Anglican Angels - A Strait Times article on the social work in the Diocese of Singapore

Source: The Strait Times

Dec 2, 2006

Anglican angels : The Anglican Church turns 150 and has reached out to help not only the needy but also the abused and those with mental disabilities


LIKE the biblical mustard seed bursting with growth potential, the Anglican Church here has been a mover and shaker in helping the destitute, debilitated and disabled since it took root as a church mission in 1856.

But this year, which marks its 150th birthday, it has truly gone into overdrive, seizing quite formidable challenges, including setting up a $16 million autism centre, which will be fully up and running in Elliot Road by 2008.

Its head, Archbishop John Chew, 59, says all these good works just happened to snowball this year.

He says that the anniversary has also given his flock ‘new impetus’ to rally round the less fortunate from all walks of life.

Of his responsibilities to lead Anglicans here and in the region as the second Archbishop of the province of South-east Asia, he says with a wry chortle: ‘Daunting is a gentle word for it.’

But come Dec 12, President SR Nathan will launch its newly rejigged Singapore Anglican Community Services (SACS) at the new extension to St Andrew’s Cathedral.

Through it, the church provides a reasonably priced top-to-toe, round-the-clock suite of mental recovery, elder-care, counselling and pastoral-care services by and for people of all colours and creeds.

It is the merging of two separate entities - the St Andrew’s Mission Hospital, now the St Andrew’s Community Hospital, and the Singapore Anglican Welfare Council.

With nudging from Archbishop Chew, among others, both have since been restructured and come under the SACS umbrella for better synergy and a more seamless flow in treatment for patients.

That is yet another win to cheer after the launch of the $12.5 million cathedral extension in November last year, and the launch earlier this year of the $80 million St Andrew’s Village, which brings together St Andrew’s School and St Andrew’s Junior College onto one campus in Potong Pasir.

‘It’s about the importance of putting our hands and feet to our faith,’ says SACS’ chief executive John Suan, about the church’s work.

That spirit goes way back to 1913, when Dr Charlotte E. Ferguson-Davie, wife of the first Anglican bishop of Singapore, Mr James Ferguson-Davie, opened a clinic in Bencoolen Street to treat ailing women and children.

Her second clinic sprang up in Chinatown the following year and, in 1923, the church opened the 60-bed St Andrew’s Mission Hospital in Erskine Road.

It went on to open Singapore’s first orthopaedic hospital in 1939. St Andrew’s Community Hospital grew out of this.

Today, SACS carries all these legacies on.

Says Mr Gerard Ee, 57, chairman of the Medifund Advisory Council and a past president of the National Council for Social Service: ‘When I think of mental health, I think of the Anglican community services in one form or another.’

Among the centre’s rehabilitation counsellors is Mr Sebastian Seet, 41, a father of two. He says: ‘Most people are willing to do counselling but when it comes to mental disability, most don’t know how to handle it.’

Mr Seet, who was an Anglican pastor here for 11 years before he joined the centre, says: ‘I’ve since learnt that handling mental problems is easier than handling family conflicts, which are often too complicated to solve.’

Sailor Juma’at Habit, 52, the primary caregiver for his wife, Madam Junainah Mohammad Eusop, who is being treated for clinical depression at the centre, says: ‘My wife’s illness has become a real blessing, because her counsellors are showing me that I can learn and do so much more in life.’

Mr Ee adds: ‘The Anglicans have created a model for all to emulate in just a relatively short span of time, which is a great achievement when you consider that they are religious-based and so may not be able to touch every hardship in every community easily.’

That is not all. As of September, the church has also been making monthly trips to Batam to treat villagers in slums there, most of whom cannot afford even basic medical care.

The Batam Medical Outreach (BMO) programme arose after the church’s crisis mission response work in the Jogjakarta earthquake in the middle of this year.

Dr Joseph Thambiah, 47, BMO’s team leader and a senior consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the National University Hospital, says: ‘We don’t differentiate between the people we treat and we don’t openly state we are Christians.’

He adds: ‘We’ll probably do more good if we disenfranchise fewer people with a ?softly, softly’ approach, rather than hitting them over the head with the Bible.’

It is, he stresses, about planting deep roots and not a numbers game.

The congregation has come a long way from the 120-strong group of Church of England expatriates who worshipped here in 1826.

