(Left to right) Rev Paul Box (International Baptist Church of Singapore), Rev Nick Singh (Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer), Rev Susheel Cherriyan (Mar Thoma Syrian Church), Captain Lim Chee Kwee (Salvation Army – Christian), Rev Father Daniel (Holy Resurrection Orthodox Christian Church), Rev Terence Yeo (Barker Road Methodist Church), Rev Paul Tan (St. Peter’s Church – Anglican) and Monsignor Eugene Vaz and Father Philip Heng, SJ, gather for prayer. Photo by Darren Boon
SINGAPORE – The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity kicked off on Jan 18 with a prayer service at Church of St. Ignatius which saw ministers from various Christian denominations coming together to pray for Christian unity.
Representing the Catholic Church were Monsignor Eugene Vaz and Jesuit Father Philip Heng, parish priest of Church of St. Ignatius. Also present were ministers from the Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Orthodox Christian, Mar Thoma and Christian churches.
In his sermon to the 150 people present, mostly Catholics, at the evening’s service, Father Heng said that there are groups of Christians still uneasy with the term “Christian Unity” and do not see much hope in Christian unity.
There are Christians who emphasise their differences, he added, “and it leads to unhealthy competition, bad mouthing, and poaching”. These divisive efforts can be scandalous and counterproductive to the Christian fundamentals of being witnesses of Christ.
“If we fight among ourselves, people will be turned off,” Father Heng said. “We cannot be rivals if we want to make the same Christ and salvation known.”
Therefore he encouraged those present to “transcend prejudices, accept each other, placing Christ as the perspective and not be drawn into differences”.
And this, said Father Heng, begins from one’s internal conversion and self-reflection.
He expressed optimism that as “the ecumenical movement is borne from the Holy Spirit, it will be brought to completion”.
He concluded: “We can be confident to say our gathering is God’s way of speaking to us to renew and reaffirm our faith in him. He wants us to be united in our mission to proclaim the Good News.”
Reverend Paul Tan from St. Peter’s Church (Anglican) told CatholicNews that Father Heng’s sermon resonated with him.
“It reflects an existing situation where denominations want to forge ahead. Because of that, they emphasise the differences rather than the basis of the faith which is common – faith in the Risen Lord and salvation in Christ,” Reverend Tan said.
Meanwhile, Reverend Tan whose church is located in Serangoon Gardens, said he hoped there would be future opportunities to work with the neighbourhood’s Church of St. Francis Xavier in possibly reaching out to foreign workers who have just moved into the dormitories in the area. “It’s a big field of mission and a lot of work can be done,” he said.
But first, Reverend Tan said, he needs to gauge the ground sentiment from the congregation and “some are not quite ready”. He added, however, that such a joint project “can open the eyes of Christian unity”.
Reverend Terence Yeo from Barker Road Methodist Church said although ecumenical dialogue might seem redundant in a time of peace, it will “play a critical role when events unravel and happen” such as the 2009 AWARE saga which erupted out of the blue and divided Singaporeans, which is “something you don’t expect in a peaceful time like this”.
He added that the prayer service would help to foster relationships among churches to build trust and confidence, and have meaningful dialogues so as to resolve any differences before they reach a crisis.
Catholics agree on the need for more efforts to raise awareness amongst Catholics of Christian unity and the week of prayer.
“Some are probably unaware of the prayer service,” said Church of St. Ignatius parishioner Peter Toh, 69. His fellow parishioner, Audrey Ruyters, 43, who learnt about the event from a banner hung outside the church, added: “There should be a top-down effort from all the parishes.”
Jesuit novice Brother Lance Ng, 35, agrees. He suggested the formation of a steering committee – either inter-parish or at a small diocese level – to focus solely on ecumenical dialogue, to coordinate and organise activities with other Christians.
From attendance figures, Father Heng told CatholicNews that he wished that there had been more efforts among parishes around the diocese to promote the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
“It’s disappointing in that sense,” he said, and urged parish priests around the diocese to promote and push for the week of prayer as well as for Christian unity.
He added: “We should start it from ourselves [Catholics]. We need to do that and begin somewhere concretely, not just come and pray and go back.”
The second prayer service, a traditional Lutheran service, was held on Friday Jan 22 at 8.00pm at the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer at 30 Duke’s Road.
By Darren Boon