From Dependence to Self-Support

by Thien Thau Khiong

1962 was an important year for the Anglican Church and the people of the British Colony of North Borneo. For the Church it was a momentous year when on 24th July it became the new Diocese of Jesselton. (This was changed to Diocese of Sabah in 1968). Its creation has entrusted it with a familiar command to launch out afresh into independent existence.

For the people it was a year of political awakening. “Independence through Malaysia’’ was the topic of discussion of the day. For the first time it was realized that political independence from the British was more than a dream; it was a distinct possibility. A year later on 31st August 1963, the British Colony of North Borneo changed its name to Sabah and joined the Federation of Malaysia as an independent state. Political independence has effectively transferred the administration and the destiny of the state from the British to the Malaysians, more particularly the Sabahans. Suddenly or gradually, Sabahans found themselves assuming important positions. They were ready and more than competent to take over. The new Diocese in a less fortunate position. It did not have the necessary personnel to replace the missionaries. It had to start recruiting suitable candidates for training and bid its time.

The New Diocese in 1962
“In faith launch out and……… let down the nets and bring safely to the shore that great multitude of fishes………. ”exhorted the Bishop of Borneo, the Rt. Rev. Nigel E. Cornwall in concluding his address at the inauguration of the new Diocese of Jesselton. To appreciate the growth that has taken place over the last 25 years, it is necessary to look at the position of the church in 1962.

The new Diocese had only 12 priests of whom only one, the Rev. Canon Chin Phu Yin was a local. The others were from England 5, Australia 2 and one each from the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sarawak. For the first 10 years from 1962 to 1972, even the Bishop’s secretary was from overseas, It was this complete dependence on overseas missionaries that led Bishop James Wong to remind the 2nd Diocesan Council that ‘‘After 75 years (since 1888)……….the Anglican Church in Sabah was still a mission church.”

Dependence on missionaries inevitably meant dependence on financial support from Missionary Societies to pay the bulk of the salaries. In 1963 this amounted to $64,889.70. Local church contributions for the same year amounted to only $43,300 of which $33,200 or 77% came from Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan while Kudat, with most of its revenue coming from the coconut estates, contributed $4,400 or 10%. The contribution from Tawau was a real surprise of only $1,250. At that time, the Sabah Anglican Interior Mission needed $20,000 to $25,000 a year to cover recurring expenditure. More would be required for new buildings.

Thus it can be seen that the new Diocese was created to assume an independent existence yet it was almost wholly dependent on manpower and financial support from overseas. One thing very special it was assured of was the prayer support of the whole Anglican Communion. The task ahead was daunting but the challenge was inviting Ecclesiastical independence provides a unique opportunity for developing the local ordained ministry as well as the total ministry of the church involving both lay and the ordained.

The Task Ahead
One of the immediate tasks was to find a way to reduce the heavy dependence on manpower and finance from outside and increase local commitment towards self-support. Our Lord Jesus advises us “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33).

Lay Training
The first step towards self-support was appropriately to help the lay people to acquire a deeper knowledge of the Gospel and church doctrine in order to equip them with the necessary knowledge to fulfill their lay ministry and witness. Training would also help the laity to understand stewardship and how to discharge their Christian duties intelligently and regularly. Throughout the last 25 years lay training has been an important ongoing programe.

In 1980 a Bible Training Centre was established in Tongod to provide training for the lay readers and catechists in the Interior. A Diocesan Lay Training Program worked out jointly between the Diocese of Sabah and Singapore is also available. This is a very comprehensive program in three parts leading to the Diploma of Ministry. Other activities which help to provide opportunities for spiritual growth are the annual youth camp, weekly Bible study groups, evangelistic campaigns mission to mention just a few.

In September 1986, a Diocesan Seminar in Lay Ministry and Lay Leadership was held in Kota Kinabalu over two days. 55 people from the major parishes attended. The seminar was so useful in helping the participants to understand their role and responsibilities in the church that it was agreed unanimously to hold another one as a follow-up in Tawau in 1987.

Lay training has been instrumental in preparing the laity to assume an increasingly active role in the total ministry of the church. The most important and rewarding result must be viewed in the number of young people who have offered themselves for the ordained ministry and the way the eight non-stipendiary priests have answered the call to serve the Lord.

While it was recognized that the Diocese must begin to build up a local ministry it was obvious that this could only be achieved as a long-term objective. For the immediate need the Diocese must continue to “import” missionaries until suitable locals could be found and trained to take over. Indeed the recruitment of missionaries was intensified from 1962 to 1970 and was only brought to an end when the State Government under the Chief Ministership of Tun Mustapha had made it impossible to approve or renew work permits for missionaries.

