A heart for his flock

At the opening service of his first Aldersgate SG event as
Bishop in May 2017.

The Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS), one of the largest Protestant denominations in Singapore with over 44,000 members, carries a heavy responsibility. In addition to pastoral duties, the Bishop has to give attention to the various initiatives, ministries and community work being done or planned under the MCS banner, and to do this over a term of four years or more, if re-elected.

Serving as Bishop from 2017 up till now—two months before his retirement and leaving office—Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung has been keenly aware of the weight of the office.

Born to a middle-class Christian family in Indonesia in 1955, Bishop Dr Chong was one of eight children. He cherishes memories of going to church on Sundays with his siblings and parents. Throughout his years in church, despite harbouring dreams to become a musician and composer, Bishop Dr Chong heeded God’s distinct call to enter the ministry.

In 1982, Bishop Dr Chong became a Singapore citizen. He served in various churches under the Chinese Annual Conference over the years, from Foochow Methodist Church (MC), to Kum Yan MC, and Paya Lebar Chinese MC.

The life of a young and inexperienced pastor was not easy—Bishop Dr Chong still recalls the first time he conducted a funeral service all by himself, which turned out to be a chaotic affair. As a young husband and father, juggling pastoral work with his familial role also created considerable personal challenges.

He counts himself blessed to have in Mrs Chong an able helpmeet when times were especially hard. “It was very challenging for her too, to balance her own work commitments with those at home and at church. She did everything she could to ensure that in every role, she did her best,” recounted Bishop Dr Chong.

“It is not possible to be a pastor and have a perfect work-life balance. We can only try to do our best. This is a decision that all pastors must make if they truly want to dedicate themselves fully to becoming a faithful and committed pastor. You have to choose only one thing to do well; it means you won’t do so well in the other.”

Yet despite the early hiccups and rough times, God was faithful in leading Bishop Dr Chong. Over time, he would come to identify the ministry areas close to his heart—those involving pre-schoolers, children, teens, youth and families.

Sharing his thoughts on engaging the younger ones in the local Methodist circles, Bishop Dr Chong evidently feels strongly about the decline of Methodist preschools, which have dwindled from 18 in 2017 to the present 11 centres. If he could turn back the clock on his days as Bishop, he said, the integration of Methodist preschools with the local churches is something to which he wishes he could have given greater effort.

While missed opportunities are inevitable in any work, Bishop Dr Chong looks at his four-year tenure positively, especially with regard to what has been done to revisit the structure of MCS.

“[I spent] about three years with the Structural Review Task Force (SRTF) to lead the General Conference to explore how MCS can be more effective with our current organisational structure as well as in utilisation of the rich resources that God has blessed us with and that our predecessors have left for us,” Bishop Dr Chong said. “Even though the restructuring work is still far from finished, it has managed to make headway into certain operational areas of MCS.” (You can read more about SRTF’s work in regular updates in Methodist Message.)

However, Bishop Dr Chong could not have expected his last year in office to be his most challenging. When COVID-19 hit Singapore, the months-long circuit breaker and social distancing measures have had huge impact on church activities. Bishop Dr Chong found himself in a position to effect and drive change while being a spiritual anchor dispensing guidance to the local churches grappling with alternative ways to worship.

A few of the key challenges Bishop Dr Chong encountered were how services and meetings could continue, as well as how Holy Communion could be conducted biblically while on-site church services were disallowed. All these were hurdles to be overcome before arriving at the current arrangements, a highly challenging endeavour as the Bishop had to work with various stakeholders, each with their own limitations and concerns.

Now that Methodists in Singapore have more or less become accustomed to the “new normal”, Bishop Dr Chong feels December is indeed a good time to hand over the reins to the Rev Dr Gordon Wong.

When asked about the first thing he will do the day after stepping down, Bishop Dr Chong chuckled and said: “I will take a walk along the streets to re-familiarise myself with our city’s sights and sounds, to re-discover my neighbourhood and the community I belong to.”

Thank you for your faithful service, Bishop Dr Chong! We wish you the very best in your post-retirement endeavours, and may God constantly be your guide.

Watch Bishop Dr Chong’s reflection video here.

Being a part of the Bishops’ panel on MCS structural review
in May 2019.
Coming fully into his role as Bishop during his consecration
service in Dec 2016.
Accompanying his grandchildren on the accordion as they sang carols on Christmas 2018.
Ordaining new clergy members for the Provisional Annual Conference in Cambodia in Sep 2018.

Jason Woo is the Communications Executive at MCS Comms. / Photos courtesy of Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung