It’s that time of the year…

By Ps Dev Menon

Chinese New Year is around the corner, and once again I am made to remember my ethnicity. I am the minority. This is true nationally, but much more true in the Singapore church. Previous Singapore Census surveys estimated that <10% of the church is composed of other ethnicities, more so for Protestant churches; plus it seems to be becoming more polarised. 

This issue hits me each time there is the ‘annual discussion’ on whether to alter certain worship services because of CNY and its understandable logistical complications. “What about me? What about my family? How does church think about us? Will anyone invite us for their reunion dinner? More than that… why isn’t there something to celebrate our ethnicity? Isn’t my race significant to God’s kingdom?” It’s hard not to cycle through those questions and dwell on negative feelings… despite knowing most of them are purely reactionary. 

Recently, I had a brief conversation with the ‘Race Working Group’ that did a Micah Singapore project a few years back. One person said: “I feel like the needle never really moves on this issue nationally”. Indeed, it can seem that way in the church too. 

Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate Zion Bishan for a few things: In most meetings people are quick to translate if another language is spoken; we take a lot of effort to think through how people will be affected before deciding to adjust any service; and I think most of us LOVE the multi-lingual singing segment during our Anniversary! In addition, since CNY falls on a weekend this year, we will have a special #dinnerchurch reunion meal for everyone to be affirmed that they are welcome in this Jesus’ family. Look out for it – 11th Feb, after 4.30pm service

But yet, I still long for the church to become racially-rich: where perhaps we sing different language songs regularly, eat different cuisines for fellowship tea, have ethnic-music instruments and song-styles, where people come in their race-based-Sunday-best, and do their best to acknowledge and appreciate one another. Would anyone like to help me make that happen? 

How must the gospel shape our understanding of race, culture, nationality and ultimately identity? These are things we have to keep exploring in the Scriptures and pushing for in our practice. In the meantime, do consider reflecting on the issue via these resources:

A conversation with Dr Mathew Matthews:

A 2021 sermon on Ethnicity:

Stories from the Singapore church:


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