Supplementary Priests
Bishop Koh clearly saw the need for supplementary priests not only to augment the full-time clergy but, more importantly, as an encouragement for senior Christians with independent means to exercise their special gifts as non-stipendiary priests. A Rule for Ordination in Special Cases was introduced and passed by the 4th Diocesan Council on 25th April 1968. Subsequent events soon proved the wisdom and foresight of having this rule.

In 1971 the Diocese faced a crisis in staffing. Missionaries whose work permits were not renewed had to leave. Out of the 17 full time priests only 10 were left to hold the fort. The Diocese was also without a Bishop as Bishop Koh had left to become the Bishop of West Malaysia in April 1970. To carry on, work had to be shared. Ven Archie Briggs found himself doing the functions of half a dozen men.

Besides being Vicar General, he was Archdeacon, Dean of All Saints’ Cathedral, Priest-in-charge of Christ Church, Likas, Education Secretary, Warden of Lay Readers, Bishop’s Examining Chaplain……….! The Diocese was in desperate need of more men to share the heavy burden. This was the time to have supplementary priests ‘‘as a temporary measure to meet an emergency staffing situation.” Mr. Lee Syn Hon, Mr. Kok Yu Kong from Kota Kinabalu and Mr. Fu Yun Fatt from Sandakan responded the call to serve the Diocese in its hour of need and were ordained Deacons on 28th November 1971 and non-stipendiary priests the following year.

Over the next ten years, five more senior Christians were ordained non-stipendiary priests by Bishop Chhoa. They were Mr. Martin Yuen, Mr. Tsen Ket Yuk, Mr. Yap Foh Yu, Mr. Liew That Lip and Mr. James Lo Shau Kee. Of the eight, four had passed away. The other four, Rev. Canon Lee Syn Hon, Rev. Canon Martin Yuen, Rev. Yap Foh Yu and Rev. James Lo Shau Kee are still very active.

It should be mentioned that two of the non-stipendiary priests have in fact been serving the church full time. Rev. Canon Martin Yuen was Priest-in-Charge of St. James’ Church, Kudat before his present post as Priest-in-Charge of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Sandakan. Rev. James Lo Shau Kee has been serving as Priest-in-Charge of St. Paul’s Church, Beaufort.

Diocesan Recruitment Board
The selection of suitable candidates for the ministry requires careful consideration. Bishop Koh cautioned wisely that in choosing the ordinands, we would in fact be choosing our future Rectors some of whom would become our “Bishop, Archdeacon, Dean and Canons.” A Recruitment Committee was set up in each of the 3 main towns of Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau in 1964 and report to the Diocesan Recruitment Board. Today, the Diocesan Selection Committee is performing this function by interviewing the candidates and reviewing the specific needs of the Diocese and determining where such training is available.

Local Ordained Ministry
The first local boy to offer for training for the ordained ministry was Yong Ping Chung. He was sent to Newfoundland, Canada in 1964. Upon completion of his degree in Arts and Theology at the Memorial University College and Queen’s College respectively, he was ordained Deacon in 1969 and Priest in 1970.

It is interesting to note that Yong Ping Chung was a lay delegate from Tawau at the inauguration of the new Diocese of Jesselton on 24th July 1962 and was elected a member of the Standing Committee at the first Diocesan Council meeting the next day. He was still a student in Form 4 at All Saints’ School when he became the youngest member ever elected to Standing Committee. His Principal, Rev. Canon Edward C. W. Rusted was also a member of the Standing Committee. Today, Yong Ping Chung is the Archdeacon of Sabah, a Canon of the Cathedral and a man who was present at those precise historical moments. He is a living part of the history of the Diocese. His younger brother Very Rev. Yong Chen Fah is the Dean of All Saints’ Cathedral, Kota Kinabalu.

The next ordinand was Rev. Lawrence Lawin who came from Sarawak to help to pioneer the work of the Sabah Anglican Mission along the Labuk River in the early days. He and Rev. Yong Ping Chung were ordained priests on 20th March 1970.

The next one to enter the ministry was Simon Chin, the son of the late Rev. Canon Chin Phu Yin. After completing his study in Theology at St. John’s College, Morpeth, Australia, he was ordained Deacon on 18th February 1970 and priested the following year. It should be noted that the father, the late Rev. Canon Chin Phu Yin who was trained in the old divinity school of Holy Way in Kudat was ordained priest on 2nd April 1927. He was the last local priest and the Church had to wait for 43 years to see a rebirth of the local ordained ministry.

