been Alice Priscilla, and in E2 it has been Ds Laura Chan.
Each of them has over many years brought their own unique style and personality to the role, and I am very thankful for the way they have enriched and blessed SJSM. The Service Pastor does a lot of behind-the-scenes work before each service, drawing up the order of service, and coordinating with the various teams serving, like the worship team, usher team, sound and projection team, sacristy team (that prepares the Holy Communion elements), lay readers etc. During the services, the Service Pastor is most visible during the welcome and announcements.
Although the public aspect of their roles is important, their personal ministry is also significant. Many SJSMers have been blessed by the prayers or prophetic words spoken by the Service Pastors while serving communion. At the end of each service, the Service Pastors are usually up front praying for those with needs, and many of you have been touched by their prayers for you. It is usually through such personal contact that relationships are established, and Service Pastors best express their pastoral care and concern for the congregation.
This year, taking effect from 1 March 2019, there will be some changes to the deployment of Service Pastors, and I’d like to give all of you some advance notice.
SES: Stanley Tay will hand over to Richard Lau
E1: Alice Priscilla will hand over to Ds Laura Chan
E2: Ds Laura Chan will hand over to Simon Devaraj
There is no single reason why I as Vicar am making these changes. Rather, it’s a combination of factors, some at a personal level (like a change of season and ministry emphasis for certain individuals), and some at a congregational level (like raising up new leaders). After giving the matter prayerful consideration and consultation over some months, I have come to the conclusion that it fits into the work of transformation (Metamorphousthe) that God is doing in SJSM during this season. I therefore commend these changes to you for your prayers.
I also ask that you would take the next month to show appreciation and encouragement to your Service Pastors for being a blessing. On the final weekend of February, we will have an opportunity to pray a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing over them. Then on the first weekend of March, we will welcome the “new” Service Pastors at their respective services. I say “new” because they are already familiar to most of you. Nevertheless we will pray God’s anointing and blessing over them for the new season in their ministry when they start in March.
The second matter I want to follow up on is the appointment of Pastor Alvin Toh as Curate in SJSM. This appointment by Bishop Rennis took effect on 1 Feb 2019. Ps Alvin joined SJSM from St Andrew’s Cathedral in July 2017. He was immediately appointed as Division Leader of the Community Services and Dover Division, taking over the role from Richard Lau, and 2nd DL of the Edification Division. In June 2018, he took on the additional responsibility of Chairing the PSW Childcare Committee, taking over from our People’s Warden, Ling Kay Bin.
As Curate, Ps Alvin will become part of the Vicar’s Office (VO) team, which also includes Richard Lau as Executive Pastor, and Lee Chee Sheong as Director of Operations. The VO assists the Vicar in the day to day running of SJSM. The VO is a subset of the Division Leaders (DL) team, which also includes Ps Andrew, Ps Daniel, Ps Solomon, Ps Lewis, Ds Laura, How Kim Chin, Stanley Tay, Michael Wong, and our most recent addition, Allen Lim (replacing Julian Chin). The DLs play an important role in helping the Vicar discern the Lord’s will for the ministry of SJSM, implementing plans, as well as managing their respective Divisional staff. The Curate will assist the Vicar in leading the DL team. Please pray for Ps Alvin as he takes on this additional responsibility.
So we commit the change of Service Pastors and the appointment of Ps Alvin as Curate to the Lord, asking Him to bless each of them, and taking SJSM forward in His plans and purposes.
With much love,
5 & 6 January 2019 - BAPTISM OF JOY
My dear SJSM Family,
Happy New Year! I am writing to you from Durham, North Carolina, and I would like to share my heart with you about the video I trust you’ve already seen on Baptism of Joy. I want to talk about why we are doing this, why now, what I hope this change will achieve, and some further details about what will be done differently this year.
First, though, I want to talk about something called Traditioned Innovation. This is a term I recently came across in the course of my readings. It speaks about churches using their traditional resources (like Scripture, liturgy, order etc.) in new, fresh and innovative ways. Many years ago I attended a songwriting seminar led by Marty Nystrom from Hosanna Integrity. Marty was in the committee that selected songs for publishing in the Integrity praise and worship album series. They would receive tapes of literally thousands of original songs submitted by writers from all around the US, and they would have to listen to each one and sift through until they had just 10-12 songs that would go on an album. What was fascinating for me was that one of the powerful criteria they used in determining which songs would be ultimately chosen from among the thousands was this: something familiar, something fresh. The combination of something familiar and recognisable (whether melody or lyric or chord progression) with something new and innovative was often the difference between a song that would “take off” and a song that would “tank”. I never forgot this piece of advice for songwriting, and I have come to believe that “something familiar, something fresh” is essentially what “Traditioned Innovation” is about.
