By Dean Yong Chen Fah
People and their decisions have direct influence on history. However, the history of the church has a third factor, and the most important of all the factors, that is, God himself and His purpose and plan for man in any particular place or event or a church, and the whole world. In the context of this, we need also to view this history in the context of the timelessness of God. Putting all these into this perspective, the era of 1970’s to 1980’s of All Saints’ Cathedral becomes one of the stories of God and His people in Kota Kinabalu and hopefully we shall learn more of our eternal Christ and His Kingdom from it.
Maintaining the Status Quo: –
When I came back from Sydney in late 1973, I was serving as a young curate under the supervision of Archdeacon Archie Briggs to whom I shall always be grateful. He was also the Dean of the Cathedral then. It was quite understandable at that time when the Diocese was facing shortage of priests and the Church in Sabah was undergoing some kind of persecution, the policy was to maintain the status quo. Under the circumstances, lots of parishioners were contemplating emigrating to Australia, Canada, England or even the United States of America and New Zealand. It was a time in the history of the church when people were so uncertain of their future, and their whereabouts. The Diocese as a whole had about 15,000 Anglicans with 5 full-time priests and one Bishop to serve the 21 congregations and 25 interior outposts.
At All Saints’ Cathedral, Archdeacon Archie Briggs has to be the Archdeacon as well as the full-time Dean and Priest in-charge of Christ Church, Likas. He was assisted by me and two non-stipendiary Priests, namely Revd. Lee Syn Hon and the late Revd. Kok Yu Kong. Under such circumstances, as a young curate, I had much to learn from the experienced Archdeacon Archie Briggs who had been in Sabah for more than 15 years both in the West Coast of Sabah and East Coast for various occasions on visits. We could just maintain the regular Sunday services in both the Cathedral and Christ Church, Likas. Every Sunday, after the 7.00 a.m. Sung Eucharist at the Cathedral, either Archdeacon Archie Briggs or myself would have to travel up to Likas to take the 8.00 a.m. English service. We maintained this until 1975 when the Bishop invited Revd Gordon Boughton to be Priest in-charge of Christ Church. In the meantime, Archdeacon Archie Briggs was asked to leave Sabah by Immigration Department in August 1975. So, the Bishop took over as the Acting Dean until 1st March 1984. However, the Bishop asked me to run the Cathedral with consultation with him, and at the same time appointed me to be Priest in-charge of Christ Church for the year 1975.
During these three years, 1974 – 1976, I concentrated myself on prayer, systematic teaching of the faith in the pulpit and other situations, encouraging the people to look to God rather than man (any man) and building a group of young people hoping that in the near future some of them would respond to the full-time ordained ministry.
As the Church faced pressures from outside and the lack of manpower and finance from within, the Lord used this situation to teach our people to respond to Him and His call positively. We began to see our church finance growing every year, and slowly but steadily young men and women responding to the ministry one by one.
From 1974 – 1976, we can also say that they were years of consolidation and taking stock with the Lord, the purpose to direct the Church in such a way so that it can stand on its own feet, but dependent on Him alone.
Years of Outreach: 1976
In August 1975, I attended a Church Growth Seminar in Port Dickson, West Malaysia conducted by Dr Mcgovern himself. It was in this seminar that I learnt the basic principle of church growth that is the church must grow outwards as well as inwards. Hence, the vision of building daughter churches in various localities around Kota Kinabalu came.
When I first spoke to the Bishop concerning the possibility of finding a piece of land in the Penampang area to build another church, he feared that there was not sufficient manpower to do the work. However, it has always been my understanding from the Bible that the manpower of the church is the whole church itself and not only the clergy. So, I always argued that when the church is built, there is and always will be manpower, provided the church trains itself for the service of the Lord. So, in 1976 I talked to the Bishop again for the second time. By the time I approached him the third time, he gave in to the idea of starting an outreach centre in Luyang. So, we went round the housing areas in Luyang and spotted a house ideal for outreach work and rented it for that purpose. Consequently, the Anglican Service Centre (or Outreach Centre) was opened after Easter in 1977. True enough, the Lord sent Miss Lily Chong back to us to start the outreach work in Luyang. It began with children work, youth and adult Bible study work. After three years, we began to see the fruits of this work.
While this outreach work was going on, negotiations were in hand to purchase a piece of land in Penampang area from a developer through Mr James Voon in 1978. It was negotiated to purchase one acre of land from a housing estate. This was not settled until November 1981 when the route for the high tension cables running across the land owned by the developer, was fixed by the government. At the end, the church was asked to purchase two acres of land facing the Housing Commission Land at a total cost of $250,000.00.
Meanwhile, after the State Election in April 1976, the ruling party, USNO, was overthrown and Berjaya, a multi-racial party with an emphasis on the freedom of religion and speech began to rule the State. This ended the so-called ‘Mustapha persecution’ on the Christian faith and Chinese culture. Such political climate under the Berjaya rule gave further impetus for the church to have a breathing space as well as to grow. One of the signs of the time was that on Easter Sunday morning during the 7.00 a.m. Sung Eucharist, our parishioners packed the church beyond the physical capacity of the church as a result of the election results the night before. It was the largest crowd I had ever seen since I came back to Kota Kinabalu. Since then, the congregation and finances of the Cathedral had been growing many folds.
