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The People Called Methodists an inspiring read

The People Called Methodists
Editors: Peter Teo, Earnest Lau, George Martzen
Publisher: The Methodist Church in Singapore
182 pages
Hard cover $35 Soft cover $19
Available at Methodist Centre, 70 Barker Road Tel: 6478-4780/4781
Also available: A Study Guide for the book: $2

PUBLISHED by The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) to commemorate the tercentenary of the birth of John Wesley, the “Father of Methodism”, on June 17, 1703, The People Called Methodists is an inspiring book to read.

Despite its British origins, Methodism reached Singapore in a rather roundabout way: North America, South India, Rangoon and the arrival by boat on Feb 7, 1885 of William F. Oldham, James F. Thoburn, Mrs Thoburn and Miss Battie. Thereupon, a flurry of activity took place with the founding of the English Church in 1885, the Tamil Church in 1887, the Chinese (Telok Ayer) Church in 1889, as well as Anglo-Chinese School in 1886, Methodist Girls’ School in 1887 and Fairfield Girls’ School in 1888.

When you recall that these developments occurred in an environment where communication with the local population was, at best, rudimentary, where there were probably no telephones, radios or typewriters, one wonders where this is what Wesley’s declaration meant: that the world was his parish, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, said the Lord”.

Today, the MCS comprises three Annual Conferences, and has a membership of more than 32,000, 41 churches with 154 worship services each Sunday in 14 languages/dialects, 13 Methodist schools and the Methodist School of Music.

The book deals with the interconnection between the various organisations, with the General Conference at the apex of the pyramid, the Annual Conferences (Chinese, Tamil and Trinity) in the middle and the Local Churches forming the base. Offshoots of the General Conference are the Methodist Missions Society, Methodist Welfare Services, Women’s Society of Christian Service, among others.

Part 3, entitled “Our Wesleyan Doctrine”, is not exactly bedtime reading, requiring concentrated effort but nevertheless absolutely essential for all Methodists to be familiar with. For example, in the section “Our Faith: Sources and Criteria – the Wesleyan Quadrilateral” – we are reminded that for Wesley, Scripture, tradition, reason and experience form the basic foundation of our belief.

However, becoming a Christian disciple was not, in John Wesley’s view, solely a matter of belief. One of the greatest gifts he gave to the Methodist movement was a methodical plan of discipleship (see Part 4, p.100). Members were exhorted first “to do no harm”, second, “to do good”, and third, to attend upon all the ordinances of God”.

In this book, we find the most dramatic development of discipleship in the many agencies providing services to senior citizens, family service centres for the needy, children’s programmes, Young People’s Church Fellowships, Sunday Schools, The Boys’ Brigade, The Girls’ Brigade, Prison and Hospice ministries supported by an infrastructure of many dedicated volunteers.

Part 5 of the book, an epilogue, so to speak, called “A week in the life of Methodist Outreach”, describes some of the work done by the MCS outreach agencies.

A particularly touching story is told of one Teresa Tan, a nursing aide with Bethany Methodist Nursing Home. She is a Roman Catholic “kampong girl” from Malaya who had originally aspired to be a nun. Her parish priest had, however, guided her towards her true vocation – the elderly. She spent the next 14 years at the Payoh Lai Home for the Aged Sick and later joined the Methodist Home for the Aged Sick (now Bethany Methodist Nursing Home).

Teresa leaves home at Lorong Ah Soo on the 5.30 am bus, arriving at Bethany at 6.40 am. After reviewing her reports, she begins her shift at 7 am, caring for the residents in various ways such as bathing, feeding, walking and exercising them with the help of about 120 staff members. Says Teresa: “Of course, I enjoy! Otherwise I won’t stay here so long. One day we also will be old.”

Then, there are the interviews with the Co-ordinator for Thailand, Mr Henry Yeo, and the Missionary pastor in Cambodia, the Rev Kevin Lowe, which are especially heart-warming.

With pictures of old buildings like the first Methodist Church at Coleman Street and the first ACS building at the side, Methodist Girls’ School, the old Fairfield School building and the Eveland Seminary for Young Women – all reflecting the “colonial” architecture of yesteryear – the book reminds us vividly that all these achievements took place only within the last 120 years, a mere twinkling of an eye.

Philip Lau, a retired lawyer, is a former member of The Methodist Church in Singapore, and now resides in Canada.