Churches need tradition, predictability and stability. The familiarity of the order of service and the liturgy provide a sense of rootedness, depth and security to us. We must never underestimate how much the routines and patterns that we experience in church form and shape us as disciples of Christ. However, there is a down side to familiarity, namely over-familiarity. Anything, even a good thing, that’s taken too far can become unhelpful. Without the injection of something fresh into the familiar, our routines and traditions can harden into dead ritualism. This can hardly be healthy and good for the church. So we must allow room for change, for innovation, for experimentation, even if that makes us uncomfortable, if we are to retain the benefits and blessings of our liturgical traditions.
Jesus used the analogy of wine and wineskins to draw attention to the reality that God’s fresh agenda sometimes clashes with our human nature. Human nature is like wineskins, and wineskins that have already gone through a stretching phase in the past always struggle to cope with new wine which tends to require flexibility and elasticity in the receptacle. Old wine, aged wine, tends to be regarded as superior in quality to new wine. But Jesus undeniably identified himself, as well as the life in the Spirit that he ushered in, with new wine. He is always on the move, always doing something fresh and surprising, never imprisoned by the past.
With these thoughts in mind, let me share WHY we have embarked on Baptism of Joy, and WHY NOW. One Tuesday afternoon in July 2018, when I was seeking the Lord on my knees about Celebration of Hope in May 2019 and how SJSM can be mobilised and ready for what the Lord is going to do in COH, I sensed the Lord saying that the key is not mobilisation but motivation. If the motivation is not there, no amount of mobilisation will work. And when it comes to motivation, there are basically two types: push factors and pull factors. Push factors involve negative emotions like fear and anger, whereas pull factors involve positive emotions like interest and joy. I felt the Lord counseling me that SJSM must not be motivated towards evangelism by fear or even duty, but by a sense of joy at participating in the harvest. There must be a fire of enthusiasm that is kindled in the heart, not by man but by the Spirit. This is the key to SJSM being engaged and up to speed for COH, and once COH has come and gone, for the years to come as well.
And this is where Traditioned Innovation comes in. In that time of prayerful listening, my thoughts were drawn to the many baptism services I have witnessed and led here in SJSM, which are part of our traditional Anglican liturgical heritage. My heart was drawn to the smiles, to the laughter, to the applause and the general sense of the Spirit’s glow – on the faces of those who were baptised, but most noticeably on the faces of their family, friends and sponsors! But I realised that this joy generated by our baptism service is experienced by so few – and so seldom – in the course of a year, simply because we have only two baptism services in SJSM every year.
This is when the vision of unleashing the baptism service from the confines of the calendar, and even the confines of the Sanctuary, began to form and take shape. It was as if I was watching a video being played in my mind, and it brought tears to my eyes. I felt the stirring in my own heart as I saw person after person come out of the baptism pool beaming and victorious as they sense the new beginning God has just gifted them with. And I felt this stirring begin to spread like wildfire across the various age and language congregations and ministries in SJSM, as baptism of joy goes beyond just being an event or a service but becomes a movement! The sense I had was that the whole of SJSM was being submerged in an ocean of joy! The video was an attempt to allow more people to glimpse the vision I began to see that Tuesday afternoon on my knees. It’s not easy to reproduce exactly, but it comes quite close. And I am grateful to the many SJSMers who volunteered to be involved in this production.
Some of the practical differences we can expect are:
• Frequency: depending on how many people are signing up to be baptised, we could have baptisms happening every month, and even every week.
• Location: at the raised platform just outside Christ Sanctuary
• Timing: immediately after any of the 3 adult services (SES, E1 or E2)
• Baptiser: Clergy together with the Sponsor, as co-baptisers
• Freedom: Informal atmosphere and freedom to celebrate with poppers, confetti etc
• Liturgy: Shortened liturgy displayed on the digital screens
• Photography: Photo booth / backdrop for friends and cell group members to take photos at
• Bathrobe or Towel emblazoned with the words “Baptised in SJSM” as a gift to all those being baptised.
The process of application begins by notifying the Baptism Coordinating Centre (BCC) through email (firstname.lastname@example.org), either by the person wishing to be baptised, or by a friend or sponsor from the cell group. The BCC will then offer guidance on the follow up steps in the process. In order to shorten the gap between the person’s decision to follow Christ and their baptism, we have decided to make New Life In Christ 1A course (or New Life Kit) a post-requisite for baptism, instead of a pre-requisite, meaning the baptism can take place before NLC1A is completed, but it must be completed.
As for WHO can be baptised in this new format, it will basically be everyone from young preschoolers upward. As for infants, we will still have their baptisms done in the usual way within Christ Sanctuary, and incorporated within a Family Service in September.
Finally, the plan is for Baptism of Joy to last for the year 2019, and to revert to our former practice from 2020 onwards. However this decision will be reviewed during the Staff Planning process for 2020. In fact we will continue to review the process continually throughout the year, so we welcome your feedback on how various aspects can be improved, and how all this is impacting you.
I hope this has helped you get a better sense of why we are introducing this change this year. I ask for not just your prayers, but also your active participation as enthusiastic and joyous witnesses for our Lord Jesus. We want this year especially to be a year when the people of SJSM “come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves”!
With much love,
My dear SJSM Family,
This weekend we revert back to our sermon series on the book of James until the start of Advent. I want to give you some background on why we have taken a break from James for a few months before returning to it, as some of us may have been puzzled by this unusual arrangement.
When we as a leadership team were doing our calendar and sermon planning for 2018 back in late 2017, we intended to have a concerted focus on PSW during the 3rd quarter of the year (July to September), instead of dispersing our attention by scheduling PSW-related events throughout the year. So apart from our Ground-breaking in March this year, we bunched together our thematic sermon series on Mercy Ministries, the Project Reach Out fundraising card drive, the Church Prayer Gathering and the PSW Engagement Weekend all within Q3. For a number of reasons, moving this whole bunch of events earlier to Q2 or later to Q4 would not have been feasible.
As for our sermon series, we decided on James as our primary expository series for the year. The plan was initially to complete James within the first half of the year. We found that to achieve that, we would either have to cover very long chunks of text within a single week, or we would have to leave out certain portions of text from the series altogether. Neither of these scenarios seemed satisfactory to us. So at the expense of some untidiness in the calendar, we decided that we would cover the full text of James, in reasonably sized chunks, and we would extend the number of weeks available by continuing the series after Q3.
So that is why we are now picking up the series at James 4:11-17. The series will conclude on Nov 17-18. I realise that this requires us to revisit what was taught and discussed earlier so that we see the big picture and the flow of the book’s argument. I hope this exercise does not seem to arduous, especially when set against the backdrop of the various trade-offs we were trying to juggle.
And as a heads-up for Advent, our theme will be “The True Hope” and our messages, commencing 1-2 Dec, will encompass a portion of the Nicene Creed as well as cast our eyes forward to the Celebration of Hope!
And for Christmas, here are our services:
I pray that we may truly allow the Word of God to speak to our hearts and form us into the image of Christ more and more.
With much love,
My dear SJSM Family,
It has been a while since I last wrote to all of you. The last few months have been quite eventful for me. I want in this note to share with you some developments in my own life, for your awareness and prayers. And as you see the grace of God in my life, may you be encouraged.
In January this year, I was diagnosed with Diabetes Type 2. I have a family history of diabetes, and over the years, my blood sugar levels have been inching toward the diabetic zone. A major factor has been my weight gain over the years. The doctors began prescribing diabetic medication in January this year. This came as an emotional blow to me. However the Lord encouraged me through various channels, and renewed my hope that the future need not be bleak.
After much prayerful discernment, and discussing with doctors about the best options for managing my diabetes, and taking into account the fact that I had tried many different forms of dieting in the past with no long-term success, and also taking into account my work, sleep and travel patterns, I decided to go for a more invasive solution to the weight problem, namely bariatric surgery.
Bariatric surgery involves limiting the capacity and volume of the stomach, creating feelings of fullness with even a small intake of food. There are a few variations of bariatric surgery, and the one I felt most at peace about was Laparoscopic Sleeve Gastrectomy, where a section of the stomach is detached and removed by means of keyhole surgery.
As I researched about the impact of this surgery, I was encouraged by the fact that many diabetics lost substantial weight through this procedure, and their diabetes went into remission, meaning they did not need to be on medication any more.
I would like to share with you that the surgery was successfully done on the morning of Monday 2 July in the Singapore General Hospital, and the surgeon (who happens to be a Christian) is happy that it went smoothly. I suffered minimal pain and almost no nausea post-surgery. By the following morning I was able to walk slowly, and sip some fluids. I was hospitalised for two nights in SGH, and was discharged on Wed 4 July. I am now resting at home.
As preparation for the surgery, I was required to undergo a two-week liquid-only diet. My initial surgery date was set for 26 June, but when I realised that the liquid diet would need to commence during our Church Camp in Avani, I appealed for postponement by a week, and was relieved that I got it. I assure you, the meals I had with all of you in camp held a special poignance for me!
I am now on another two weeks of liquid diet, as my stomach adjusts and settles. During this period, I have already begun to lose weight, but unlike previous attempts at dieting, it hasn’t been an agony. All these are little mercies for which I am so thankful to the Lord!
This being my very first surgery, the experience was new and eye-opening to me. It has helped me understand that there is always some degree of fear and anxiety when faced with surgery under general anaesthesia. At the same time, it has helped me gain a new appreciation for all those in the medical profession, and for our healthcare system here in Singapore. We are truly blessed!
I chose not to share this info to too big a group in advance of the surgery so as to prevent widespread anxiety. A small number of people were told about it and were keeping me in prayer. Apart from my family, I had a few visits from those who prayed for me while I was hospitalised.
I’ve realised afresh how good it is to receive a visit when one is confined to a bed. I hope that in SJSM we can strengthen our commitment to visiting all who are bed-bound, whether in hospital or at home, and bring them a little ray of sunshine and encouragement. And one never tires of being prayed for in such situations.
In closing, may I just say how thankful I am for the great team that I work with. My confidence in their ability to keep things moving in my absence was a major factor in my decision to proceed with this surgery.
