“There should be better communication between pastors and laity regarding services like this. There could also be intra-faith games or a friendship day, so that we can play together, pray together and serve together,” said Mr Mun Loon Lai, 30, from the Yishun Methodist Mission.
“I noticed that today’s service was so solemn. I feel that it should be done differently by having lots of praise and worship. That will get everyone including the youths excited,” said 21-year-old Jabez Tan, from the Convenant Evangelical Free Church, who attended the third service.
These were some of the comments given after the Jan 18-25 Christian Unity Week services, which had the theme: Jesus Said to Her, “Give Me a Drink.”
In Singapore, four services were held in various churches on Jan 19, 21, 22, and 23.
Orthodox Christians joined Catholics and Protestants, from six different denomination, in these services. After every service, fellowship over food and drink followed. A total of at least 400 attended the services.
The hour-long services featured hymns, Gospel readings from St John, which were related to the parable of the Samaritan woman, a sermon, the Nicene Creed, intercessory prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, benediction and exchange of the sign of peace.
The highlight of the services however, was when the ministers faced the laity, and raising their right hand, they read the final blessing together.
Catholic priests, pastors from the various Christian denominations, and a priest from one of the Syrian Orthodox churches, took turns to deliver sermons.
For the first service held at the Catholic Church of St Ignatius, Msgr Philip Heng, Vicar General (Ecumenical Relations), delivered the sermon.
“In ecumenism there will always be those who are either sceptical or negative in their views of what we can hope to achieve in our efforts of Christian unity,” said Msgr Heng.
As a reminder, he told those present that Christians, even with their differences, “should remember that God’s spirit of unity would see through our efforts to build unity among believers of Christ”.
“Thus ecumenical dialogue itself should serve as an examination of conscience. It is not simply that the other must convert. We all must be converted through Christ,” he added.
Other ministers present were Rev Fr Abey Chacko from the St Thomas Orthodox Syrian Cathedral; Anglican Archdeacon Wong Tak Meng, vicar of St Hilda’s Church; Rev Lim Kim Hock from the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer; Rev Gabriel Liew from the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, and Pastor Andy Esguerra, from the International Baptist Church of Singapore.
The second Christian Unity Week evening service was slightly different from the rest. Held at the Covenant Community Methodist Church (CCMC), green booklets were handed out to the laity at the door. The booklets contained John Welsey’s letter to a Roman Catholic, his sermons, as well as two statements by Evangelicals and Catholics.
The first statement called ECT Statement I, was written by prominent Catholic and Protestant church leaders in 1994. The statement’s purpose was to advance Christian fellowship, cooperation and mutual trust between Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. The second called ECT Statement II, was a brief statement of clarification based on what was presented in ECT Statement I. It was published in October 1997.
Rev Malcolm Tan, CCMC’s pastor-in-charge, delivered the sermon. Rev Tan said “We celebrate our unity in Jesus Christ that already exists because it is a gift for us from the Lord.”
He added that when the Samaritan woman asked Jesus which was the best place to worship, that question is similar to the times when one asks, “which is the right church to go to?”
“And do you know what was Jesus’s answer? It’s not where you worship. It’s about how you worship. It’s whether or not we worship the living God in spirit and in truth... It’s about how we worship from our hearts,” said Rev Tan.
He stressed that even though a person might study in a Methodist school, he could end up receiving Jesus in a Catholic Church. In the end, “we are all working together,” he said.
Other ministers who took part in the second service included Pastor Ling Kin Yew from the Covenant Community Methodist Church; Msgr Philip Heng; Fr John Joseph Fenelon, parish priest of the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea (OLSS); Friar Derrick Yap from the Church of St Mary of the Angels, and Rev Chan Mei Ming from the Leng Kwang Baptist Church.
Day three of the Christian Unity Week services, was hosted on Jan 22 by OLSS.
Parish priest, Fr Fenelon, delivered the sermon.
After reading the Gospel, Fr Fenelon shared that “The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman invites us to try water from a different well and also to offer a little of our own.”
“In diversity, we enrich each other. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a privileged moment for prayer, encounter and dialogue,” he said.
“It is an opportunity to recognise the richness and value that are present in the other, the different, and to ask God for the gift of unity.”
Fr Fenelon also shared that his wish for this year’s SG50 campaign is for all in Singapore, especially Christians, to bring back the “kampong culture” where “gifts will be exchanged”.
“The similarities [between Christians] are far greater than the differences,”he said.
The final blessing was given by Fr Fenelon; Rev Martin Kee from the Jurong Christian Church; Rev Dr Niam Kai Yew from the Yishun Methodist Mission; Fr Derrick Yap, Fr Jude David; Pastor Ling Kin Yew from CCMC, and Mr Moon Loon Lai from Yishun Methodist Mission. Mr Moon took the place of Rev Joshua Sudharmen from St John’s-St Margaret’s Church, an Anglican church, as he was unable to attend the service.
Wrapping up the Christian Unity Week
The final service was held on Jan 23, at the St Thomas Orthodox Syrian Cathedral.
Upon arrival, it was a different experience for the Catholics and Protestants who came, as footwear had to be removed and placed neatly outside the main hall.
The sermon, delivered by Rev Varghese from the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Singapore, was about the need for Christians to stand up for the defenceless.
“In the Middle East, the Christian community there is very little and the media shows that there is a lot of suffering happening,” said Rev Varghese.
“At times we feel like helping them but how many of us are serious about that?” he asked.
“We are appointed by God to transform this world, to break all the boundaries, to reach out to different individuals, to help them experience the love God has given to us. We must be united” so that we can bring the love of Christ to everyone, he concluded.
In total, nine ministers, the most out of the four services, w ere present: Fr John Joseph Fenelon from OLSS; Msgr Philip Heng; Major Lim Chee Kwee from the Salvation Army; Rev Fr Abey Chacko, the vicar of the St Thomas Orthodox Syrian Cathedral; Rev Shibu P Varghese from the Mar Thoma Syrian Church; Rev Malcolm Tan from CCMC; Rev Martin Jungnickels from St John’s-St Margaret’s Church; Rev Fr Greger R Kollanoor from the St Mary’s Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, and Rev Jacob Johnson from the Church of South India Congregation.
By Lorna O’Hara
Participants suggest ways to forge unity:
– Ms Sarah Biju George, 47, from the Syrian Orthodox Church
– Mr David Aw, 21, from the Wesley Methodist Church
– Ms Cheryl Giam, 22, Covenant Community Methodist Church
– Mr Irving Teo, 36, from the Church of Sts Peter and Paul
See also story on Page 15