What Our Students and Graduates Said about the Census 2020 (GS letter Aug 2021)
On 7 August, I had a fulfilling conversation with four of our students and graduates regarding the recently published Singapore Census 2020. If you recall, FES and GCF partnered with the Evangelical Alliance of Singapore (EAS) and the Bible Society of Singapore to organise a two-part national forum to discuss this census and what it means for the church and its youth. The first part happened on 19 July, where Michael Kang, the GCF Graduate Secretary, moderated the panel of Dr Mathew Mathews, Melissa Kwee, and Rev. Dr David Wong. The second panel was focused on hearing the voices of the youth and young adults. Let me briefly summarise what each of them contributed to this conversation.
Wei Hao was from NUS and the VCF in the early 2000s. He is currently working on the Generations Project which seeks to bridge the intergenerational divide in Singapore churches. You can learn more about this project at the Graceworks website. One key observation he made is about how churches are structured according to generations (main adult services, youth services, children services), and while this might provide efficiency in ministry, it does not help in communication and un-derstanding between generations. Jun Bo graduated from NUS in 2019 and served in the leadership of CVCF in 2017/18. He started by stating that we should be concerned with building disciples rather than increasing percentages. He also cautioned that the relational authority commonly used in the church will get quickly depleted in this age so long as Christianity is depicted as a tool to a good life and not as an exciting life adventure. Thelma Chia is a final year student from NUS and Vice-Chairperson of the VCF. She presented a cry for authenticity in the church; a messy church instead of a perfect church. There should be an allowance of some disorder and mess in the church; time for youth to process their thoughts and emotions from the vast differences of their experiences of the church and the world. Finally, Sean Sim is a final year student from Temasek Polytechnic and has served in various leadership positions in the CF. He struggles with too much information out in the world, especially negative perceptions of religion which influence his peers to stay away from the church. In his view, the church needs to be more in the public space to correct negative opinions rather than to hide and avoid them.
All in all, this was a small start and opportunity for some youths and young adults to share their thoughts about religion, the church, and the Census 2020. It does not adequately capture the diversity of opinions that are out there, but it is meant to say that the voices of the youth matter in our understanding and experience of the Christian faith. In other words, the youth have a prominent role in sharing and modelling for all other age groups their unique experience of God in this generation. I often reflect and realise that I will not be able to fully empathise with what it means to be a university or polytechnic student in these pandemic times. What does it mean to begin your freshmen year online and not have any significant face-to-face interaction in school for an entire year? What does it mean to graduate and find a job in these times; to start work with WFH along with the many other restrictions? This always reminds me of the power of the FES vision of students reaching students; that students are the most effective people to minister to their generation, for they understand what is truly unique to their generation and peers.
On 24–26 September, FES will be having its National Conference for all its students and it will be focused on digital ministry. This is again something unique for the next generation. Please pray for the planners and participants, as we read the times and trust that God is leading us to minister to a new generation in new ways.