I will be on home leave for 10 days or so, and, God willing, will be back with you next weekend (14/15 July) to share God’s word as we launch our new sermon series, Let Your Light Shine!
I value your prayers for a smooth recovery, good control of the diabetes, and overall improvement in health. May my own journey of Metamorphousthe be to the glory of the Lord, and an encouragement to you. We are weak, but He is strong!
3/4 March 2018
My dear SJSM Family,
Firstly, I want to alert you about a one-off change in next weekend’s Adult services, ie 10 & 11 March.
I will be preaching on Revelation 4 & 5, the glorious vision of God on the throne in heaven, and the worship around the throne. As I was thinking and praying about the message, I had a sense that we should all hear the sermon before we enter into a time of singing our praises, so that our praise may be informed and inspired by the worship of heaven that is described in this text.
So for next weekend only, SES, E1 and E2 services will have the sermon at the beginning of the service, after a single opening song.
I feel this deserves special mention in advance because next weekend just so happens to be the first weekend that we are without our open air car park. The need for more of us to park at the neighbouring HDB car parks or the Singapore Polytechnic car park will kick in. If we don’t cater extra time for the journey to church, significant numbers of us might end up being late, and miss a big chunk of the sermon.
So this heads-up is to allow you to intentionally and deliberately factor in extra travel time if you’re driving to church, so that you can be in Christ Sanctuary at the start of the service. Please schedule your own reminders about this matter.
If possible, please come into the Sanctuary a little before the start of the service, and quieten your heart in preparation for the Lord to speak to you and touch you. I’m believing God for a very special and memorable gathering in the Lord’s presence. Please keep me in prayer as I prepare the sermon.
Secondly, I would like to share with you excerpts of an email I received from Ps Martin Jungnickel, who was unable to join us for the Ground Breaking Service, but shared his reflections on PSW with me:
What I witnessed (about SJSM’s PSW journey) has blessed and enriched me tremendously:
- The leadership never treated PSW like a building project that would absorb huge resources at the expense of the ministry of SJSM. Instead, PSW became an integral part of the ministry. The budget for the other ministries remained. It was never about the buildings only, but about the ministry that would one day happen to the elderly and to children.
- The Lord provided an incredible pool of talents. Larry Choi was appointed as overall leader. He has been fulfilling this role in addition to his busy work schedule with exemplary conscientiousness and gentleness. The Lord provided for each committee many members with great expertise, even passion, and the willingness to serve. Michael Wong stepped forward, twice retired, because the Lord had put the project on his heart long before the work started.
- The fundraising was never about the money only, but about ownership within the whole SJSM community. This was supremely expressed at the Count-Me-In Service where all members of our church community were asked to sign the large banners. It was one of the most memorable services during my time at SJSM. We raised $8 M in that year without any ‘ra-ra’ from the pulpit and without sending our people on a guilt trip in case they didn’t give generously. Not once have the subsequent lower givings caused anxiety at PCC meetings. Those who were anxious (probably most of us) have brought our anxiety to the Lord.
- Instead of looking at PSW as a project that challenges SJSM in all aspects of our resources and abilities, we know that it’s the Lord’s project. He will bring it to completion because He is faithful. God showed His faithfulness to SJSM for 40 years before PSW; 40 years to learn to trust Him.
- It is hard to create a vision for ministry if that ministry will only begin many years later and if the immediate mountain in front of SJSM is a very big and complex building project. However, the conceptualization of ministry has been ongoing for three years already and I have often heard members dreaming about the time when they – as individuals or cells – will bring the love of God to those who the Lord will bring to the SJSM village.
Ps Martin’s reflection reinforces my conviction that it is a privilege to be involved in and to witness what God is doing through PSW. We are blessed with “front row seats” to watch God in action!
Finally, on the matter of car park labels for Sunday parking in the covered car park, please note that we are likely to issue more labels than there are available lots. So having a label is not a guarantee of a parking space, I’m afraid. It’s still first-come-first-served, but as there are fewer cars eligible to park there on Sundays, the chances of finding a space will increase. I therefore hope that all those who drive will henceforth cater extra time for your journey to SJSM, in case you are required to park further away. It would be a great testimony to the Lord’s transforming work if during this construction phase, instead of our general punctuality for services worsening, it actually improves!
With much love and prayers,
24/25 Feb 2018
My dear SJSM Family,
Xin nian meng en! Happy Chinese New Year and may you be blessed with God’s bountiful grace! This is a joyful and exciting season, and I have much to share.
Firstly, I was delighted that at our last Church Prayer Gathering (CPG) in January, our participation was significantly higher than before, and we had a very engaging time praying together. The theme, “give US this day...” was unpacked along 3 lines: prayer needs to be Unashamed (give), United (us) and Urgent (this day). This will continue to be the overarching theme for the rest of the CPGs in this national year of prayer (see my last TVW). The accent was placed on “US” to indicate the importance of praying together, not that we are more important than other people.
Here is the full-year forecast for our Centralised and Decentralised CPGs:
Next Saturday 3 March, we will have the Groundbreaking for PSW and SJSM Village. I’m very encouraged that so many have indicated your intention to attend. This speaks to me of the sense of ownership of PSW that is so strong in SJSM. Two days later on 5 March, the open car park will be closed (sounds so paradoxical!) and this will have significant implications for us.
One of the implications is that for the entire construction phase, it will not be possible to hold any wake or funeral services in the Chapel or Glory Sanctuary. This is because it will not be possible for a hearse to access these venues.
The other major implication is that many more of us will have to seek parking spaces in the Singapore Poly or HDB car parks nearby. The covered car park will be drop off zone, and when it is not raining, the Chapel gate along Dover Avenue may also be a drop off zone. We should expect greater congestion along Dover Crescent and Dover Avenue, and I ask that every time you drive to church on a weekend, you would pray for the grace to stay calm in the face of delays and added difficulties.
We will be issuing car labels to limit the cars that can park in the covered car park on weekends. Priority will be given to Guest Preachers, cars with handicapped labels, and drivers above age 65. More details will be given soon. All my staff and I (perhaps with few very few exceptions) will be parking our cars off-site to make space on Sundays.
We will commence a shuttle bus service between Singapore Poly car park and our Chapel Gate from the weekend of 10 & 11 March, for people attending SES and Sunday services. The frequency and capacity of buses will be monitored and adjusted according to usage.
Finally, I would like to urge that in this period of Lent, we will spend extra time in reflection and soul searching, so that our responses to various situations of challenge can be examined in light of God’s truth, and we can seek the power of the Spirit to progress on our journey of Metamorphousthe!
With much love,
My dear SJSM Family,
Happy New Year! I’m sorry to have missed being with you for the Covenant Services. I was in Duke Divinity School in Duke University (Durham, North Carolina) for my second week of intensive lectures as part of my Doctor of Ministry course (DMin). The course is going well, and I’m benefiting from the fresh input on the theme of leadership. The temperature was sub-zero throughout my time there, and it was hard to be outdoors for more than 5 minutes! So it’s good to be home! And it’s actually quite cute to see us Singaporeans shivering when the temperature is 22 degrees Celsius!
Now December was a very special month for most of us, and I wonder, which part of SJSM struck you as being most beautiful? Was it the Christmas Village with the lights and buzz of activity? Was it the Nativity Scene and “snow”? Was it the Community Hall decorated for the Cell banquets? Or perhaps the Gospel services with the drama and choir?
For me, two parts of SJSM stood out as being most beautiful. Firstly, all of you! The way you contributed your gifts and talents, your time and energy in various parts of the majestic whole was so gorgeous to behold! Every part of the “body of Christ” (1 Cor 12) was bursting with life! The second beautiful thing was the people responding to the altar call invitation to Come Home. I imagined them running to the outstretched arms of God as He ran towards them. This is the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ that Paul refers to in 2 Cor 5:18 – “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…”
I believe that ‘Come Home This Christmas!’ has created many special memories in our hearts, and brought us closer to the Dover Community and the friends we invited. I do see it as God’s gift to us before we enter the challenging phase of PSW construction. The staff and Cell leaders are now working hard to follow up with those who responded, firstly with those who came forward at the altar call, then with those who didn’t come forward but filled out the communication cards and expressed interest in knowing more. Invitors can also facilitate follow up by asking your guests to come to church, or encouraging them to join an Alpha course. I sincerely hope that most of these guests can be integrated into one of our Cell groups.
Speaking of Cell groups, this year we are introducing a new rhythm for our Cells, in tandem with the weekend service rhythm. All our weekend Adult services in English follow this simple alternating pattern:
Weekend 1 Holy Communion Main sermon series
Weekend 2 Morning/Evening Prayer Stand-alone sermon
Weekend 3 Holy Communion Main sermon series
Weekend 4 Morning/Evening Prayer Stand-alone sermon
Weekend 5 (if any) Varies Varies
In the weekdays leading up to a Holy Communion weekend (Weekends 1 & 3), the Cell Word Time will focus on Observing, Interpreting and Applying (OIA) the sermon text. An OIA guide will be made available the weekend before. Our main series for the year will be on the book of James.
In the weekdays leading up to Weekend 2, we are encouraging all members to meet in Mentoring Groups (comprising 3 or 4 persons). These MGs can either meet at the usual Cell venue or somewhere else, and spend time hearing one another share joys and struggles, and support one another through prayer and encouragement. There are a range of discussion materials to choose from that can give focus and direction to the conversations.
In the weekdays leading up to Weekend 4, we ask that Cells once again gather, with a focus on prayer. We will alternate between Centralised Church Prayer Gatherings (CPG) at SJSM, or Decentralised CPG at Cells. It is essential that our desire to Be Transformed (Metamorphousthe!) be undergirded by prayer. The pulpit and bulletin announcements will remind us which sort of CPG we are having each month.
