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AldersgateSG 2023: Seeking answers in the past, present and future

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Bishop Dr Gordon Wong delivering the AldersgateSG 2023 sermon

Each year, we are reminded of our Methodist roots when we commemorate that day in the year 1738 when John Wesley’s heart became strangely warmed on Aldersgate Street in London. As a Church, it is timely to reflect on our past and appreciate how God has grown the Methodist Movement. In this year’s Aldersgate celebrations, we also looked to the future in search of answers about God in our vast universe and, with a basic hunger in our hearts and minds to connect with what is beyond our world, sought to challenge our own perceptions of our place in the present and in the future.

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A formal portrait of MCS pastors and leadership is a tradition at AldersgateSG

The opening day of AldersgateSG 2023 on 20 May saw approximately 600 people gather at Toa Payoh Methodist Church to celebrate God’s faithfulness to the three arms of the Church—the Chinese Annual Conference, the Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference and the Trinity Annual Conference. The diversity of people in attendance reflected the breadth and depth of The Methodist Church in Singapore, comprising clergy and lay members, young and old, and those from different language groups.

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The procession at the AldersgateSG service on 20 May

The triumphant procession of banners into the sanctuary to rousing music in exultation to the Lord at the opening of the service was indeed a sight to behold. The service continued with heartfelt songs of praise and worship as the congregation sang “lustily and with good courage”.1 Bishop Dr Gordon Wong expounded on Acts 10:22-35 and reminded us that God wants us all to have a similar heart-warming, mind-expanding experience of divine love with him. The example of Cornelius proved that Christ embraces all religious people who are God-fearing, even if they do not embrace Jewish customs or Christianity.

The Bishop then remarked on how the encounter between Peter and Cornelius illustrates the wideness in God’s mercy, and challenged us to ponder on what God is calling us to have a heart-warming experience in, and how to approach religious neighbours like Cornelius with both God’s love and wisdom. This is especially pertinent in Singapore, as we are the world’s most religiously diverse country.2 In our individual circumstances, we are to seek God’s wisdom in how we were to show love to our religious neighbours.

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Presentation of long service awards

Long Service Award Recipients

Congratulations to the following clergy, who have served for 25 years.

Rev Erick Tan Eng Ghee

Rev Dr David Koh Ah Chye

Rev James Nagulan

Rev Stanley Chua

Star Wars, Star Trek and exoplanets

On 23 May for the first of the two-part Aldersgate Lectures, a gathering of 250 on-site and nearly 1,000 online, came in search of answers to burning questions about the universe, the future of humanity, and their relationship to the Christian faith. The speaker Rev Prof David Wilkinson, Principal of St John’s College at Durham University, an astrophysicist and ordained Methodist minister and theologian, addressed questions ranging from the relationship between extraterrestrial life and God to the ethics and economy of space exploration. He began by illustrating the infiniteness of the universe and speculating about possible other worlds, and asking the audience to consider the harmony between faith and science. He then went on to outline the pioneering role that Christianity has played throughout the centuries in wondering about life elsewhere in the universe, citing figures such as the early Church Fathers, Thomas Aquinas and Richard Bentley. Following this, Prof Wilkinson elucidated the various schools of thought on the religious implications of extraterrestrial life, including one school which suggests that God is an alien! Prof Wilkinson wrapped up his first lecture with the borderlands in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI), mentioning ‘religious’ dimensions of SETI such as the universal hunger for identity and purpose, resisting the urge to view God through earthly constraints, and the contribution of theology to SETI in terms of the consequences and ethical considerations of future contact with extraterrestrials.

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Rev Prof David Wilkinson delivering the first AldersgateSG 2023 lecture

Many insightful and thought-provoking questions were raised by an enthusiastic audience during the Q&A session ably moderated by Ps Gilbert Lok. Prof Wilkinson’s candid responses left the audience with much food for thought. A notable question raised was how he, as an astrophysicist and a theologian, would reconcile Genesis 1 with the scientific theory of the age of the universe. He responded that Genesis 1 is not meant to be read literally as a scientific textbook, but primarily as a theological book that showcases the greatness of God (though this is a hotly debated issue). Another question was raised about the need for humanity to leave Earth if it becomes unsustainable to continue living here due to global warming. In response, Prof Wilkinson concluded the first evening on the insightful note that our hope is not in technological survival, but in Jesus Christ as our saviour, just as the problem with the Tower of Babel was not technology but rather the motive of desiring to be famous and secure without God. With numerous intriguing questions having been put forward but not all answered due to time constraints, the rapt audience members eagerly awaited the second part of Prof Wilkinson’s lecture the following day.

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Q&A session with Rev Prof David Wilkinson, moderated by Ps Gilbert Lok

The following day brought back a revitalised audience determined to hear more from Prof Wilkinson. He began the second part of his lecture by noting how popular culture can be wielded for theological education, such as understanding the big themes in culture and offering insight into how we can share the Good News with ‘alien’ cultures. He illustrated how the science fiction movie genre tells us what at heart it means to be human, through themes of loneliness, purpose, identity, fear and salvation. Using the example of Star Wars, Prof Wilkinson demonstrated how science and faith do not necessarily have to be in conflict, as a sci-fi series like Star Wars poses the question of whether there is more to life than science and technology. It invites us to wonder what God is like and to recognise the finiteness of our minds which can only imperfectly comprehend our infinite God. Prof Wilkinson then challenged the audience to approach sci-fi in new ways, seeing it as a place for theological playfulness and sacramental moments when we experience God in ways that charm, enlighten and disturb us.

The second-day Q&A again elicited passionate and profound questions from the audience. One question was about the ethics of spending billions of dollars on exploring the universe, as opposed to channelling it towards social services for the least, the last, and the lost. In response, Prof Wilkinson adopted a balanced approach in weighing such financial costs against the God-given gift of exploration. He believed that ethical issues can be especially reconciled by Christians being salt and light in space-economy industries. Another popular question concerned ways of sharing the gospel with people who hold firmly to atheism, citing science as their reason. Prof Wilkinson foregrounded the need to acknowledge that atheists are not a monolith, and may have vastly different reasons for not believing. He asserted that the most powerful explorations of Christianity are centred not on philosophy, but on the witness of the scientist in a Christian. Prof Wilkinson summarised this succinctly when he remarked, “Christians do not believe in God because of arguments, but because of Jesus.”

The Q&A session ended on a poetic note with a timely reminder of how it is not primarily our witness that brings people to God, but the Holy Spirit. As Christians, the most wonderful thing we can experience is listening to the voice of God and having faith that he is at work.


1 https://um-insight.net/in-the-church/local-church/wesley-s-directions-for-singing/
2 https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/

Elliot Soh is a history student at Nanyang Technological University and worships at Barker Road Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Daniel Lie and Dominique Wang

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