One thing that really annoys me is when my pen runs out and I don’t have a spare one to operate with. The reason I open this post with that statement is because this is what happened when I sat down at the back of this rather full church. You see, when I go into a church I like to take notes – some pastors encourage that because it helps us remember what was taught, but for me it is more of a hangover from my university days – I really can’t sit in a lecture and not take notes, namely because if I did then I would simply lose focus and drift off into my own little world. However, despite me taking notes, and actually having a bunch of books full of notes that I have taken over the years (well, not that many, I only started doing that again more recently), once the service has finished, and I have spent some time meeting up with friends, and meeting new people, I basically never look at them again.
Anyway, it isn’t as if we are studying for an exam (though some people seem to act as if we are, but further discussion along those lines basically goes into theology that I don’t really want to bore you with here, but if you want to know what I am talking about you can always go here). However, since I have written notes on what was discussed in the sermon I probably should say a few things about what was said, however I probably should say a few things about the church first, starting off with where you can find it:
Anyway, I am always a little cautious about going into an Anglican church namely because you never really know what you are going to get. Sure, I don’t mind the smells and bells of the high church – I have attended three services at Westminster Abbey and one at St Pauls, however the thing with the smells and bells high church services is that they tend to simply be church services that people attend, sing their songs, listen to a sermon (or not as the case may be), put money in the plate, say their prayers, have communion, and then go home. As for me I like to hang around and meet people, especially if I am in a foreign land (or simply in another city). Unfortunately that didn’t happen to me on this occasion, namely because we took the wrong turn and found ourselves back outside, and decided to go and get some lunch instead (after getting onto the wrong train and finding ourselves caught in a rain storm at the docks).
However, while the half hearted attendance at church may the be case in England and Australia, it isn’t the case in Singapore. In Australia people mark Christian on the census form because, well, their parents did, and they have always done so, even if the only time they stepped foot into a church was to get married, or the occasional Easter and Christmas service. In Australia the atheists actually ran a campaign that went along the lines of “if you don’t go to church you’re not a Christian, so don’t mark Christian on your census form” (and I am still wondering how many people actually marked it anyway because, well, they live in Australia so they must be Christian – I’ve even known Asians who have come to church because as far as they are aware Australia is a Christian country, and Christians go to Church, so since they are in Australia they might as well do what Australians do and go to church on a Sunday).
However, when they say that 20% of the population of Singapore are Christian, they don’t mean that 1% are regular church goers, while 19% simply mark it on the Census because their parents always did, they mean that 20% of the population of Singapore are Christian. Mind you, for a country that is very business orientated they are actually quite religious, and in fact you can’t help but see all of the Buddhist and Hindu shrines about the place, as well as the multitude of churches that date back to British occupation. Actually, the interesting thing is that Christianity isn’t a new religion in these parts, and a trek to the Philippines or to Malaysia will reveal churches that date back centuries.
At The Morning Service
It is not often that I walk into a church that is packed and the pastor makes a comment about how their church is a small church. Well, that isn’t the case with St Andrews but rather Orchard Road Presbyterian that I visited in the evening. However with St Andrews this is not the case. In fact, if you look at their website you will discover that there are thirteen church services on a Sunday (and a number of others during the week). Further, since Singapore is a cultural melting pot then there is going to be a need to reach out to people who can’t speak English. Sure, citizens are taught two languages – English and their native tongue – but there are people who live in Singapore that did not have the opportunity to learn English so they generally need something other than the thirteen odd services on Sunday (though eight of those thirteen services are in a language other than English).
As for the church itself it is what one would call a full service church, namely it caters for anything that you would expect a church to do – from births, deaths, and marriages to providing a place for the youth to hang out so that they don’t go out and cause mischief (though I have a feeling that in Singapore this isn’t actually a huge problem – from what I could see the youth of Singapore are taught something that us Australian youths aren’t taught: respect). They even have a creative arts and contemplative spirituality groups, and go course they have connect groups, which are basically a group of people who meet on a weekly basis to study the Bible.
As for the service, well, it was basically what I expected from the Anglican church, though it tends not to be as liturgical (that is follows the order of service as outlined in the Book of Common Prayer) as some high churches do, though they do have some more traditional services in the morning. However, the service I ended up going to was the 10:30 one, which meant that I actually arrived a little early, so I killed some time by visiting the war memorial and going for a walk through Suntec Plaza – not that there is anything all that fascinating there since it is a shopping centre. Still, I did find a place to have some rather ordinary coffee and walked under the Fountain of Wealth.
Well, this isn’t a book of the Bible that I generally hear sermons on, but then again a number of churches that I have visited tend to focus mostly on the New Testament and occasionally visit the Old Testament as a bit of a background. Mind you, it is the case that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed, and both parts of the Bible tend to complement and support each other (and if you actually read it you will note that God isn’t entirely angry in the Old Testament, nor is he entirely kind and gentle in the new).
So, Nehemiah is set after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon and are going about rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, which had been flattened after Nebuchadnezzer captured the city (though he was willing to let them remain there it is just the Jews decided to attempt to reassert their dominance so Nebuchadnezzer returned and finished the city off for good, or so he believed). Anyway, the first thing they did, much to the horror of the current inhabitants in the land, was rebuild the walls – something that they did in fifty two days without any slave or imported labour. What we have is everybody working together for a common goal, and when they do they great things can be accomplished.
However, even if it seems that we are working together there can be little problems that arise that end up causing divisions. The example that was used was the number of church services that were held over the weekend, and that they were all able to work together to further the goals of the church. However, it can reach a point where competition begins to arise between the services, or even within the services, and when that happens divisions start to appear.
The passage is all about working together, and that nobody is above or beyond any of the work. As one pastor told us, a good pastor is one who gets his (or her) hands dirty, one who is willing to stay back and help pack up the chairs, and do things that aren’t all that flash. However, the pastor also needs to remember that there is no such thing as a super pastor, and that they cannot necessarily do everything on their own, which is why they need to build a team of people that have a variety of gifts so that the pastor need not do everything.