That leads me to talk about The Year of Prayer. Bishop Rennis and the National Council of Churches leadership have designated 2018 the Year of Prayer, in preparation for the Celebration of Hope outreach in the National Stadium from 17-19 May 2019. This is an opportunity for us to strengthen prayer in SJSM, and overcome any shyness or reluctance we may feel. Let us come to see prayer as the lifeline that enables us to stay connected to the Lord, the way an umbilical cord connects a foetus to the mother.
In conclusion, let us move forward into 2018 with confidence that the Lord who has been so faithful to us all these years will continue to be with us, and that come what may, He will see us through. I close with the words of Zephaniah 3:17, which I pray may be God’s promissory encouragement to all of us:
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by His love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.
25/26 November 2017
My dear SJSM Family,
Thank you for your prayers for the Nepal trip last weekend. It was a wonderful time of witnessing the Confirmation of hundreds of new members, and the training of many of the pastoral workers from the village churches. Bishop Rennis, Pastor Lewis and I were deeply blessed by the faith and fervour of our Anglican brothers and sisters in Nepal. At last count we have over 10,000 members spread over 82 congregations! I trust that back here, the novel experience of a sermon delivered by video went well too. My thanks go to Han Hwee, my colleague who handles video recording and production.
With Christmas approaching fast, I urge all of us to intensify our prayers for our list of friends and family, and to invite them as soon as possible. The ticketing system for the Gospel services is scheduled to be open from next weekend. There will be guidance given on how to use the online system, and a helpdesk will be open during weekends.
Now I’d like to share with you about the Child Protection Policy that our Diocese has recently implemented and is cascading down to all the parishes. The Diocese of Singapore is blessed to be entrusted with the care of many children in our churches, schools and community services, and thus it is of paramount importance that our children be loved and protected from any form of abuse that will affect their healthy growth and development.
Towards this end, the Diocese has implemented a Diocesan Child Protection Policy, which prescribes guidelines on how to safeguard our children (anyone up to the age of 18) from physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse or neglect, as well as procedures for screening people who work with children, child-safe practices, vigilance in child protection, incident management, and recovery and rehabilitation. Every parish is required to adapt the Diocesan Child Protection Policy to the nature and conditions of their children’s ministries, and then to implement their own child protection policy.
On our part, the Policies and Procedures Committee of our Parochial Church Council has approved our SJSM Child Protection Policy, and it will be implemented with effect from 1st December 2017. This Policy can be viewed on our SJSM website. Pursuant to the Policy, I have appointed my pastoral colleague in the Next Gen team, Ms How Kim Chin, to be our SJSM Child Protection Representative.
Everyone (staff or volunteer) who serves in any ministry that involves children (Nursery, Junior Church, Youth (Teen Encounter and Heartbeat), our ethnic congregations and fellowships (Chinese, Tamil, Filipino and Indonesian), BASC, Special Needs Support Group, etc) will be required to sign the Child Protection Policy Form, thereby agreeing to abide by the Policy, and declaring their suitability to care for and work with children. The Form also needs to be supported by the appropriate character references. For those who have already been serving with our children’s ministries before 1st December 2017, the reference will be done by an SJSM pastoral staff member. For anyone who wants to start serving in our children’s ministries after 1st December 2017, two confidential character references are required, preferably by members of SJSM.
From next week onwards, we will be reaching out to all our current volunteers in our children’s ministries, to brief them on our Child Protection Policy and to help them submit the Form. If you have any queries on the Policy, please approach Kim Chin or any of our Next Gen staff team, and they will be happy to help you. Although such a policy should ideally have already been in place, it is better late than never. So please be assured that the implementation at this point in time is not a reaction to any incident that has happened in SJSM, and I seek the cooperation of all who are affected by this policy to do the necessary administrative work to enable a smooth implementation.
Finally, my family and I will be away from 27 Nov to 9 Dec for a family holiday. I do value your prayers for journey mercies, and a good time of refreshment in the Lord. In my absence the other Clergy and Division Leaders will deputise for me.
With much love and appreciation for all of you,
My dear SJSM Family,
We are into the last quarter of the year and I have a larger-than-usual number of matters to bring to your attention in this edition of TVW.
1. Preparation for ‘Come Home This Christmas!’
We are just 8 weeks away from our Christmas Village (16/17 & 23/24 Dec) and 9 weeks away from our Gospel services (23/24 Dec)! Here are some key areas of preparation I urge us to make:
PRAY – SJSM has been and must always be a church that prioritises prayer. Prayer is an expression of our confidence that “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain”. (Ps 127:1) There are prayer cards provided with this weekend’s bulletin, to aid us in our personal and family prayers. Next Friday 27 Oct, I urge ALL cell group members to attend our Church Prayer Gathering, even and especially if you’ve never done so before. Sit together as cells and join together in heartfelt prayer. Fervent corporate prayer lights a flame in the church like nothing else can! (See Acts 4:31)
INVITE & SHARE – It’s time to start asking our friends and family to save the dates for Christmas. So please use the flyers available to joyfully invite them. More detailed invitations will follow nearer the date. The intercessors have recently shared with me their sense that God will bless this outreach to impact and touch many lives. So let’s not be passive spectators, but active witnesses as we use 2 Ways To Live and our testimonies to prepare the hearts of those we are called to reach. Many lives have already been touched through the Alpha courses now reaching their conclusion. Many more can be deeply impacted as we pray, invite and share.
SERVE – In the previous TVW I shared the various ways we can all get involved this Christmas. Many hands make light work, and we need all of you, my dear SJSM family! Some groups, like the choir and the drama team, have already started work. But we are lacking sufficient roving ambassadors (hosts who make our guests feel welcome), traffic marshalls and shuttle bus helpers. I am also asking if 30 families could loan SJSM your Christmas tree for the Village. We want many decorated and lighted trees dotting our entire compound, making it look even more like home.
2. Partnership with Dover Grassroots Leaders
We are delighted to be able to partner with the Dover Grassroots Leaders for this event, in lieu of the annual Dover Celebrates Christmas. We are inviting Minister Lim Hng Kiang for the first day of the Village. There could possibly be a fireworks display that evening as well! We are confident that many Dover residents will join us for the Village. Some of them may be willing to join our Gospel services as well. BASC is also planning to attend en masse. I believe this joint effort will strengthen our partnership for the years ahead, and prepare the way for PSW!
3. Project Spring-Winter mailer and press release
We have prepared mailers in four languages that will go out to the Dover residents nearest us in the coming weeks, to prepare them for the construction phase of PSW, and to invite them to our Christmas Village as the last opportunity to celebrate in the open car park. This will be followed by a press release about PSW. Please uphold this process in prayer.
4. Special Needs Awareness Weekend
Next weekend (28/29 Oct) we will have Family Services for SES, E1 and E2 as we observe Special Needs Awareness Weekend. Pastor Alvin will preach on the subject ‘Everybody is a Somebody’. Because we value inclusiveness in SJSM, and aim to be a family for all ages and abilities, let’s give a warm welcome to the children, especially those with special needs, in our midst. It is an expression of our humility and compassion in Christ when we embrace those who are going through many unique challenges, and encourage them in their faith. A true marker of a maturing congregation is our ability to do ‘role reversal’ – putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are unlike us, and imagining how we would feel in their circumstances. It is an antidote to the objectifying and dehumanising attitudes we tend to have. It helps us esteem the other as a person of equal value, made in the image of God.
5. Rev Lewis Lew being posted back to SJSM
Many of us who have been in SJSM for a while know Rev Lewis Lew and his family. He was ordained while in SJSM, and was posted to All Saints’ Church (English) as Priest in charge. He later took on the additional challenging role of Dean of Nepal. As the church of Nepal has grown tremendously, Bishop Rennis has recognized the need for dedicated leadership. So Bishop has decided to appoint Pastor Lewis as full time Dean, and post him back to SJSM as Honorary Priest (with lighter parish duties) from 1 Nov 2017. I trust we will give Pastor Lewis and his wife Leng Leng a warm welcome back!
6. Funds update in bulletin
Finally, I would like to give us a gentle reminder that our bulletin now reflects a monthly tracking of our giving, both for our General Fund as well as PSW Fundraising. I encourage us to bring to remembrance what was shared earlier in the year about ‘His tithes and our offerings’, and to revisit the booklet written by Bp Kuan Kim Seng. Let’s reduce the shortfall by raising our givings as we move towards the close of the year.
Whew! That’s a lot of information to digest at one go! These are exciting days and the Lord is on the move. So may our SJSM family be responsive to Him. And as Deborah sang in Judges 5:2, “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD!”
With much love,
My dear SJSM Family,
I write to share with you firstly about a new development in my own journey of ministry, and to ask for your prayers. I came into full-time ministry in Feb 1998, more than 19 years ago. The bulk of this time has been spent serving in SJSM (11 years, since June 2006). God willing, I may have an equal length of time ahead of me (if I retire at 67). This means I’m possibly at the halfway point of my journey in full-time ministry.
I am grateful for the input and training I received along the way, through Diocesan Lay Training modules, the Masters of Divinity course at Trinity Theological College (TTC), and on-the-job training and mentoring alongside my previous Vicars, Canon James Wong, Canon John Benson and Bp Rennis. However the challenges I have encountered as Vicar have often gone beyond what I felt equipped to handle. Although I have at times fumbled in leadership, the Lord has been gracious to strengthen and uphold me through all your prayers, and keep SJSM moving forward in His purposes.
In hopes of growing my capacity and understanding as a leader, I began exploring the possibility of further equipping over the last couple of years. I have been consulting Bp Rennis in this process, seeking advice from Dr Tan Kim Huat from TTC, and doing my own research online. I am happy to share with you that I have been accepted into the Doctor of Ministry (D Min) course at Duke Divinity School (part of Duke University in North Carolina, USA). With the Diocese’s blessings and PCC’s endorsement, I have accepted the offer of a place on this course. The bulk of the cost is being borne by the Diocese, and PCC has approved coverage of my air travel, both of which I am grateful for.
