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Ideas to help an ageing congregation while not forgetting the young

48th Session of the Trinity Annual Conference

48th Session of the Trinity Annual Conference
(top left) Left to right, ETAC President Rev Philip Abraham (partially hidden), CAC President Rev Dr Gregory Goh, Bishop Dr Gordon Wong, TRAC President Rev Stanley Chua, TRAC VP Dr Cheah-Foo Fung Fong and Conference Lay Leader, Henry Tan (partially hidden) (top right) Rev Stanley Chua delivering the President's Address (bottom left) Delegates casting their votes

The 48th Session of the Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) was held at Bedok Methodist Church from 20 to 23 November 2023. The year 2023 marked Rev Stanley Chua’s third year as President of TRAC.

In his President’s Address, Rev Stanley Chua continued with the Conference theme for this quadrennium, “Remember who we are: Recovering our Methodist doctrine, spirit and discipline”. He provided a progress report on previous proposals, highlighted four areas of concern and put forth seven proposals to address them.

Rev Chua also proposed a TRAC “Wesley Sandbox” project, “Young Methodist Changemakers”. (More details on page 7.)

Trend of TRAC churches moving away from traditional liturgical worship services
Of the 21 TRAC churches, 12 churches are still offering traditional worship services, while nine churches have stopped doing so and now offer only contemporary worship services. Of these, two churches have blended worship services.

Rev Chua said, “I would strongly urge our churches that are still offering traditional worship services not to give up … but to continue to build even stronger and more vibrant liturgical worship services to minister and reach out to our ageing population.”

He cited three reasons for doing so. The first reason was Singapore’s ageing population. By 2030, one in four Singaporeans would be aged 65 and above. Likewise, TRAC faces a growing problem of ageing members. According to the Conference Statistician’s report, the number of persons 60 years old and above in TRAC stood at 12,403 in 2023, or 41.3 per cent of our total membership. In a span of five years, it has risen by 3,331 persons or 36.7 per cent.

The ageing membership aside, Rev Chua said he was more concerned with the spiritual well-being of the growing elderly congregation.

“Studies have shown that the Christian traditional liturgical worship services, with their rich history and deep-rooted rituals, can provide a sense of familiarity and continuity that can be comforting to the elderly,” he said.

“As individuals age, their cognitive abilities may decline, making it challenging to retain new information or adapt to unfamiliar practices. The Christian traditional liturgical worship services, with their repeated prayers, familiar hymns and Scripture readings, offer a format that provides regularity and familiarity that engages the mind and memory of the elderly.”

The second reason was the high prevalence of dementia among the elderly. According to the World Alzheimer Report 2019, Singapore has one of the highest rates of dementia in the world.

“One of the strengths of the traditional liturgical worship services is the repetition of familiar prayers, hymns, songs and rituals in the order of worship which contemporary worship services are weak in,” said Rev Chua. “Often, the songs that we sing in our contemporary worship services today will no longer be sung in a few years’ time. Modern contemporary worship songs tend to come and go but the traditional hymn or song remains evergreen.”

“That is why people who attend the traditional liturgical worship services can often remember hymns, songs and prayers much better than those who attend contemporary worship services.”

The third reason was to fulfil the purpose of Witness & Evangelism. According to the Statista Research Department report on 22 May 2023, the Christian population in Singapore is but a mere 19% of the total population. There is still much witness and evangelism work to be done among our fellow Singaporeans.

“But for us to do that, we need to bear in mind some sensitivities especially from those who come from faith backgrounds that place a strong emphasis on ancient rituals, Scriptures and practices,” said Rev Chua. For such persons, “they may be averse to the Christian contemporary worship service as they perceive it to be too casual or lacking in reverence.” Thus, a more formal and traditional service has its purpose.

As a second proposal to address the first area of concern, Rev Chua suggested sending a TRAC pastor to be trained in liturgical worship. The presence of a trained pastor in worship liturgy is essential for a vibrant and meaningful worship experience, he said.

“Importantly, their expertise in preserving tradition, crafting engaging worship services, fostering congregational participation, ensuring liturgical integrity and nurturing spiritual growth contributes to the overall spiritual health and vitality of our church community.”

Rev Chua clarified that he was not suggesting that churches do away with contemporary worship services. Instead, he encouraged churches to “continue to excel” in contemporary worship services so that they could “cater and reach out to the younger members in our congregation”.

Pastoral supply woes

As of 2023, TRAC has a total of 74 active pastors, including seven re-engaged pastors. By the end of the next quadrennium (2028), these seven re-engaged pastors would be 70 years old or older and unlikely to seek re-engagement, leaving TRAC with 67 pastors. 16 of these 67 pastors will reach or pass the age of 65 by 2028, leaving the Conference with 51 pastors. Assuming only 10 of these 16 pastors decide to seek re-engagement, there would only be 61 pastors left.