The local ordained ministry had made a promising start with 3 full time priests in two years. Everything possible must be done to ensure its growth. An unexpected help came from the State in 1971 when missionaries were asked to leave upon expiry of their annual work permits. The result was an abrupt end to dependence on overseas missionaries. The Diocese must now produce its workers from within. The choice was clear. The church members reacted positively. Three senior members immediately offered themselves to serve as non-stipendiary priests. They were followed by 5 more in the next 10 years.

A string of young people also came forward to offer to be trained for the ministry. Between 1974 and 1978 Rev. Yong Chen Fah, Rev. John Seet and Rev. Herbert Tong were ordained. From 1980 to June 1987 ten more young men have also been ordained by Bishop Chhoa. They are: –

Rev. William Vun
Rev. Fred David
Rev. Albert Vun
Rev. Robert Vun
Rev. Koo Tuk Su
Rev. Moses Chin
Rev. John Williams
Rev. Daniel Vun
Rev. John Loh
Rev. Victor Leong 

It is appropriate to mention that Rev. Yong Chen Fah and Rev. Koo Tuk Su went for their university education and theological training at their own expenses. Upon completion of their studies, they offered themselves and accepted by Bishop Chhoa to serve the Lord in the Diocese.

The Diocese is now served by a staff of 37 of whom 34 are Malaysians and the remaining 3 Australians. Below is a breakdown of the staff: –

1          Bishop
16        Priest
4          Non-Stipendiary Priest
1          Deacon
9          Parish workers
6          Catechists



One of the Australians is a priest, Rev. Gordon Boughton, the remaining two are Parish Workers.

In 1962, there was only one local priest. Now 25 years later, the position is completely reversed, there is only one missionary priest in the Diocese.

Refresher Course For Clergy
Though still short of manpower, Bishop Luke Chhoa is not the man to lose sight of the need for clergy and church workers to get away. Each year one or two clergy will take a refresher course lasting from three to nine months to acquire new ideas, new visions and new knowledge. During their absence, the lay people take over certain functions as part of the lay ministry.

Diocesan Salary Scheme
“A worker should be given what he needs” (Matt. 10:10)

The existing salary scheme for local clergy was not only unsatisfactory but it placed an unfair challenge to young people to become priests or church workers on a salary that could not provide them a reasonable living. The late Rev. Canon Chin Phu Yin was ordained priest in 1927. In 1962, after 35 years of long and faithful service, his salary was still $255 a month. Admittedly the cost of living was very much lower in those days, it was obvious that a more reasonable salary scheme was needed for the new Diocese.

A Salary Commission was appointed by the 3rd Diocesan Council in April 1966 to make recommendations to Standing Committee. After several adjustments by both Standing Committee and the Diocesan Council, a new Diocesan Salary Scheme was passed and approved for implementation on 1st July 1968.

The 1968 Diocesan Salary Scheme was very comprehensive. Unfortunately, it had to be withdrawn at the 5th Diocesan Council in 1970 and replaced by one that drastically lowered both the entry point and the maximum in the scale. This retrogressive step was unfortunate but necessary. The Diocese simply did not have the necessary financial resource from within to implement the new scheme. It was another reminder that Church members must make greater financial commitment to enable the Diocese to achieve self-support in manpower and finance.

The Revised Diocesan Salary Scheme was also revised periodically to take into consideration the rising cost of living over the years. Such adjustments were only interim measures and were not sufficient to keep pace with inflation. By early eighties, it was truly felt that a thorough review of the salary structure was needed and the initiative came from Mr. Albert Teh of Tawau.

A Salary Commission was appointed in 1983 with Mr. Peter Pang as Chairman. The terms of reference were: –

  1. to review the existing salary scheme and conditions of service and find out its weaknesses;
  2. to formulate a new salary structure, if necessary, that will be adequate to keep up with the present cost of living; and
  3. to propose the necessary revisions in the light of the resources of the Diocese and the sacrificial nature of the vocation of priests, parish workers and catechists.

The revision of salary scheme coincided with the introduction of a new Diocesan Assessment scheme which requires a much higher annual contribution from every parish and mission district. A year later a much-improved Diocesan salary was recommended and approved for implementation on 1st January 1985.

Finance: Stewardship
For nearly 75 years since the arrival of Rev. W. H. Elton in Sandakan in 1888, the Church had been supported almost entirely from outside. The new Diocese must now assume the responsibility of becoming self-supporting. At the 2nd Diocesan Council in April 1964, it was unanimously agreed to continue the Stewardship Campaign that had been started by the various parishes. Bishop Koh continued to emphasize the importance of helping the laity to understand stewardship. He made it abundantly clear that the Diocese must first turn to its members for financial support before it sought subsidy, not outright grant from outside. He even invited Ven. Eric A. Buchan, an expert in stewardship from our Companion Diocese of Coventry to come in early 1968 to teach Christian stewardship in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau.

