THE bells tolled, ringing out the unmistakable tune of “Amazing Grace”. Inside the St Andrew’s Cathedral, the mood was sombre. Heads were already bowed in silent prayer. Here and there, in the packed congregation, a hand shot up to dry a teary eye.
It was Friday, Jan 7, 2005. A Special Prayer Service was in progress, organised by the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), an association of churches of which the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Salvation Army, Lutheran, Mar Thomas, Syrian Orthodox, Assemblies of God, Evangelical Free and many independent churches are members.
“We are gathered to pray for the victims of the 26 December tsunami, as well as for the international relief efforts now under way,” said the Bishop of Singapore, the Rt Rev Dr John Chew in his opening remarks. Fighting back tears, the bishop, who is President of the NCCS, lamented that the death toll had risen to 120,000, with millions of people displaced or made homeless.
The service began at 7.30 pm, soon after the arrival of the Minister for Manpower, Dr Ng Eng Hen, accompanied by Mrs Ng and Dr Ong Chit Chung, MP for Jurong GRC. Dr Ng, who is also the Second Minister for Education, later read the Scripture lesson taken from Matthew 5:13-16 and Matthew 6:1-4.
In front of the cathedral’s high altar, Bishop Chew, Bishop Dr Robert Solomon of The Methodist Church in Singapore, and Bishop John Tan of the Lutheran Church, and clergy and elders representing the major denominations in Singapore sat reverently in a crowded row. In a pre-arranged sequence, they each stepped forward to offer prayers for the affected countries of India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Singapore, though spared by the tsunami, was also included in the prayers because a number of Singaporeans had perished overseas. The Rev Dr Ngoei Foong Nghian, Principal of Trinity Theological College who offered the prayer, remembered the victims’ families and those doing relief work in Aceh.
Expressing solidarity with the leaders’ prayers, the congregation responded with resounding bursts of Amen. Choruses, chosen and led by Mr Jusuf Kam of Wesley Methodist Church, were also sung as each set of prayers was said.
A high point in the service was the sermon by Dr Bobby Sng, President of the Bible Society of Singapore. He had as his theme “Let Your Light So Shine”, and exhorted his listeners to give help to those in need. Following the sermon, an offering was collected and dedicated to the relief of the tsunami disaster.
The service, though solemn, ended on an uplifting note with Bishop Chew pronouncing the benediction and asking the people to be ready to meet the “long haul” challenge that the tsunami disaster presented.
Lim K. Tham is the Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.
OBITUARY: MRS CHARLOTTE HIPKINS (d. Dec 10, 2004)
US woman missionary dies in Ohio
MRS CHARLOTTE HIPKINS passed away in Massillon, Ohio on Dec 10, 2004 at the age of 77. She is survived by her husband, a retired Methodist missionary, the Rev James Hipkins, a son, Tom, and several grandchildren. At her memorial service, they played instrumental music and sang a Chinese hymn, with memories shared by friends and family.
The Hipkins began their ministry in South-east Asia by serving in the Chinese Annual Conference in Sarawak from 1964 until 1970. In addition to the pastoral ministry, the Rev Hipkins and his wife were on the staff of the Methodist Theological Seminary in Sibu.
Transferred to Singapore in 1970, they continued to be associated with Chinese work and the Queenstown Chinese Methodist Church. The Rev Hipkins taught at Trinity Theological College while Mrs Hipkins served as Acting Editor of Methodist Message from July 1971 to April 1972.