Parish pastoral council transforms Risen Christ parish

This story was originally published by Catholic News Singapore on 2 February 2009. Republished with permission.

The 8,000 strong Risen Christ parish community was “sleeping” until 2005 when the parish pastoral council was formed.

By Regina Xie, UCAN

SINGAPORE – “We are the first parish in Singapore to have a free medical clinic, counselling services and free legal clinic,” a parish priest announced to his congregation at a recent Sunday Mass.

At a meeting after the Mass, Father John Sim described his Church of the Risen Christ in Toa Payoh housing estate, established in 1971, as “sleeping” before 2005.

Now, four years after it “awakened”, the parish of around 8,000 parishioners has a website that regularly updates them with parish news.

 

Since 2005, senior parishioners have been meeting for line-dancing and other recreational and spiritual activities. The free legal clinic was established in 2006, under the auspices of the Catholic Lawyers’ Guild. In 2007, the parish started its free medical clinic, run by volunteer doctors and nurses.

Just last year, it took on a full-time youth coordinator to engage and mobilise parish youth. It also formed a mission team, which for its first mission, visited a Shan refugee camp on Thailand’s border with Myanmar to find out what the parish could do to help improve the lives of refugees from Myanmar’s Shan state.

The change came with its parish pastoral council (PPC), a group of elected laypeople that assists priests of a parish in fulfilling the parish’s pastoral needs. The Singapore Pastoral Institute (SPI) introduced the PPC concept in 2004 to increase laypeople’s participation in their parishes.

The Risen Christ PPC, which has up to 50 members, has taken a systematic approach: identifying pastoral concerns with the guidance of priests, breaking up into workgroups to investigate the issues and formulate solutions, and then presenting the results to fellow councillors for fine-tuning.

“Having many councillors makes it harder to get the views of all, but it also allows for a wider spectrum of viewpoints and helps to make the final recommendations more robust,” said David Kwek, PPC chairperson from 2007 to 2008.

Councillors commit themselves to thinking issues through and speaking with fellow parishioners, he told UCA News. “The help and cooperation of ministries, parishioners and archdiocesan teams has been invaluable,” he added.

A committee comprising heads of all parish ministries assists the PPC in executing its plans.

Vivienne Lim, the council’s first chairperson and a lawyer, credited establishment of the free legal clinic to God’s providence. “We were thinking about providing legal aid to parishioners one day, and the next day the Catholic Lawyers’ Guild called to offer their services,” Ms Lim said.

Before the pastoral council was formed, a committee comprising some ministry leaders assisted priests in administrative matters.

“There was no tried-and-tested format to follow,” Ms Lim recalled, while acknowledging that training by SPI helped councillors understand the PPC concept. “The PPC brainstormed and developed broad structures to work towards. We needed to work out a process to run the PPC, accept suggestions from the ministries and learn about what other parishes had done for parishioners,” she said.

Councillors come with diverse interests and a passion to contribute to the parish, said Jeannette Kong, leader of the faith-formation work group in 2007. She now helps to implement home catechism for children. “There is so much to learn. In the PPC I saw our ideas become finished products,” Ms Kong said.

The profile of PPC members has also helped in its success. According to Ms Lim, members comprise a mix of young and old parishioners, and “relative to other parishes, we have a larger percentage of young professionals and executives”. These people, she said, “bring in more energy and professional and corporate skills”. She added that the PPC also “benefits from the wisdom and experience of older councillors”.

“It was very rewarding to see the growth of the parish as well as the growth of individual PPC members,” she concluded. The council is currently looking into a parish renewal programme.

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