At the 10th Diocesan Council meeting in March 1980, a Stewardship Workshop was specifically organized to show both the delegates and clergy the actual use of parish statistics to ‘diagnose’ the strengths, weaknesses and problems of their church. One important message was that people would respond more positively to a specific need be it involving the giving of time, talent or money.

The teaching on stewardship has helped to prepare the way for greater commitment in giving and involvement in lay ministry. Although contribution to the Diocese grew from $43,300 in 1963 to $70,380 in 1969, it was still insufficient to meet the Diocesan commitment especially the new Diocesan salary scheme. The difficulty was partly the result of a smaller grant from USPG following the devaluation of sterling in November 1967. England was struggling for economic survival. USPG though trying its best to maintain the same level of support was unable even to “forecast the shape of the 1969 budget’’.

In the seventies, the non-renewal of work permits for missionaries also marked the beginning of increased financial responsibility for the local ordained ministry. The second half of the seventies saw the Church reaching out. More money was needed not only for the Diocese but also for the physical expansion of a number of churches. St. Michael’s Sandakan was planning a daughter Church costing over $1,000,000; St. Paul’s Beaufort, a Parish Hall; St. Patrick’s Tawau, a new Rectory and a Parish Hall; All Saints’ Cathedral, Kota Kinabalu, Parish Hall extension and a daughter Church……….to name just a few. To enable the parishes to finance their projects, the Diocese decided not to increase the Diocesan Assessment for three years from 1978 to 1980. So for a period of three years contributions to the Diocese remained at $95,150.00 a year.

Datuk R. G. Barrett’s challenge was another reason for not increasing the Diocesan Assessment. In 1978 St. Michael’s Sandakan was planning to build a daughter church. Datuk Barrett, a devout Christian and a successful businessman, wanted the parishioners to have a real daughter church that was brought into reality through genuine desire, efforts and love for God. On 19th October 1978, he presented his challenge to both St. Michael’s Parish and the Diocese to raise money for the daughter Church and the Sabah Anglican Interior Mission (SAIM). He promised to match a dollar for dollar raised by St. Michael’s for the daughter Church provided the Parish would also raise another 50 cents for SAIM. He also promised to match the 50 cents raised by St. Michael’s for SAIM provided all the other parishes combined would raise the same amount for SAIM. This was a real challenge to the whole Diocese and a significant factor in strengthening Christian commitment in stewardship. The challenge was met and the daughter Church was successfully completed. On 6th May 1984, it was consecrated the Church of the Good Shepherd. The Daughter Church Building Fund showed a handsome figure of $1,357,218.15 being raised and received.

Property Development
With so many projects being planned or under construction, it was inevitable that other means of generating fund be found. The Diocese has several valuable pieces of land situated in town areas. One of the responsibilities of the Land and Property Committee is to carry out feasibility study on the best utilization of the lands either for religious, educational, commercial or residential purpose. As a result of the recommendation of the Committee, a piece of land in Labuan was used to build shop lots on a joint venture with the developer. The Diocese provided the land, the developer the cost of construction. The Diocese retains one shop lot which yields a steady monthly rental. Two semi-detached houses were also built in Likas for rental.

Diocesan Assessment
A further step towards responsible giving was the introduction of a new formula for Diocesan Assessment passed by Diocesan Council in September 1983. The method is based on three basic Christian principles of:

1. Tithing
2.  Self-supporting
3. Sharing

Every church must contribute 10% as the parish tithe and 30% for self-supporting and sharing. This makes a total of 40% of the parish revenue to be contributed to the Diocese as assessment.

40% is a heavy commitment for any parish to contribute under any circumstances. But the principles of tithing, self-supporting and sharing have given every parish a meaningful commitment in giving.

In 1986 the total assessment was $346,731.04. Although this was an eightfold increase over 1963’s, it was still short of the $500,000 needed to cover the annual expenditure.

In a period of 25 years, the Diocese has managed to achieve a high degree of financial independence. In the last 15 years, under the able leadership of Bishop Chhoa, the Diocese has produced a strong core of local priests and parish workers supported by a growing band of dedicated lay people. The Diocese has indeed progressed from dependence to self-support through God’s grace.

For the wonderful and marvelous progress towards self-support over the last 25 years, let us remember the words of St. Paul in 1 Cor. 3:6

“I sowed the seed, Apollos watered the plant, but it was God who made the plant grow”.

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