“The truth is, we are not replacing enough of our pastors that are retiring from ministry,” said Rev Chua, elaborating on the need to produce three Members-on-Trial (MOTs) each year to replace retired pastors. However, in 2021, there were no MOTs; in 2022, there was one; and in 2023, there were two.

At TRAC 2022, Rev Chua had proposed the appointment of lay pastors to ease the shortage of pastors. The Board of Ministry (BOM) has set up a taskforce to look into this initiative and is targeting to present concrete proposals before the end of 2024.

Going forward, Rev Chua said more needs to be done to address this area of concern and proposed three plans:

  • Have able Lay Ministry Staff head and manage staff teams and ministries in our local churches in order to free up pastors to focus on pastoral duties
  • Have unpaid lay people be part of Lay Ministry Staff teams to support church pastors better
  • Have unpaid Executive Directors in Pastoral Team leadership to support the PIC’s Office, to address the overwhelming administrative duties that pastors face

“My idea of these unpaid lay ministry staff is that they have a covenant with the local church for two years and thereafter have their covenant renewed on a bi-annual basis,” said Rev Chua. “They must be persons who are spiritually mature and have a heart of a servant-leader with qualities like being teachable, able to work under authority, self-motivated and highly responsible.”

Like unpaid Lay Ministry Staff, the role of Executive Director would be by invitation only and would have the same requirements. However, their primary responsibility is to support the PIC’s Office in terms of administration and the execution of strategic events of the church.

Pastors who retired
From left to right: Rev Malcolm Tan, Rev Dr Jonathan Seet, Rev Lilian Ang and Rev See Swee Fang, who retired at the 48th Session of TRAC

Standardising TRAC’s Local Conference reports

For this third area of concern, Rev Chua proposed streamlining and standardising Local Conference reports across all TRAC churches using a template to make it less onerous and facilitate the smooth administration by the District Superintendents.

“With a standardised template or format, the process also becomes clearer and consistent so that we don’t miss out on important standard agenda items. It also makes it easier for our administrators, secretaries, and Chairs of Committees to manage,” said Rev Chua.

On personal holiness

“As uncomfortable as it is, I wish to underscore the critical need for our pastors and leaders to uphold personal holiness, so that we may not bring shame to the name of our Lord and our Methodist Church and importantly, we do not become stumbling blocks to those we shepherd and lead,” said Rev Chua. “Holiness is not a luxury of the few, but a necessity for all,” he said, reminding the delegates that John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, placed a strong emphasis on personal holiness in his teachings.

Importantly, the Bible says in no uncertain terms in Hebrews 12:14 (NIV), “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

Rev Chua reminded delegates that as pastors and leaders who had been entrusted with a sacred responsibility, their lives were “meant to reflect God’s character and godliness, shining as a beacon of hope and inspiration to those who look to us for guidance”.

“However, when we fall into immorality, it not only damages our own souls, but it also undermines the credibility of the [g]ospel message that we proclaim. The consequences of our actions as leaders are also far-reaching. They can impact the faith of those who follow us, causing confusion, disillusionment and even leading them astray,” Rev Chua said.

Rev Chua proposed that the Local Conference Executive Committee work with pastors to develop a plan of accountability on how they can watch over each other within the key leadership of the local church, with “pastors watching over leaders and leaders watching over pastors”.

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Newly ordained elders (from left to right) Rev Jeremy Yap, Rev Tay Li Ping, Rev Emanuel Goh and Rev Chan Mei Ming with newly ordained deacon Rev Isaac Tan (first from right)

Young Methodist Changemakers: A Wesley Sandbox project

“Young Methodist Changemakers” is a Wesley Sandbox project that seeks to encourage Methodists aged 15 to 35 to spearhead the development of our worship services and outreach efforts with creative ideas designed specifically for young minds and hearts.

Proposed by Rev Stanley Chua, if approved, it will be an invitation to our young Methodists from TRAC churches to step forward to make their voices heard.

“We want to hear their ideas, their dreams and their aspirations,” said Rev Chua. “We want to see them take the lead in designing worship experiences and youth- led ministry programmes that are authentic, relevant and inspiring for young people.”

Interested young Methodists can submit their plans and ideas to a panel of assessors, comprising pastors and lay leaders from our 21 churches, said Rev Chua.

Rev Chua proposed that successful applicants be funded up to 50 per cent by TRAC and the other 50 per cent by their local churches to encourage ownership.

Aside from funding, Rev Chua also suggested that successful applicants be supported with mentorship provided by the local church and Conference to assist them in conceptualising and implementing their ideas in their local churches or at Conference level.