Still, church leaders estimate that the total congregation of ‘active Anglicans’ here number about 20,000, relatively tiny compared to other faiths here.

From the Census of Population 2000, there are a total of 119,000 Catholics living here, and Buddhists form the largest religious segment of all, with 1 million followers.

Dr Thambiah’s personal take on the modest crop of Anglicans here is this: ‘A healthy church is not necessarily one that grows by leaps and bounds. A healthy church is one that is true to the principles of scripture.’

As Archbishop Chew says: ‘It’s about embracing worldly things in a proper way. It’s not something esoteric.

‘When you’ve been loved by God to such an extent, you cannot not love in return. It’s like when a wife is loved by her husband, she will go the distance for her family.’

DBS Group Holdings’ chairman Koh Boon Hwee, 54, an old boy of St Andrew’s School, says: ‘I do think the Anglican community punches above its weight. Looking at them, they’re like Singapore ? you don’t have to be large to make a difference.’

Archbishop Chew likes to tell his flock, particularly the younger among them: ‘Receive your life well, pass it on well and when you pass it on, don’t make a mess of it.’

If recipients of their kindness over the years are anything to go by, the Anglican Church is well prepped to face the future.

Dr Thambiah says: ‘We don’t need the glory and we don’t want the glory. We just want to plant the seeds of goodness where we are.’

If you’d like to chip in with money or energy for the Anglican Church’s good causes, call 6781-6211 or e-mail for details.

‘The 150th anniversary has opened up even more hearts and minds’

Archbishop John Chew


Serving for 54 years
MR CHIN Tsun Bin, 86, has assisted the priests of St Andrew’s Cathedral so faithfully for 54 years that even priests sometimes ask him for advice in going about it.
‘I feel very embarrassed when higher men like them ask a humble man like me for help,’ says the rosy-cheeked grandfather, who is still working as a part-time accountant.

Currently the chief trainer of 20 servers, or priest assistants, he is also often called upon to emcee at ordinations of priests.

The first-generation Singaporean even got to shake Queen Elizabeth II’s hand in 1972, when she visited.

‘She said ‘good job’,’ he recalls.

It was early Church of England settlers - among them Stamford Raffles - who brought the faith here in the 1820s.

But it was only in 1856 that St Andrew’s Church Mission was set up, the starting point for the Anglican community as we know it.

Today, there are 25 parishes all over the island, and the congregation of 20,000 or so include such prominent Singaporeans as former deputy prime minister Tony Tan, Member of Parliament (Tanjong Pagar GRC) Indranee Thurai Rajah and Supreme Court judge Andrew Phang.



Home for the homeless

Why she sought help: This wiry woman became homeless two years ago. Her late mother’s flat was sold and the proceeds divided among her and her eight siblings. She could not afford her own home and bunked in with some of them. But she said their shabby treatment sent her out on the streets.

Her predicament: The former machine operator couldn’t hold a steady job for 30 years because she had injured her left leg badly after a fall and it would swell badly after just a few hours of standing.

Her panacea: St George’s Place Crisis Centre, which shelters the homeless, destitute and abused women and children. She has stayed there for the past six months, and the centre is helping her rent a government-subsidised one-room flat.

She says: ‘The counsellors here give me good words to live by. What has stuck in my mind and spurred me on are the words ‘I must win my own goals’. Before I came here, my leg hurt so much that I was stressed and couldn’t sleep. Now I sleep beautifully. They even found me a job as a cleaner in St Andrew’s Cathedral and I now earn $700 a month.’




Former nursing assistant at the Johns Hopkins cancer centre here and married mother of four. She is seen here with her husband (left) and her rehabilitation counsellor Sebastian Seet (right).

Why she sought help: After a painful fallout with her siblings, she fell into clinical depression for 15 years but neither she nor her family knew what it was. While she enjoyed her work, she would end every workday crying all the way home on the bus. In 2002, she quit because she felt she could no longer give her best.

Her predicament: She needed to take her medicine regularly, but wouldn’t do so and so had to be closely monitored.

Her panacea: She regained a sense of purpose at Simei Care Centre when she discovered her talent for painting on glass. Among other things, the centre uses creative therapy to build up its patients’ self-esteem. It has set up shops within the centre for patients to sell their wares. She now runs the centre’s trinket shop in Simei on weekdays, with help from her sailor husband, Mr Juma’at Habit, 52.

