IT ALL STARTED some five years ago, when the archdiocese was re-zoned and one particular area – Hougang Avenue 2 – previously considered within boundary of Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Nativity of the BVM), then fell under Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary’s (IHM) care.
The result of this re-zoning and some care from the IHM priests, is a fledgling of a Small Christian Community (SCC), all but just past one-year-old, comprising of parishioners from Nativity of the BVM, IHM and even St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP).
Parish priest of IHM Father Joseph Tan, had set the founding of this new SCC in motion a year ago with the help of some parishioners.
First, they did a ‘survey’ of the Hougang Avenue 2 area that comprises 20 blocks, on the lookout for homes “with some Catholic icons on the front”.
Then, Father Joe wrote letters to those homes to inform of upcoming home visits.
They then visited different homes in different blocks, on different days, at the same time, looking out for other Catholic neighbours around.
There are some 100 families in the area and the group visited up to five families a night. But just more than a month later, on Oct 31, 2007, the first home visits were made by Father Joe, his assistant priest Father Luke Fong and Sister Susan Thomas. Information was collected on who was interested to be involved in an SCC. At Advent that same year, the first meeting was held.
With only four people turning up.
By the third week of Advent though, there were 10 couples.
A year later, the Hougang Avenue 2 SCC had a one-year anniversary celebration held at a void deck; neighbours potlucked and “there was so much food!”
Teresa Lye explained the choice of venue, “We had a regular group [by then] but what about the rest that we didn’t manage to reach? So we held it at the void deck instead of a parish because all of us go to different churches! About 70 people turned up plus three IHM priests.”
The SCC now
Presently there are about 100 members in the SCC but consistently, about 30 turn up for regular fortnightly meetings where they would gather for Gospel sharing and fellowship.
At Lent and Advent though, the SCC meets on a weekly basis.
They adopted the Singapore Pastoral Institute’s Lenten Booklet and met on Thursday Feb 26 for their reflections for the first week of Lent. Reflections included some rather personal sharing, possible only because within the community, there is “trust”, the 13 who were present unanimously agreed.
On what keeps them returning to the SCC, Monica and Andrew Tan, parishioners of the Nativity of the BVM said, “There’s a sense of belonging; we get to meet, share and pray as a small family; it’s very beautiful.”
Tina and Patrick Ang, also parishioners of Nativity of the BVM shared, “This community helps me know I’m not alone. The way that we get together to pray reinforces our prayer life.”
For Grace and John Yip, parishioners of Nativity of the BVM as well, and also the ones who had first helped Father Joe on his initial home visits, said, “We have a commitment and respect to the community in this area. We made a big effort to start so we should make it work... We had learnt something on our first visit – that we stayed for over 20 years and we don’t know our neighbours in the same block are Catholics. [Now we] feel we have a duty to know our neighbours and fellow Catholics.”
As for Teresa and Francis Lim who also helped Father Joe in the setting up of this SCC, they added, “We believe in the SCC. As Catholics, we don’t live alone but it’s our calling to be in community, to grow together. We feel like this is a big family to catch up and share our lives together with.”
Even Mandarin-speaking Mr Song would not stop returning to these meetings. Although he understands English, he finds it difficult to share in the language. So he simply listens. He finds the people of his SCC “very friendly and warm” and the entire experience “improves our spirituality”.
Marina and James Wong, the only couple from SVDP, shared that the SCC experience is a “fellowship and helps us keep up with our Catholic faith and also to learn what other Catholics are doing in different parishes. As an SCC we also look out for one another”.
James had recently undergone a brain surgery to remove a tumour in his brain. His wife Marina is grateful for the amount of support the SCC provided in prayer. The couple thinks this is why James had such a fast and full recovery.
Tina experienced this same support too, when she had two knee surgeries in the last year. She said, “The support of the SCC made me feel very warm and not alone, knowing there’s a community that cares.”
The meeting for the first week of Lent was held at Evelyn and Paul Tan’s home, parishioners of IHM. The evening ended with fellowship over the course of some po-piah. This is incidentally, what the couple enjoys most about the SCC – for Evelyn, “the fellowship and love for food we have” and Paul, who likes “a lot of people surrounding me so I can learn from them”.
In the meantime, this young SCC is looking to ‘adopt’ someone in need for their Lenten Purple Bowl Project as suggested in SPI’s Lenten Booklet. Each family is creating their own “purple bowl” of collections with the final amount donated to who they will eventually adopt.
- Joyce Gan, The Catholic News