Trinity Annual Conference 48th Session

PASTORAL APPOINTMENTS FOR THE YEAR 2024

Trinity Annual Conference President: Rev Stanley Chua

District One

District Superintendent:
Rev Alvin Chan

Barker Road MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Wendy Watson

Pastors
Rev Dr Daniel Koh
Rev Lai Kai Ming
Rev Benjamin Fong

Assistant Pastors
Rev Gilbert Lok
Ps Joshua Kwok

Bedok MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Dr Aaron Tay

Pastor
Rev Timothy Yong

Christ MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Dr Edwin Wong

Pastor
Rev Barnabas Chong

Christalite M Chapel
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Shaun Chong

Pastor
Rev Tay Li Ping

Kampong Kapor MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Tay Kay Leong

Pastor
Rev Anthony Phua

District Two

District Superintendent:
Rev Kenneth Huang

Ang Mo Kio MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Chan Siew Chye

Pastor
Rev Emanuel Goh

Living Hope MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Joel Yang

Pastors
Rev Gabriel Liew
Rev Joshua Loo

Methodist Church of the Incarnation
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Edmund Koh

Pastor
Rev Allan Lee

Paya Lebar MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Dr Kow Shih Ming

Pastors
Rev Vincent Goh
Rev Jacob Lim
Rev Joey Chen

Pentecost MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Anthony Lee

Pastor
Rev Collin See
Assistant Pastor
Rev Isaac Tan

Trinity MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Alvin Chan

Pastors
Rev Sng Chong Hui
Rev Byron Teo

District Three

District Superintendent:
Rev Reuben Ng

Agape MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Jason Phua

Pastor
Rev Dr Chiu Ming Li

Cairnhill MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Dr William Sam

Pastor
Rev Ling Kin Yew

Fairfield MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Wendy Tay

Pastor
Rev Ivan Tan

Toa Payoh MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Benjamin Lee

Pastors
Rev Ming Feong Ching
Rev Poh Zhi-Hui

Wesley MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Raymond Fong

Pastors
Rev Lim Jen Huat
Rev Lilian Ang (re-engaged)
Rev Chia Chin Nam
Rev Gladwin Lee
Rev Ian Lee
Rev Adrian Ng
Rev Benjamin Lau

Assistant Pastor
Rev Clement Ong

District Four

District Superintendent:
Rev Dr Edwin Wong

Aldersgate MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Dr Lynette Sathiasingam

Pastor
Rev Jeremy Yap

Covenant Community MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev David Gwee

Pastor
Rev Daniel Terence Yeo

Assistant Pastor
Ps Rufus Chan

Faith MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Reuben Ng

Pastors
Rev Kenneth Huang
Rev John Benedict Foo
Rev Peter Koh
Rev Eddie Ho
Rev Chan Mei Ming

Holland Village MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Jeremy Ong

Pastor
Rev Loretta Lim

Living Waters MC
Pastor-in-Charge
Rev Khoo Kay Huat

Pastor
Rev Alex Chew

TRAC Special Appointments

Director, Truthmin
Rev Byron Teo

Assistant Directors, Youth Ministry
Rev Benjamin Fong
Rev Timothy Yong (Schools)
Rev Allan Lee (Trackers)

Director of Young Adults Ministry
Rev Adrian Ng

Director, Lay Equipping and Development Institute (LEAD)
Rev Ming Feong Ching

Assistant Director, Lay Equipping and Development Institute (LEAD)
Rev Ling Kin Yew

Director, Seniors’ Ministry
Rev Joshua Loo

TRAC Crisis Relief Coordinator
Rev Jason Phua

TRAC Chaplains to TRAC TTC Students
Rev Dr Chiang Ming Shun
Rev Dr Bernard Chao
Rev Wendy Tay

Lecturers, Trinity Theological College
Rev Dr Chiang Ming Shun
Rev Dr Bernard Chao

On Sabbatical Leave
Rev Daniel C Tan

On Study Leave
Rev David Ho Seng Hian

Coordinator Peranakan/Indonesian Ministry
Rev Christopher Chin

Appointments Made Through the Bishop’s Office

Director, Ministry in Schools
Rev Dr Aaron Tay

Associate Directors, Ministry in Schools
Rev Dr William Sam
Rev Poh Zhi-Hui

Methodist Missions Society 2024

Executive Director Rev Derrick Lau
Missionary Pastor (Thailand) Rev Clarence Lee
Missionary Diaconal Minister (Thailand) Rev Vincent Lim
Missionary Pastor (Vietnam) Rev Leslie Lim
Missionary Diaconal Minister (Timor-Leste) Rev Teresa Wilborn

Alvin Tay is the Managing Editor of Methodist Message. / Photos courtesy of Hon Chee Seng

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