The course is structured as a distance learning degree, interspersed with week-long stretches of intensive lectures at Duke every few months. My first intensive is from 11-18 August, i.e. starting next week. The last of 5 intensives is in January 2019, following which there is about a year and a half for thesis-writing. I may be on sabbatical for a few months in 2019 to speed up my thesis-writing. I will therefore be on study leave from 10-22 August this month for my first intensive in North Carolina, building in 2 days of rest to get over jet lag after I return to Singapore.
I do value your prayers for wisdom and strength, as I need to redistribute some of my work and empower my team to take decisions. Please pray for the Lord to be in control of all that happens in SJSM during this season for His glory.
My second reason for writing to you is to share some encouragement in relation to our fundraising for PSW. We recently had a Gala Dinner, which was primarily to allow those outside SJSM an opportunity to contribute towards PSW. Many individuals and organisations from outside SJSM donated very generously, as well as many from within SJSM. We set a modest target of $500k to be raised. I am glad to announce that we raised over $700k! Of particular encouragement is the range of churches that have contributed towards SJSM, from within our Diocese and beyond, with amounts up to $50,000:
St Andrew's Cathedral, St James’ Church, Christ Church, Chapel of the Holy Spirit,
St Andrew's City Church, SAC Mandarin Congregation, My Saviour's Church, Chapel of Christ the King, New Creation Church and Grace Assembly of God. Every one of these churches could have retained their funds for their own ministry use, but have seen fit to bless us. We should all be grateful for their partnership, and pray for them to be abundantly provided for by the Lord.
We have another fundraising event coming up soon, a charity golf event, for which we are still looking for more “flights” to be taken up. Please recommend this event to your golfing friends. More details are available through the usual PSW information channels.
These events help in meeting the annual fundraising goal, and I pray we will be encouraged by them, and also do our part as individual SJSMers to give faithfully and sacrificially. I draw your attention to the financial update table that will soon become a regular feature of our bulletin, allowing all of us to track how our collective income is faring against budget, both for the General Fund as well as for PSW. I assure you that the staff and PCC are also carefully tracking expenditures against budget, so that we end the year with a surplus, God willing.
Finally, I will keep you in my prayers as I’m away over the next two weekends. Please keep me in yours.
With much love,
5/6 Aug 2017 - Further Studies & Fundraising
8/9 July 2017 - Special Book Gift
My dear SJSM Family,
Near the end of the recent series on Nehemiah, I preached from Nehemiah 9 and 10 and touched on the difference between ‘tithing’ and ‘giving’. I mentioned in that sermon that I was helped by a particular chapter from the book, Our Duty and Our Joy, which was authored in 2008 by our current Assistant Bishop (then Dean) Kuan Kim Seng.
I am happy to announce that with Bp Kuan’s permission, the publisher has done a special print run of that chapter alone, just for SJSM! In fact, the opening pages of the booklet contain this paragraph:
Copyright © Kuan Kim Seng 2008
The content of this booklet is reproduced from Chapter 7 of Our Duty and Our Joy (published by Genesis Books) with permission from the author, Kuan Kim Seng, solely for St John’s – St Margaret’s Church to distribute to her members.
We are indeed indebted to Bp Kuan for so freely granting permission for this special print run for SJSM, even before his own parish has had the opportunity! We will make this booklet available next weekend (15 & 16 July) free of charge. As there are limited copies, please collect just one copy per household. Some of us may wish to purchase a copy of the complete book (Our Duty and Our Joy) by Bp Kuan, and these will be available for sale next weekend as well.
The reason for making this printing arrangement is straightforward: We are in a season of Transformation and one area the Lord wants to transform is our stewardship of money. The fundraising for PSW is a key instrument in the Lord’s hand for effecting this transformation, but it needs to be coupled with clear biblical teaching, hence the provision of this booklet.
I pray that as we reflect on the biblical principles taught in the booklet, our hearts will be greatly helped.
With much love,
1/2 July 2017 - Welcoming Pastor Alvin Toh & Family
My dear SJSM Family,
Welcome to the second half of 2017! I believe the rest of this year will be exciting and action‐packed, and I know that God is with us to see us through any challenges we may face!
This weekend we welcome Revd Alvin Toh and family to SJSM. Pastor Alvin (as we will address him) has been posted to SJSM from the Cathedral with effect from 1 July 2017. He is joined by his wife, Felicia, and children, Dylan (17), Dawn (14) and Dionne (10).
Pastor Alvin was formerly a member of Calvary Baptist Church and served as a lay leader and eventually a staff member there. He did his theological studies in Singapore Bible College and was led to serve as a parish worker in St Andrew’s Cathedral from 2013. He was ordained a Deacon in our Diocese in 2016, and ordained a Priest in May 2017.
He joins us at a time when there is a reshuffle of roles taking place among the staff. I will write separately about the changes of roles in a subsequent note. Pastor Alvin’s first preaching assignment will be for the Family Services on the final weekend of July. For now let us warmly welcome him and his family into the SJSM Family and get to know them.
With much love,