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Vicar’s Address at AGM 2023 (Part-1)

Dear COA Family,

What is the difference between a church’s AGM and a normal AGM? I believe it is this word: life. A normal company’s AGM aims to get the operations ongoing and answer queries if any. A church’s AGM is different because we are not a company. We are God’s chosen people and his family. God’s life resides in us. Therefore, our AGM is not so much about doing business but about all of us participating in the life of God’s church. So I am very thankful to the Lord to be able to engage all of you in this AGM and not just to go through the motions.

This year is a momentous year. We enter into our 71st year in May and into the future that God has laid out for us. Last year was a year of thanksgiving and celebration for our 70th anniversary. We were led by the committee to commemorate it starting with our Anniversary Service, the Gratitude Challenge, the 70th anniversary magazine and finally our Thanksgiving Dinner. This year, it is time to roll up our sleeves and work out His plans for our church and in our lives. It is no time to be complacent as we face a lost world who needs the Gospel of Christ in an increasingly complex world environment.

1. Life of the Church

    I will begin by sharing about God’s direction for us as a church. Firstly, we must realise that we are God’s church and no one exists individually. Society may tell you that you are capable on your own, but not the bible. We are all members of God’s family and the body of Christ, and we have the Spirit’s gifts to build others and the church up which we must utilize, otherwise we will not grow.

    With that in mind, last year’s theme was Rebullding God’s House. We had our sermon series on Nehemiah in the OT and 1 Corinthians in the NT. All of our cell groups embarked on the same bible study series. Even our Chinese service preached on 1 Cor and our Youth cell groups used the same materials for bible study. It was a Year of us coming together on the foundation of God’s word and moving in the same direction.

    This Year, we are building on that. Our direction is Growing Deeper. It can mean both Growing Deeper in our Knowledge of God’s Word as well as Growing Deeper in our experience and trust in God. Both are related and cannot be left out. I have detailed the reason for our direction in the foreword. And this year we have completed two sermon series – Encountering Jesus in the OT and Brokenness, with two more sermon series to come.

    Both directions for our church can only be effective if we as a church commit to coming together and growing together. We need to prioritise coming back to worship services in a physical manner. In the OT, God’s people have to go to the temple to worship God and celebrate the feasts. In the NT, Acts tells us that the church gathered daily in the temple courts and homes. Online services are not substitutes for in-person services. We continue with them because there are members who are sick or are travelling. They can continue to connect with us. But for the rest, we must come back physically. We worship God with our bodies, we have fellowship with others and we receive the Holy Communion. You cannot do these online.

    The call for gathering together extends to our Cell Groups. I appeal to all of our members to join a cell. Here is where the life of the church exists. You share more deeply, study God’s word more deeply and pray for and support each other more in a cell. You will miss out of the life of the church if you don’t belong to a cell. Just a few weeks ago I attended a cell meeting. Now I visit all of the cells in COA every week and it takes me 6 months to complete visiting every cell. And after 6 months, I will restart the same cycle again. So I will see all of you in your cells twice a year. In that cell meeting, everyone shared about the specific people God has placed in their lives to reach out to. We ended up praying for them. And God answered our prayers in a miraculous way throughout the week. We were able to share the testimonies among our cell and also look out for each other’s friends. It was such a faith building journey. That is how a cell group can support and encourage each other.

    This is why we will continue to build up our cell groups. There will be common bible study materials based on the sermon series to help every cell grow. We have also set up a Cell Group Structure to support all of our cell leaders too. They are in the form of Cell Facilitators to help support, encourage and pray with the cell group leaders. I’m very thankful for this group because some of them serve as cell leaders too. And together with the cell facilitators, you cell leaders provide pastoral care for all of the members which is a very important part of our church life. So please be join a cell and be committed to the fortnightly meetings too.

    I am also thankful for another group of people – the Lay Readers. The Lay Readers lead in the worship of the church. Their authority to lead in services, preach at wakes and distribute the Holy Communion elements comes directly from the Bishop. HC is important because it is God’s means of grace to us. We cannot simply partake of the HC by ourselves as is the practice of some churches. There is good reason for that because 1 Cor 11 warns us that we need to discern or be aware of the Body of Christ. HC is a communal family meal before God. That’s why only specific people are authorized – priests to celebrate and LRs to distribute. As Revd Soon is stepping down from serving in services, for the English services, the LRs will be stepping up to distribute the elements.

    One more thing I want to report to the church is a change in our service timings. Our Chinese service will be switching to the same time as our 10.30am English service timing from 28 May. We have arrived at this decision after a long period of discussion and prayer. We don’t take such decisions lightly. The main reasons are that having services at the same time helps in the support of the worship, youth and children ministries more effectively. Also, it enables families to worship together – members can bring elderly Mandarin speaking parents and relatives to the service while attending the English service. The Chinese congregation will worship in the Ascension Hall and will remain an integral part of us. We will grow together.  

    As for our English service, we will keep to our current timing of 10.30am. This is because the longer gap in between both services helps our ministries have enough time to prepare. Also it works out well for our Senior Sunday School youths who can attend our 10.30 service after their classes. Of course, there are concerns of a lack of interaction between the 8am and 10.30am services. To mitigate this, we will provide for combined services at suitable occasions for members to interact – such as the Ascension Sunday Service or Christmas Day Service. Ultimately, for greater fellowship, I appeal to you to take the initiative to connect with others on the ground.

    Revd Ian