During our recent trip to Singapore to see family, we paid a visit to Rev Miak Siew, pastor of Free Community Church, one of the very few publicly LGBT-affirming Christian Churches in Singapore. His contact details had been provided to us by Swee Ann, who knows Miak. ‘Free’ stands for ‘first, remember everyone’s equal’.
It was a fascinating visit. The church, as do many in Singapore, leases a floor in a multi-storeyed building and has created a highly flexible worship space. Miak immediately revealed some commonality of ideas with Swee Ann when he very deliberately invited us to gather around the hospitality table (kitchen bench) to share waffles and coffee together as we talked. He obviously also is very strong on the acceptance of diversity!
We heard that LBGTQ rights in Singapore face many challenges and in fact some activities are still illegal – although the law is not actually enforced. However, attitudes towards members of the LBGTQ community are slowly changing and becoming more accepting and tolerant, especially among young people.
Miak related a fascinating story of how the church initially began with a small group of Christian gay men who had been rejected by the churches in which they had grown up. Then came some surprising support from a Methodist bishop – the first Asian Methodist bishop Reverend Yap Kim Hao, known as ‘Pastor of the Marginalised’. As Miak stated, “He was the first religious leader in Singapore to voice support for LGBT people. He discerned that in the time of his retirement, he was called to minister to the “lost sheep” of the LGBT community – to speak up for the voiceless and the marginalised.”
Miak told us he was led somewhat reluctantly into ministry when he turned out to be the only applicant for a scholarship to study at Berkeley University in California. He was convinced by others that this was the sign of a ‘call’ and eventually gained a Master of Divinity at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkley. He was ordained in the Metropolitan Communty Church in 2011. In order to cover his personal living expenses while studying in the USA, he sold his apartment and car in Singapore. He was very keen to animatedly share the story of his church’s journey with us. In conversation, we discovered some of the shared values and beliefs FCC shares with MUC, especially some of Swee Ann’s thoughts and ideas.
Free Community Church currently has around 150 members. Typically, 75 or so attend the worship service each week. A number of families are included in the congregation. Something around 25% of members do not identify as LBGTQ. Miak said he was surprised early in the life of the church when the need for a Sunday School became apparent.
FCC has associations with some other institutions and church organisations throughout Asia – particularly Indonesia and the Philippines. Covid was a catalyst for online streaming of FCC’S weekly worship service and today this streaming continues, with regular participants joining in from countries all over the world including Sri Lanka, Australia, Ireland and the USA. Early in our discussion it was obvious that FCC is a church focused not only on LBGTQ issues. For instance, deep involvement in advocating for the removal of the death penalty in Singapore.
As in MUC, covid had a positive effect in many different ways of FCC connecting with people and good use is made of their streaming and other technology, including the streaming of bible studies.
In general, it seems to us that FCC shares a lot of the focus and values of MUC. For example, a focus on community outreach rather than inward thinking. In other words, to live out the Christian life by example rather than merely evangelising.
Our conversation concluded with questions around how MUC and FCC might establish some kind of relationship which may bring benefit to the work of both congregations.
FCC has developed some resources for studies that have been used in other communities and countries. We felt that some level of communication between MUC and FCC would be insightful and supportive for both communities. In particular MUC’s Social Justice group may consider opening a communication to understand the possibilities of some productive further relationship.
It struck us that this aligns with our vision.
Inspired by God and seeking to emulate the life of Jesus we will identify and reflect God’s love by creating, participating in and walking with communities locally, nationally and globally.
We left our encounter with Miak admiring the courage and dedication that he has shown in developing FCC over the past 20 years or so in a somewhat antagonistic and non-inclusive social environment in Singapore.
You can read more about FREE Community Church on its website https://freecomchurch.org
Ruth and Bob