By The Reverend John E. William
“A parsonage and school were built and in 1911 the foundation stone of All Saints’ Church was laid, the first Priest being Revd. F W Leggat’’. Thus began the history of All Saints’ Church. The setting up of a school became the main mission strategy for the Diocese of Borneo.
The schools were set up with a dual purpose, that of providing education and for propagating the faith. It can be said that most converts were won through mission schools. It was the most significant contributing factor for the growth of All Saints’ Church. This was further enhanced by the setting up of more mission schools in the town. The teaching of the Christian religion as part of the school curriculum as well as the compulsory attendance at Chapel and school assemblies gave the church a captured audience. Many joined the church through the influence of mission schools. Why they became Christians, is a good question to ask. There is no doubt that some were truly converted through the message of Salvation but some joined the band wagon because it was to their advantage to be part of the establishment. It enhanced chances for preferment, either by getting scholarships or jobs with the Civil Service. It was common knowledge that Anglicans had a better chance of gaining admittance into mission schools.
WINDS OF CHANGE
With the taking over of the mission schools by the Education Department and the prohibition of teaching the Christian religion in schools (imposed in the 1970’s), the church had lost her chief means of spreading the faith. But even when it had the chance, she did not utilize it fully. So the number of Anglican Christians were not proportionate to the level of influence the church had through her mission schools. Mission activity had to come more directly from the church.
Up till the 1970’s, the number of Anglican Christians were small and to a large extent nominal. But significant changes took place after 1972. The major factor that contributed to a vigorous church growth from the period 1972-1985 must be attributed to the appointment of an Evangelical Bishop to the See of Sabah. Bishop Luke Chhoa spared no effort in encouraging Parish Missions where clear evangelistic messages were preached, calling for personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This, coupled with the mobilization of the laity to participate fully in ministry contributed to church growth. Great emphasis was given to evangelism both personal and revival type meetings. This brought about a vigorous campaign to propagate the faith and was achieved through the ‘Parish Mission’ strategy. Great emphasis on evangelism was placed at Diocesan Youth Camps and Women’s Conferences. Talks delivered were almost entirely evangelistic in nature.
The Bishop’s efforts were enhanced: by the appointment of The Reverend Yong Chen Fah, a graduate of the Evangelical Moore Theological College, in Sydney, to be Rector of All Saints’ Cathedral and later Dean. The appointment of a clergyman from a conservative evangelical college followed by a succession of like-minded curates, actively encouraged lay participation and continued to emphasize the need for evangelism. Bible studies, prayer meetings, training programs for Sunday School teachers or Parish Mission evangelism encouraged more lay people to be trained and participate in the church’s ministry, and thus contributed to church growth.
The political events of 1970 — 1976, where the Muslim dominated USNO was engaged in a concerted effort to persecute the church, saw the exodus of almost all expatriate priests and church workers. This made the church realize her need for locally trained clergy and the even greater need for lay involvement. From 1975 — 1980, the Cathedral and Christ Church, Likas (which was largely ministered by the Cathedral Staff) produced six ordinands. The message came across clearly, that the Sabah Diocese needed local clergy to man the diocese and the Cathedral is proud to have produced half the present clergy in this diocese. The phase of persecution drew many away from the Faith. Those who wanted to profess the Christian Faith had to do so at a cost. Christians no longer had a privileged status but would rather be at a disadvantage. The challenge of what it means to be a Christian became attractive to many people and contributed to church growth rather than decline.
So the first major factor contributing to church growth at the Cathedral Parish was the change in theology and ecclesiology spearheaded by the Bishop — who strategically sent his ordinands to solidly evangelical ‘colleges speed up the process of turning the diocese from an Anglo- Catholic to an evangelical one — and this change from the angle of church growth has been a good and welcomed one. Political events helped rather than hindered this process.