She says: ‘When the centre first displayed my art pieces in the shop, I was so happy. I hadn’t felt like that in years. We’ve sold thousands of dollars’ worth of my art and for every $10 sold, the centre gives me $6. But I usually refuse to take it, because they have given me so much already. Everyone here cares. I walk in and people call out my name from the ground floor to the fourth floor.’



Learning to live, GRACE LAUDE, 44
Filipino expatriate housewife and mother of four boys.

Why she sought help: Her eldest son, Paolo (right, with his Mum), 17, is autistic. He has the mind of a five-year-old, can hardly talk and will be able to do only the simplest tasks for the rest of his life. She used to be so embarrassed by him, she would hide him from her friends and family, much to the chagrin of her husband, Mr John David, 43, a civil engineer working in South Korea.

Her predicament: Having to keep an eye on Paolo every waking minute because he was too old to be admitted to special schools.

Her panacea: St Andrew’s Autism Centre, which opened in July and takes in autistic people aged between 13 and 60. Paolo has been there since August and she pays $350 a month.

She says: ‘He has improved tremendously at the centre. He’s so much more independent that I can actually have some time to myself. In October, I was shocked and so happy that he could cook instant noodles and use the microwave at home. The centre has a kitchen and beds to reinforce his life skills, unlike his school in the Philippines, which could afford to teach only with pictures.

He has even learnt some social graces, like saying ‘sorry’ if he startles members of the public and ‘thank you’. It’s a big jump in his self-esteem.’


Stroke survivor finds strength, LAI HIN SENG, 68
Stroke survivor and a former sales and marketing manager at Canon.

Why he sought help: The stroke in 1994 left him with slurred speech and weakened limbs. He also had difficulty balancing himself. His doctors said the only way he could get some quality of life back would be to stay active to improve his blood circulation.

His predicament: His wife and maid help him get about at home, but he needed to go to a place where he could exercise and mingle socially every day for the rest of his life.

His panacea: The day rehabilitation centre at St Andrew’s Community Hospital, where elderly folk like him can do physiotherapy, gym exercises and keep their mind active with games and chats with fellow patients and staff.

He is the hospital’s longest-staying day-care rehabilitation patient. He joined when it was first set up in 1994. He pays the full rate of $24 a day for its services.

He says: ‘The staff here are approachable and are always on hand to help and give you proper guidance. They even let my three-year-old grandson spend time here with me.

There are volunteers who come by and play Scrabble with us and take us on outings to, say, Sentosa.

I fractured my left arm after I slipped in the shower at home last year, but thanks to the care and exercise at this centre, my arm is back to normal and no longer hurts.’


Where to get help

YOU may find these bright spots on the Singapore Anglican Community Services spectrum worth checking out:


Level 10, St Andrew’s Community Hospital, 8 Simei Street 3, Tel:6586-1001, E-mail:

What it is: It takes in autism sufferers aged between 13 and 60, and is big on handy hands-on lessons. It will move permanently to bigger premises at 1 Elliot Road in 2008.


20 Buangkok View, Block 4, Buangkok Green Medical Park, Tel:6386-9338, E-mail:

What it is: A long-standing centre for mental recovery which operates like a clubhouse to sharpen residents’ social skills by getting them to maintain it. It moved to its present 150-bed home in November 2002. It also helps residents find jobs, permanent shelter and regularly follows up with ex-residents to help them cope better with normal life.


1 Francis Thomas Drive 02-05/07, Tel:6282-1552, E-mail:

What it is: A training and resource centre for caregivers, counsellors and people who need help to heal.


10 Simei Street 3, Tel:6781-8113, E-mail:

What it is: An epitome of compassionate care, with patients encouraged to run test-bed businesses to give them a sense of purpose. It can take 120 residents and 150 day-care patients.


Level 1, St Andrew’s Community Hospital, 8 Simei Street 3, Tel:6586-1000, E-mail:

What it is: An eldercare centre with a gym, games and resting areas to keep the aged fit and lucid for about $24 a person a day.



What it is: A temporary shelter for abuse victims, financially stricken families and abused women and children. Residents pay about $125 a month each. Their stays are reviewed every three months. For its residents’ safety, its address and telephone number cannot be published.

Copyright © 2006 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.


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