Outreach, Welfare

Church ‘must support families through their transitions’

FAMILIES will experience transitions in many ways and the Church must journey with them through these periods, said speakers at a conference on “Families in Transition” organised by the Methodist Welfare Services, with support from the General Conference Women’s Society of Christian Service.

“Transitions have both potentials and problems. Transitional moments are very fertile moments for growth, for discovery, for blessing and we must not take them for granted. But transitions are also fraught with danger, that is why pastoral care is important,” explained Bishop Dr Robert Solomon, who delivered the keynote address at the Sept 26 conference at the YWCA Fort Canning Lodge.

He noted that the Church requires couples to go for pre-marital counselling and assumes that once married, the couple will live happily ever after. “It seems to me that, actually, what is more important is the post-marital counselling. In the first years of marriage, the couple is adjusting to one another, to new realities and responsibilities and they need the help of the Church. We cannot also assume that ‘empty-nesters’ are all right, in fact they face additional pressures,” he added.

When the Church journeys with transitional families, they can be helped to see new realities, to see God in the picture and see the difference it makes. The Church can bring hope to families. “I think we need to have this understanding of salvation – to reform the way we take care of individuals and families in our churches,” he said.

Picking up this point, guest panellist Anthony Yeo noted that there is no proof that says pre-marital counselling prevents marital breakdown. Christians are not immune from divorce, and some are very committed to God. “Over the last two to three years I have been working more with pastors and ministry workers about their troubled marriages.”

Hence, the Church must put in place a ministry to families that clearly articulates its family life policy, suggested the consultant therapist at Counselling and Care Centre. “Is there a clear biblical perspective on family life? There must be an articulated ‘family life practice’, such as worshipping together as family … When families have difficulties where can they turn to for support?”

Often, pastors and ministry workers are actively putting out family life programmes, such as pre-marital counselling and family life education, Church to highlight and respond to the needs in our society like caring for aged parents and those in need.

Another panellist, Ms Denise Phua, Member of Parliament for Kampong Glam, noted that many Christian families tend to make their children the “new idol” in their lives. “There is a danger that we can over-emphasise the family. There is a place for cell families or larger extended families in the church” where members look out for one another, which is what is done in Methodist and other Christian churches, she added.

The root cause of problems afflicting Christian families is the lack of an intimate relationship with God, added Ms Phua. She suggested that the Church can witness by sharing and living out Christian values; facilitate discipleship so that others can see Christ in church members; serve the disadvantaged and be relevant in the marketplace by engaging the Government, by being present in politics, in schools and in media.

The afternoon programme consisted of two sets of three concurrent workshops. Dr Carol Tan, Deputy Director (Elderly and Disability Policy) at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, and Ms Sigrid Hetzler, an Occupational and Work Therapist (Ergonomics) and Nutrition Counsellor, spoke on “Dealing with Sickness and Death”, and “Caring for the Caregiver” respectively.

According to Dr Tan, research has shown that an active and socially integrated lifestyle protects the elderly against age-related illnesses, such as dementia and depression, and improves one’s mental, physical and social wellness.

To take good care of others caregivers must first look after themselves

However, in order to take good care of others, caregivers must first look after themselves, said Ms Hetzler. Her advice included relaxation, making time for oneself daily; a healthy diet; daily physical exercise; finding a close friend to confide in, and spending time in God’s presence.

Sharing at the workshop on “Second Families, Second Chances”, Mrs Michelle Chia said that despite their ongoing struggles as a result of their differences in personalities, values and parenting styles, she and her husband are still together because they love each other. They take frequent overseas trips to recharge their relationship and attend the step parents’ support group at Tampines Family Service Centre.

The mother of one became a stepmother to five children when she married their father more than four years ago. It took her months of deliberation before going ahead with the marriage, she said. “I believe God chose this role for me. Putting me in this position has been a very humbling experience.”

Conducting the workshop on “Second Families, Second Chances” was Ms Rena Sivadas, a counsellor at Tampines FSC. The other workshop speakers were Sembawang FSC Senior Counsellor, Ms Laura Ling (“You used to be so Cute …Tumbling with your Child in the Pre-teen Years”); Tampines FSC Director, Mr Joachim Lee (“Living with a Less than Ideal Marriage”); and Daybreak FSC Senior Therapist Mr Alvin Goh (“Letting Go to Growth”).

The conference is the second one organised by the MWS since its establishment in 1982. In 2006, “A Christian’s Response to Addictions” was organised following the Government’s announcement that integrated resorts would be built on Singapore shores.

Mel Lee is the Assistant Manager (Communications) of the Methodist Welfare Services.