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Seek the Welfare of the City’ Conference: A Singapore Encounter

ONE hundred and one participants from China, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore met at Trinity Theological College (TTC) from Aug 10 to 13, 2005 to discuss Christian contribution to the society and nation today.

The “Seek the Welfare of the City” Conference was sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia (CSCA) of Trinity Theological College, the National Council of Churches, and Tyndale House, Cambridge. It took three years in planning. The conference marked the first time in South-east Asia that leaders from the state authorities, church and academy in China come together to reflect on Christian contribution to society with Christian leaders, leading biblical scholars and theologians in our region and the West.

The opening ceremony of the conference, chaired by the Rev Dr Ngoei Foong Nghian, the TTC Principal, was packed with participants and students of the college.

Bishop Dr Robert Solomon gave the Welcome Address in his capacity as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of TTC. He underlined the social contribution of Christianity throughout history and in the building of the Singapore nation.

The Guest-of-Honour, Mr Lim Siong Guan, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, gave an incisive presentation on “Religion in Governing a Country: A Positive or Negative Factor?” He challenged the audience to ask how religion could be “harnessed to raise moral standards, social conscience and responsible citizenship” in today’s world.

Mr Ye Xiaowen, Director-General of the State Administration for Religious Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, was the other Guest-of-Honour. His address, “A Message of Peace and Harmony from the East to the West”, was the first public address he made in his first visit to Singapore.

He began with the words “I had wished more Chinese people would have the opportunity to learn about the valuable ethics embodied in the Bible.” He went on to affirm the positive role that religions could play in building up a harmonious world.

He also praised Singapore as an example where peoples of diverse cultures and religions co-exist in harmony. He envisioned a world where unity and harmony would be achieved though dialogue, mutual understanding and tolerance, and emphasised China’s commitment in building up a harmonious and peaceful world.

The conference sessions were held from Aug 11 to 13. Eleven academics and church leaders delivered papers. The four keynote speakers were leaders in their fields: the Rev Dr Cao Shengjie, President of the Chinese Christian Council, Professor Oliver O’Donovan of Oxford University, Dr Bruce Winter of Cambridge University, and Professor Zhuo Xinping, Director, Institute of World Religions, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. They set the pace in exploring the theme under three headings: biblical perspectives, theological and historical perspectives, and contemporary engagements.

Other speakers included the Rt Rev Dr Paul Barnett, Bishop Dr Hwa Yung, the Rev Fr Kenson Koh, Dr Lee Soo Ann, Mr Richard Magnus, the Rev Dr Michael Poon Nai-Chiu and Dr Tan Kim Huat. The Rev Dr Daniel Koh Kah Soon, Lecturer in Christian Social Ethics and Pastoral Theology at TTC and District Superintendent of TRAC District West, chaired the session on “Historical and Theological Perspectives”. The conference papers are edited by CSCA, and will be published next year by the Australasian Theological Forum Press.

Other Methodists who participated in the conference included Mr Chan Yew Ming, Dr Roland Chia, the Rev Chong Chin Chung, Mrs Kimhong Hazra, Mr Richard Jeremiah, the Rev Khoo Cheng Hoot, Mr Leow Theng Huat, Mr Lim Khay Tham, Ms Grace Toh, the Rev Wee Boon Hup, the Rev Dr Yu Chin Cheak, and the Rev Lincoln Leung of Hong Kong.

The conference confirmed the servant role of Singapore churches in promoting dialogue in East Asia and beyond. This “Singapore Encounter” between Christian leaders from East and West was marked with honest exchanges, earnest discussion, and Christian charity.

The Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia will continue to work closely with local churches in reflecting on the nature of Christian contribution in the young nations in our region today, and on how to reinforce the moral and spiritual fabrics of our society and nation.

Prof Zhuo and I agreed at the end of the conference to continue the dialogue and cooperate in research projects in the years ahead.

The Rev Dr Michael Poon is Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia at Trinity Theological College.

(Readers may wish to refer to the CSCA website http://www.ttc.edu.sg/ csca/swc.htm for details on the papers presented at the conference.)