Other factors were the revitalizing of the Anglican Youth Fellowship from a mere social group much along the lines of the present YMCA to a group committed to Bible Study, prayer and mission outreach. This made the group a vital link in reaching out to young people and the present writer was converted through Anglican Youth Fellowship of the All Saints’ Cathedral. Apart from the Youth Fellowship, other groups were set up to achieve this aim like the Adults’ Fellowship to meet the needs of the different age groups. The Women’s Bible Study, the Men’s Fellowship and numerous other Bible Studies were set up. The church’s ministry gradually became the ministry of the whole people of God rather than just the priest. From a priest centred church, it evolved to become a church where the laity worked alongside the clergy to participate fully in the ministry.
After consolidating the work at the Cathedral, the next, step was to reach out and the Outreach Service Centre was set up to serve this purpose in 1977. It was manned by Miss Lily Chong and a team of lay volunteers. The centre carried out an intensive home visitation survey and set up a Youth Fellowship and Children’s Outreach Sunday Schools, which brought many into the church. The centre also had a Women’s Fellowship and an Adult Bible Study Groups and it is the men from this Adult Bible Study Group who faithfully come every Wednesday night to the Parish Prayer Meeting. The Service Centre has been one of the best and most far sighted project undertaken by the Cathedral and has borne much fruit as evidenced by the number of new Christians who now form a core group at the Cathedral. The work of the centre was to prepare the foundation for a daughter church. The vision to reach out culminated in the building of a daughter church in the Penampang area which was consecrated on June 1 1986. This is an extension of the Cathedral Ministry. With this project completed, the people of God at All Saints’ are looking out again to other areas of outreach: and the area mapped out for this is the Putatan-Lok Kawi areas and significantly, Miss Lily Chong, has just rejoined the Cathedral Staff and will start this work.
The Cathedral congregation continued to experience growth when some Indonesians decided to join the Cathedral congregation.
In March 1979, a group of 30 Toraja-Indonesian Christians approached the Rector, Rev. Yong Chen Fah for a place to worship at the Cathedral. Two weeks later, the Bahasa Service began in the Parish Hall, with 30-40 persons attending and by 1986, 400 were worshipping regularly. This growth is mainly due to the large influx of Indonesian migrant labour who already came from Christian background.
In recent times, the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades have played a significant role in reaching out to primary and secondary school students. The bulk of the sizable teenaged congregation has emerged from the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades.
Contributions have also been made by the New Life Committee – an Interchurch group committed to evangelism. Its main achievement is in presenting the Church as a common front thereby minimizing the once held view that the church is very divided.
In 1911, All Saints’ Church was built with the aim of reaching out to the people of Jesselton with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1959, the new church was built, three times larger to serve a larger congregation. In the 1970’s, the Cathedral was extended to now accommodate 1,150 people over three services on a Sunday morning. It is the vision of the Bishop that a new and splendid Cathedral be built to face the challenges of the years’ ahead. The church is convinced that she will grow as she continues to faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I would like to end this article by quoting two Englishmen – one, a priest-theologian and the other a layman. First, the Reverend Dr Peter Toon’s impressions after his visit to the Cathedral and the Diocese. ‘‘What sticks in my mind is this: The Church in Sabah expects to grow and also expects to have clergy who are well trained and deeply committed to our Lord’. And Mr. Barry Cumberland’s (former Head of French Department – Westminster School, London) – “It was wonderful to be part of the Cathedral and I shall never forget the kindness of so many people there both on the staff and in the congregation. It was good to feel a real part of the Christian community.
Living on the site of the Cathedral, I was able to see the enormous range of activities which took place almost every day of the week, whether it was worship, Bible Study, Young People’s Fellowship or the Boys’ Brigade. Just to see the enormous congregation at 7 o’clock in the morning for the first service of Holy Communion was moving in itself. I found it difficult at first being in church at that time in the morning – most Englishmen think 10 am is fairly early! But I soon became used to it. And once we reached that magnificent setting of the Gloria, I really felt the presence of God.”
The Church expects to grow! In order to achieve this, we are ready to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness so that we may be true to our Lord’s Commission to preach the Gospel and bring healing and wholeness to them as they allow Jesus Christ to reconstruct their lives and cause them to be ‘born-again’.