Mystery Worshipper: Whoopedoo
Church: Wesley Methodist
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 June 2008, 7:30pm
The congregation was founded in 1885, but work on the building began in 1907 when the governor of Singapore granted land for the project. During World War II the church was used as an ammunition depot and the interior was stripped. Only the organ, lectern, marble baptismal font, and stained glass windows survived. The church was rededicated in 1948 and renovated in 1977 and again in 1988. It's a red brick building with white trim and features an elegant medieval style tower. The interior is replete with arches and wood planking. The sanctuary holds a communion table behind which are tiered seats for the choir. A railing separates the sanctuary from the seating area for the congregation. The overall visual effect is quite pleasing, but is marred by fluorescent lighting fixtures running the length of the building at the peak of the ceiling. Space has been a problem from the church's earliest days; in addition to the main church and several extensions, they currently rent space from the local YWCA. The service I attended was held in Wesley Hall, one of the church's several extensions. The hall is shaped irregularly, with a stage in front.
This is one of the largest Wesleyan congregations in Singapore, numbering over 6000 members. They hold multiple services each Sunday, both traditional and contemporary, in English, Tagalog and Mandarin Chinese. Services are also held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There is a vibrant community outreach, including family ministry, counseling services, Teochew (the language of the second largest Chinese group in Singapore) outreach, tuition services for students, mentoring programmes, missions, etc., all as described on their website.
Singapore, located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, was once one of the most important commercial and military centres of the British Empire. It fell to the Japanese during World War II but reverted to British rule at the end of the war. In 1963 Singapore merged with three other entities to form Malaysia, from which it seceded in 1965 to become an independent republic. The country enjoys a high standard of living and is said to be the sixth wealthiest nation in the world. The church building is situated near the heart of the main shopping district of Singapore, Orchard Road, close to the Ghaut station on Singapore's excellent rail rapid transit system. So you can do your shopping and watch a movie before or after the service.
The Revd Alvin Chan, one of the church's eight pastors.
What was the name of the service?Prayer and Praise Service.
How full was the building?
There were only 15 people present at the beginning of the service, but their ranks swelled to about 60 as time went on. To be fair, though, this was the last service of the day on Sunday evening, and the dinner hour to boot!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher at the entrance gave me a copy of their newsletter magazine Wesley Weekly. During the service, the pastor asked newcomers to identify themselves with a friendly wave of the newsletter. After that I was also given a welcome booklet and sheaf of newsletters.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were chairs that were comfortable enough, but the gap in between was tight. I had to stand several times to allow others to pass by me.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The musicians were still practising when I reached the hall, so I stayed outside and got a hot Milo (a popular local chocolate malt drink) from a vending machine. They finished up about ten minutes before service time, and as they did I went inside.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, brothers and sisters. Welcome to the house of God."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. Lyrics and Bible verses were projected.
What musical instruments were played?
Baby grand piano, digital keyboard, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar and drums. There was also a handful of backup singers.
Did anything distract you?
During the service someone's mobile phone went off. He went outside to take his call.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a prayer and praise session, so there were contemporary songs that were upbeat and modern. Not very loud or energetic, but perhaps that was due to the small congregation attending and the fact that it was the dinner hour.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The pastor seemed to like to talk about his own real life experiences, ranging from working with less educated youth to the delivery of his first born child to his conversations with other members.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The title of the sermon was "What kind of father is that?" based on Luke 15:11-24, the parable of the prodigal son. He contrasted the attitude and response of the prodigal son versus that of the father, with an insight into how it was significant in a middle-eastern context.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
One of the personal anecdotes that the pastor talked about was a conversation he had with a father who had experienced some relational problems in his family. "What is there not to forgive?" he asked.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The audio-visual people couldn't find the PowerPoint file that the pastor had intended to use during his sermon. He had to take them aside to sort it out. After that, the pastor's clip-on microphone stopped working and he had to switch to a handheld one.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A young lady sitting in front of me turned around and asked where I was from and why I had chosen that particular service. I mumbled that I had woken up late after watching a sporting event on television, and that this was the only service that I could wake up in time for. Some others sitting nearby stayed to listen to my explanation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nothing was on offer. But there were some vending machines outside the hall serving both hot and cold drinks.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I could be sure that the people in this church are truly open and friendly, I would consider coming here more regularly. I liked the spontaneous welcome from the girl in front of me – I didn't have to take pains to introduce myself. But Singapore is a highly materialistic and achievement-oriented society, where even friends have to make lunch or dinner appointments at least a week in advance. So whereas this type of welcome was a breath of fresh air, she may have just been hitting on me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I liked the part of the sermon that described how gracious the father of the prodigal son really was when considered in the cultural context of the middle east. Here was a father who would embarrass himself by running toward a son and who had wished him dead and brought shame to his family.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The immediate welcome given when I identified myself during and after the service.