On our way back home from Australia Caroline and I stopped off in Singapore for three nights. We arrived at our hotel late Saturday, and on the Sunday morning thought we should go to church. Feeling a little tired, we decided we would go to the nearest church, which happened to be St Andrew’s, the Anglican cathedral in Singapore. The web-site showed there was a service of Holy Communion at 11.15 a.m. So we made our way to St Andrew’s more out of a sense of duty rather than out of any sense of expectation. But to our amazement a series of surprises awaited us.
- The church was packed – there was even an ‘overflow’ in a hall adjoining the main ‘sanctuary’. I would guess that there were perhaps 600 people present. What’s more, it wasn’t as if this was the only service of the day, for there were thirteen others taking place at different times and in different languages. Indeed, at that very same time as our service the Mandarin congregation was meeting in the Cathedral’s ‘New Sanctuary’, which looked like a large tiered theatre which to gain building permission in this conservation area had to be constructed underground!
- As we entered, there were stewards to greet us, who instead of wearing badges wore a distinctive piece of clothing – the men wore blue ties with the Cathedral motif, while the women wore beautiful blue and white scarves again with the Cathedral motif.
- Although we must have stuck out as visitors, not least because we were ‘Westerners’, no steward asked us who we were. However, this lack of personal greeting was more than made up by a woman who came and sat with us – in the giving of the Peace she introduced herself (she turned out to be the vicar’s wife!) and asked us who we were. As a result we were very much made welcome.
- This welcome was reinforced in the notices at the end of the service, when all visitors were asked to stand up and were then given a special welcome leaflet – as well as a round of applause! In the welcome leaflet there was a welcome slip on which we were asked to list our occupations and who had invited us to church, We were also asked to ‘check any of the following’ statements: I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour; I wish to know more about Jesus Christ; I wish to be a member of St Andrew’s Cathedral; I wish to join a cell or fellowship group; I am just visiting’.
- Although it was still August, the vicar asked for more ideas as to how the Cathedral should use Christmas as an opportunity to reach out to Singaporeans and to tourists. Plans already include a pop-up café offering free snacks, carol services differently styled with jazz bands, string ensembles, and guitarists. In the words of the news-sheet, the Christmas events will be something “for everyone by everyone”.
- Although the worship was traditional– the service followed the form of Holy Communion laid down by the Singapore Anglican Prayer Book – both Caroline and I found ourselves being swept up into the presence of God. This was despite some very old-fashioned hymns and not the best of organists. As we moved into communion the congregation sang the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei together with other communion responses, I shut my eyes and felt as though I was in heaven itself. It was a most moving experience.
- Although Cathedrals are not normally known for expository preaching, the 25 minute sermon that day was a memorable model of exposition, in which the preacher used humour and personal experience to connect with the congregation. All the more surprising was that it was preached by an Englishman from Essex – one of the 70 (yes, seventy) members of staff!
- The greatest surprise was that the service ended with the baptism by immersion of 19 adult believers. The baptisms took place in an open-air baptistery just outside the main entrance to the church. The baptistery was large enough for two candidates to be baptised as the same time. This certainly was an Anglican cathedral with a difference!
- The notice sheet indicated that the Cathedral also ran a baptismal course for children aged 9 -12 years old, with the comment that “children who were infant baptized are strongly encouraged to attend. “The course teaches the fundamentals of the Christian faith,; who God is, the uniqueness of Christ and the meaning of His work on the cross, the personal and work of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the Bible and what it means to follow Jesus and be like him”. Strangely there was no specific reference to the church or indeed to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. What I did find of interest was that course was run over two consecutive days in school holidays, from 10 am – 4 pm with lunch provided.
It was indeed a Sunday morning full of surprises!