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Methodist Church's new head Chong Chin Chung seeks unity

Bishop Chong said that the Church should keep open communication lines with the authorities on controversial matters. "(It is) the Church's primary responsibility to educate its own members well so that they can make right choices in upholding biblic
Bishop Chong said that the Church should keep open communication lines with the authorities on controversial matters. "(It is) the Church's primary responsibility to educate its own members well so that they can make right choices in upholding biblical and Asian values in their families," he added.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Once poor, Bishop Chong wants to help the less fortunate and bring members together

On Thursday, before an interview with the The Straits Times, the Singapore Methodist Church's new leader, Bishop Chong Chin Chung, met officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The meeting was to "establish communication lines" with the government body following his consecration ceremony on Dec 2, said the bishop.

Interacting with the authorities, taking part in interfaith dialogues, and contributing as vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) are some of Dr Chong 's new duties as head of the largest mainline Protestant denomination in Singapore.

Referring to how Catholic and Christian leaders had advised their believers not to attend Madonna's concert earlier this year, and NCCS' initial call for the Government's decision to allow online betting to be reviewed in October, he said that the Church should keep open communication lines with the authorities on such matters.

"We're an open country and there is no way to stop the myriad of ideologies that enters Singapore.

"(It is) the Church's primary responsibility to educate its own members well so that they can make right choices in upholding biblical and Asian values in their families."

DON'T BE A STRANGER

As a student, I was able to gain the trust and confidence of friends. I'm quite a people person and have always loved making friends.

BISHOP CHONG CHIN CHUNG, Singapore Methodist Church's new leader.

Dr Chong, 61, was consecrated on the shared grounds of Queenstown Chinese Methodist Church and Faith Methodist Church - the same place of worship he served at as a teenager.

The bishop, who was born into a Christian household in Palembang, Indonesia, moved with his family to Singapore at the age of five. He grew up in Upper Bukit Timah and made a commitment to serve in the faith at the age of 16. He is married and has three grown-up children and three grandchildren.

Dr Chong is the Church's third Chinese-educated head and his leadership qualities were evident from his youth. At Tiong Bahru Secondary School, he was a conductor with the school choir and a band leader.

At Nantah, as a Chinese literature undergrad in the 1970s, he was part of The Frontier Group with eight other Christian men who met frequently for prayer and mutual support. Many of them are now church leaders across denominations.

Dr Chong himself was a Methodist pastor of Kum Yan Methodist Church and pastor-in-charge of Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church.

At the consecration ceremony, Bishop Chong's former university roommate, Mr Lim Keng Lian, 62, a Methodist, joked that his friend was so busy that he hardly saw him.

Mr Lim remembered Dr Chong spending most of his time in school being involved with the Christian groups there.

"He has always been very passionate about God," he said.

What stands out when speaking to Dr Chong in his office in Barker Road - now home to a floor-to-ceiling collection of hundreds of Chinese books on Christianity and theology - is his genuine and bright smile.

He also has a knack for getting people to quickly warm up to him through his easy-going nature, friendly banter and the occasional self-deprecating joke.

Dr Chong recognises that one of his strengths is his ability to connect with almost anyone.

"As a student, I was able to gain the trust and confidence of friends. I'm quite a people person and have always loved making friends," he said in Mandarin.

This is what Dr Chong believes will define his term.

He said he will build on the existing foundations of the Methodist Church by bringing its workers, volunteers and worshippers together to further its broader goals.

His job scope also includes supporting the Methodist Missions Society's work in East Asia by helping the underprivileged in places such as Nepal and Cambodia, through education and social enterprise, as per the social principles of the Methodist Church here.

This mission of the Church is particularly close to his heart as he himself was once a poor student.

As a young pastor, he often helped church members who struggled with money.

At the Trinity Theological College, where he was a guest lecturer for the past decade, he helped foreign students find sponsors to ease their financial burden "so that they can study with peace of mind".

He said he never expected to be elected as the Church's bishop.

"I was never in it for the material aspect... I've always wanted to be a preacher because of my love for God and love for people."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2016, with the headline 'Methodist Church's new head seeks unity '. Print Edition | Subscribe