Together as one in spirit and purpose
2020 is a year all of us—the Church included—will remember. We have had no choice but to change and adapt, thanks to the rapid global spread of COVID-19.
Once every four years, the General Conference (GC) of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) meets to hold an Episcopal Election to select a new bishop, elect new office-bearers for positions in the GC whose tenures have ended, revise church laws (through The Book of Discipline), approve work plans and budgets for churchwide programmes, as well as adopt resolutions on moral and social issues. The 2020 session was to have been held at Barker Road Methodist Church.
Instead, to comply with COVID-19 government-mandated social distancing measures, the gathering had to go online from 7 to 11 Sep 2020. Forty-two delegates—half were ministerial and the other half, laity—from the three Annual Conferences attended the five-day session over Zoom.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of The United Methodist Church, USA, preached at the opening service on “Entangled and United in Spirit and Purpose”. She spoke about the redwood tree, the tallest tree species, which live up to 500 years, withstanding natural enemies, insects and diseases, and even fire. Despite the redwoods’ towering height and longevity, each tree’s roots are surprisingly shallow—the roots of each tree intermingle with those of nearby redwood trees to hold up one another.
Methodists, she says, are similarly entangled. What happens to Singapore Methodists is felt among Methodists in the US and around the world. Through this connection, we can help to hold each other up, and through us “God can do far more than any one of us can ask and imagine”.
In his Episcopal Address, Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung read from Psalm 34:1–3. Thanking all who had given him support over the last four years, he reported on the work done by the 18-member One MCS task force. His episcopal report covered the following areas:
- the spirit of one MCS
- Christian conferencing
- preschool education
- building up family life ministry
- Christian ministry in schools
- investing in our communications and video facilities
- The Methodist Cooperative Society Ltd
- Methodist Welfare Services
- Methodist Missions Society
- church land
- the COVID-19 pandemic
- MCS 135
As mother tongues and dialects are still in use in the local conferences, he encouraged the GC to review the linguistic framework of MCS. “In the next four years and beyond,” he said, “we must work hard to maintain the spirit and practice of biblical unity among us.” He also urged that the spirit of Christian conferencing be kept alive. He concluded his Address by thanking the Council of Episcopacy, the three Annual Conference Presidents, and his wife and family members.
At the end of the five days of online discussions and voting, a memorial service was held to honour those in the Lord’s service who had gone to be with Him over the course of the last quadrennium: the Rev David S. F. Wong; Mrs Wong Shet Fai; the Rev Jesudian Daniel; the Rev Dr E. J. Thoraisingam; the Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao; and the Rev T. C. Nga.
Jeffrey Lim, the GC Secretary, was asked about the experience of running the GC session online for the first time in MCS’ history. He said: “I am grateful for the assistance of the MCS HQ staff, in particular Mrs Josephine Poore, whose experience I relied on to prompt and guide me on what to do, and who took care of many of the administrative tasks in the organisation and execution of the GC session. I believe both online and in-person meetings have their merits. But given that the GC session is held only once every four years and one of the objectives of the session is for holy conferencing, I think it is best held in-person as far as possible.”
More than 50 people had worked behind the scenes, in roles such as overseeing logistics, manning screen-sharing, conducting the secure and confidential online balloting, taking and checking of the daily journal, pre-recording worship and doing daily devotions, and making sure the IT and various tech worked seamlessly. While there were small occasional glitches, they were quickly resolved, and the online voting system worked well.
The rest of the 12th session has been adjourned to 2 to 5 Dec 2020, during which Bishop-elect Dr Gordon Wong will be consecrated. The remaining agenda items will also be discussed and more office-bearers elected.
Some of the key office-bearers elected during the session to serve for the next quadrennium (Dec 2020 to Dec 2024) are:
Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore: Rev Dr Gordon Wong
General Conference Secretary: Mr Jeffrey Lim
Chairperson, Finance and Administration Council: Mr Goh Geck Teck
General Conference Treasurer: Mr Melvin Dineshraj
Various teams stationed, with social distancing measures in place, at the MCS headquarters during the five-day session.
They took temperatures, recorded the proceedings, conducted e-ballots, shared screens for the reports presented and performed many other support roles that were required for the event to run smoothly
Sheri Goh is the Editor of Methodist Message. / Photos courtesy of MCS Comms