In May 1977, we began our Chinese Youth Fellowship with fifteen members. Miss Patricia Liew and a small team of Chinese speaking youths began to pioneer this very neglected ministry among Chinese speaking youths. This is also the beginning of the change in our Chinese congregation which was attended by between 45-50 more elderly people. Today in 1985, our Chinese service at 9.00 a.m. is attended by more than 200 young and old people.
In January 1978, the Bishop appointed me to be the Rector of the Cathedral giving me a free hand to develop the Cathedral congregation. In 1979, the Lord clearly showed us that we need to depend on Him even more in our financial and manpower needs. So, it was the first time after many years of organizing the church bazaar annually on Easter Mondays that we abolished church bazaar as a means of financial support. Surprisingly, after we abolished the church bazaar, our church’s annual income increased even more than the amount we received annually from the church bazaar. It was indeed true what the Lord said, ‘‘He who honours me, I will honour”. In the meantime, the daughter church fund was unofficially started in 1978 with an average of $80,000.00 annually being added to the church fund for the purpose of building the daughter church. As the time passed, more and more parishioners began to catch on the vision of God that we need to build another church. This was confirmed by the fact that the present congregation in the 7.00 a.m. and 9.00 a.m. services are growing every week.
In March 1979, a group of 30 Toraja Indonesian Christians approached me for a place to worship at the Cathedral. Two weeks later, the Bahasa Service began in the Parish Hall with about 30-40 persons attending. By 1981, it has grown to over 200 persons in regular attendance.
It was also in 1979 that the first Parish Consultation was conducted to evaluate our parish ministry. As a result of this consultation, it really sparked off our lay ministry in the Cathedral with greater impetus for lay training. By the end of the 1970’s, we were able to draw between 60-80 lay people for various kinds of lay ministry as compared with about a handful in the early 1970’s.
Looking back, we can say that the 1970’s were years or decade of challenge and consolidation and laying foundation for greater ministry of the 80’s.
As we turned to the 80’s, we were ready for greater work and greater challenge for the Gospel and the Lord’s ministry.
I was given 6 months refresher course in Cambridge and during my length of stay in U.K., I was also given opportunity to study the ministry of great and small Cathedrals as well as a couple of parish ministry. While I was away, Archdeacon Newmarch came for 3 months to upkeep the ministry here. During my absence, the Parish Hall Extension Committee signed the agreement to extend the Hall preparing for more facilities for greater ministry. This was completed on August 31st 1981 to the Glory of God. With this extension, our Kindergarten is enlarged to 12 classrooms with a fully air-conditioned conference room in the name of the late Bishop Koh, and a library in memorial of the late Bishop C. L. Wong. The conference room has been a blessing to the Diocesan use as well as interchurch uses. Since 1984, the library has been gradually built up to become the best theological library in Sabah.
1982 was a year to remember for the Parish Mission in October. It was also a year of international participation when the Rector and Mr. Peter Pang were involved as Chairman and participant for the Southwell Diocese Partner-In-Mission Consultation. That year, the Parish Mission brought in more than 40 newly committed believers.
1983-1984 saw a further development in the Cathedral with the development of the daughter church as well as the building and completion of two semi-detached staff quarters beside the Chapel. While waiting for the building plans to be approved by the Town Council, the daughter church work was started with the Sunday School children outreach work in April 1980 while the Bible Study work for adults started when Revd Koo returned to serve here in 1982. That year also saw the beginning of Women Fellowship work. In 1985, the Women Fellowship in Penampang Daughter Church celebrated their third anniversary. So, by the time the church was completed in December 1985, the spiritual work of the Church of the Good Samaritan would be on a good foundation.
1984-1985 saw a greater emphasis on Home Bible Study and Family Devotion daily. Two more Home Bible Study groups were established in 1984, and in August 1985 at the family service, the Family Devotion movement was launched. A handbook to guide each family on home devotion was printed by the Diocese for sale and the Cathedral printed a Chorus book to accompany it. Also, in 1985 the monthly family service was started which gives more room for lay people to lead service and to share the Word of God with the congregation.
In conclusion, we see the 70’s as a decade of consolidation and laying systematic foundation for the 80’s. In the 80’s, we shall see the decade of great leap forward in lay ministry, spiritual and financial commitment in tithing, family spiritual life and a greater vision large enough to see beyond the city of Kota Kinabalu, the interior mission and ministering beyond our own denomination. We can assuredly say that as the Lord has taken us through the 70’s and half of the 80’s to greater height, we can move forward in the confidence of God to do all that the Lord demands us to fulfill for Him and for His glory. The next half of the 80’s will prepare us for greater things to come in the 90’s. Let us look up to Jesus who is our pioneer and perfecter of our faith and let us pray that the Lord’s love and mercy will abound in us evermore that He will find us faithful to His Gospel and His Task. Let us together give and not count the cost and labour and not seek for any reward, save that we do His will.