Visiting SJC?


Vicar’s write 28 June

posted 28.06.2015

Vicar writes (28th June 2015): Sharing the Story of St James’ Church

In November of last year, I made a presentation to Synod on some possible reasons for SJC’s growth. I summarise it here for your reading and encouragement. Some leaders who have been with SJC for some time also contributed their thoughts.

1. Space & Grace: The local parish is a Redeemed Community
If the church is a redeemed community, then we should spare no efforts to offer grace and hope to everyone who feels they are called to worship and serve here. Ultimatums are seldom given nor leadership authority exercised without care. This has created space for both existing and new leaders to contribute to the life of the church. I can only look back, with deep gratefulness, that we have not always acted rashly towards each other but have found the grace to forgive and give each other space and time to recover.

2. The parish community is a People of God’s Presence.
One of the most sacred aspects of parish life is her communal worship and prayer life. I can recall many tender moments of prayer, worship, experience of His presence and hearing the voice of the Lord. If the church is His temple, how can this be experienced as a community? This is one experience I brought along from my years in my previous parish, St John’s-St. Margaret’s Church. A sense of His presence, voice and guidance breathes spiritual life into a parish. It keeps the leadership from making personality-driven decisions. It “de-politicises” the church and builds a spiritual commitment, which is not easily shaken when the church goes through leaner periods (and she will). The parish is His church. In prayer and worship, before His presence, we stand on the same ground. Leaders or followers, we see ourselves as simply parts of His body.

We have the same struggles with the work of the Spirit as any parish. What expressions are correct? What is biblical and what is not? What are simply our own human projections and what are authentic workings of the Spirit? There are no easy answers; it is always easier to stay within our rational understanding. But a yielding to the Spirit and faith in His presence at work in our midst is so essential to all that is going on in a church. It produces humility in us and a childlike trust in His sovereign work.

At critical junctures of the life of the church, I have been woken in the dark hours of the morning and have heard Him speaking - clarifying, convicting and waking me up from my spiritual slumber and foolishness. While the regular meetings with PCC and Staff are important, these spiritual encounters are essential.

If we have lost a sense of the sacred nature of a church, we may cease to be one. 

3. The anchoring stability of the Cell Ministry
The Cell ministry in SJC has gone through various permutations and challenges. But almost every member today will say that Cells have been critical in creating small communities/families where a member can experience a deep sense of belonging, pastoral care and avenue for ministry. Through the ups and downs of church life, Cells have acted as a stabilising anchor in our community. If a person has stayed in SJC for more than 10 years, it is likely that he is a member of a Cell. It has allowed for more effective pastoring, keeping the church “small” as she grows larger.

4. A Focus on the Whole Family
SJC has a rather unique approach in trying to be a church for the whole family and meeting the needs of every age group. Children and youths are expected to worship in the main Services. In this sense, we do not have “Adult Services.” We have a Childrens Church (Super Powerkids) and Youth Ministry (JYM), but where possible, we expect the family to be there at the main services. As both SPK and JYM meet at 2.30 pm, our Sundays can be a full day for some families and this has become a unique culture in SJC. The children become friends through their years in SPK and as they transit together to JYM.

SPK has had a profound influence on our ministry to families. SPK has helped some parents to grow into effective leaders (people who serve and grow) Today, our youth ministry is very effectively pastored by Pas Henry Yeo and our Family Life Ministry is under the dynamic leadership of Mrs. Carolin Tan, both of whom have served a significant stint in SPK.

The presence of youths and children in our main services have also shaped the nature of some Services, keeping it connected to the “now” generation rather than just shaped by what her leaders (often belonging to the “previous”) are familiar with.

5. Serving interdependently with the wider Body
We do not always do this perfectly but SJC has as a part of her core vision, a desire to serve the wider Body. This has helped to instill kingdom values, to be "church-based but not church-bound." It has also enriched the life here in SJC as we bless and were blessed by other parts of the Body.

6. Building our Weekend Services
If there is one area which has seen the most change through the years, it has to be our weekend Services. The overall structure remains, but there has been constant tweaking through the years -the length of the service, altar calls, the songs we use, response songs, when we say the collect, how we welcome visitors and so on. We started the weekly communion Service at 7.30 am at the Chapel which has a more traditional tone. While the Service has not grown significantly, it has helped us keep some of our inherited worship traditions and allowed some of the other Services to have a more contemporary feel. Our 11.15 am Service is where we are bolder and more experimental - as a result she has grown since we moved back to new Leedon and no longer limited by the space in the old community hall.

I don’t think we would ever arrive but our desire to both encourage God-centered worship and gospel ministry in a fast changing city meant that we remained open to changes and sought to ask the right questions.

I don't think I am naturally gifted as a preacher and this is something I have to constantly work hard at. It can be agonising to remain open to feedback and be committed to growing as a preacher. Having multiple Services allows for other clergy and pastors to preach and this also helps them to connect pastorally with the congregation.

7. Improving our Building facilities
Building and space will shape communities. This is what we have learnt since we moved back into the new building.

Rebuilding allowed us to think through what is needed for worshippers today even as we try to anticipate the future. We were able to improve our facilities to help young families. We made every facility accessible to the elderly and handicapped. We worked hard at the acoustics so that the congregation can be heard during worship in spite of being led by an amplified and multi-instrument band. We created more room and spaces so that the church can be used every day of the week and not just during weekends. The strategic location at a crossroad of transport connections also helped, giving visibility and accessibility to the church.

8. A place to call home.
One tagline which we have been using is: SJC - a place to call home. While our Crossroad Vision is helpful for committed members, this tagline connects with visitors and those outside of SJC. In our modern and fast-paced urban city, we wanted SJC to be an oasis of security, love and where everyone is treated as a person, with all the hopes and dreams which God has created in their hearts.  A home is not one without food. And so, we serve meals after every Service. This extends the Service, allowing for personal interactions. We run a Visitors lunch every other month where some ladies will dish out home-cook food. The plaza area is like the living room of a big house. This is where guests can hang out without feeling they are intruding into a private space. We are starting the Cafe in December which will take the concept of a “third place” - a place where anyone can use without an event or host - even further.

We allow students to use the air-conditioned meeting rooms during weekdays to study. We have a Prayer Chapel which is unlocked from 7 am to 10 pm every day. Anyone can come in to pray.

9. Alpha Course
We have been conducting the Alpha Course since 2001. It has become integral to the life of the Church. Members know that there is an avenue to channel their friends to. Having run it for so many years, we are also learning values like being welcoming, being open to seekers, attention to detail and the power of the simple Gospel accompanied by the work of the Spirit.

The Alpha Course also allows for participation of the lay and today, the Course is led by a dynamic new team and has become even more appealing to young working adults. Having a building that is open and welcoming (the building has no walls or fences at the front) with a homely feel helps to create a suitable environment for it.

10.  A Giving Church
I inherited a church which understands the need to give and do so generously. This has continued to seed the culture of the church and the successful completion of the church project was another mark of this.

A spirit of generosity can be very infectious. Generosity goes beyond money. It is about a certain posture and attitude towards others. Every person I have met would give generously to his own needs, that of his family and even his own church. This is natural and in no need of pressure or persuasion. Like a mother hen, the inbuilt survival instinct is to protect our own. But to treat “outsiders” with a generous unselfish attitude, to have the wider kingdom of God in our hearts and to rejoice that others are growing, this needs discipleship.

SJC is not a church with deep pockets but wide ones. We have been blessed with much. We are grateful for His grace. We are forever scarred by our own failures and that of the church. From that brokenness, we will give and give again.

It is our prayer that every parish and church in Singapore will discover their sense of place and purpose in this city.