Bishophood not a prize to be won but a cup to be drunk, says Bishop Rennis Ponniah as he prepares handover
by Tan Huey Ying // September 23, 2020, 2:07 pm
Bishop Rennis with his wife, Amir, who has been ministering alongside him in a lay capacity for over 30 years. Photo courtesy of The Anglican Diocese of Singapore.
“I leave a position, but I do not leave the community of God’s people,” said Rev Rennis Ponniah, the ninth Anglican Bishop of Singapore.
Rev Rennis stepped down from office on September 17, 2020, and is succeeded by Rev Dr Titus Chung who will be installed at a Consecration Service on October 18.
“I leave a position, but I do not leave the community of God’s people.”
Rev Rennis told Salt&Light that he is preparing for a new season where he can concentrate on playing the role of a “spiritual father” to his three-generation family and the Church at large.
The father of four, who has three young grandchildren, intends to continue mentoring Christian leaders while preaching and teaching the Word.
“I have ended an important leg in the race, but my wife and I continue to run with all of God’s people in a different lane and hopefully at a different pace!”
Sporting his trademark salt-and-pepper moustache, Rev Rennis cuts a gentle and fatherly figure. But his easy-going manner belies the weight of responsibility he carries as the Bishop of the Diocese of Singapore.
“It is the cup of costly sacrifice. Yet it contains many hidden and lasting joys.”
The Diocese of Singapore is responsible, not just for the governance, direction and pastoral care of the 27 Anglican parishes in Singapore with over 90 clergy, but also for the Anglican work done in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and Nepal.
At least one visit to each country is required every year.
It is not an easy role and Rev Rennis credits the fulfilment of his responsibilities to the grace of God.
“Being a bishop is not a prize to be won, but a cup to be drunk,” he said, describing his term as the “cup” that Jesus also drank from as described in Matthew 20:22. It is a verse that he holds dear.
“It is the cup of costly sacrifice. Yet the cup contains many hidden and lasting joys. My experience over these eight years bears witness that this is true.
“My part was mainly in nurturing pastors and lay leaders to pursue the advance of Christ’s kingdom in our generation, with all its challenges,” said Rev Rennis.
What he treasures most, however, is seeing the power of the Gospel transform lives and “seed” new communities that bear witness to the saving love of God in Christ Jesus.
Key to fulfilling the responsibility of his position was his devotional life with God (Zechariah 3:7) which he sought to prioritise and guard. “The Lord has been my daily strength and constant source of joy,” he said.
It was not only God’s divine grace and strength, but the help of what he terms “spiritual allies”, who helped him fulfil his calling (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Spiritual allies believe in you, they want God’s best for you and they will do anything in their power to assist you in your God-given tasks, he said. They are given by the grace of God,.
Foremost amongst his “spiritual allies” is his wife, Amir, who has been by his side all this while.
“She has been shepherding, not only our family of four children, but also the flock of God through the gifts God gave her of intercession, hospitality and personalised pastoral care,” said Rev Rennis. Amir does not hold any official role but ministers actively to the wives of clergymen and in the women’s ministry, amongst other things.
“I thank the Lord immensely for her and the bunch of spiritual allies He has given me for the journey and the vocation.”
Unchanging Gospel for ever-changing world
Rev Rennis’ retirement takes place at a time of global uncertainty.
While he recognises that the social landscape in Singapore has already been changing over the past decade, mainly driven by technological changes, world trends and political events, this COVID-19 pandemic is different, he noted.
The global uncertainty calls for a ”new quality of shepherding” by pastors, leaders and parents, said the Bishop.
Perhaps it is not exaggerated to see COVID-19 from the perspective of the “breaking of the seals”, the “sounding of the trumpets” and the “pouring out of the bowls” in the book of Revelation, he said.
He broached the same issue at the Thanksgiving service held on August 30 to mark his completion of term as Bishop of Singapore.
“The Church, like our Lord, must show solidarity in pain,” he said.
“Much of the world is suffering, anxious and in disarray. The Church must enter the pain, find strength not to just survive, but to serve the needs of others and bring hope in the midst of the bleakness.
“But our great strength lies in an unchanging Gospel for an ever-changing world,” he affirmed, saying that this calls for a ”new quality of shepherding” by pastors, leaders and parents.
Holy Spirit revival
It is the “winsome authenticity” of believers who hold fast to the truth of the Gospel and live it out in our everyday lives that will be of critical importance, said Rev Rennis, pointing out that the “structures and rhythms” of church life have been upended by the pandemic.
“We cry out for a revival that will set the Church ablaze and see the nations transformed in social righteousness.”
Referring to 2019’s historic Celebration Of Hope (COH) where more than 100,000 people heard testimonies and messages of the Gospel at the National Stadium, he said: “I believe the Lord used COH to prepare the Church in Singapore for the challenges of COVID-19.”
As one of the key drivers behind the event, Rev Rennis explained that, while COH was “pitched” as “personal evangelism on a mass scale”, the renewed thrust on personal witness was a timely one.
The event built a stronger bond of unity amongst churches in Singapore and “augmented the infrastructure of the body of Christ”.
“Hope in Christ shines more brightly in bleak times,” he said. “We cry out for a Holy Spirit-engendered revival that will set the Church ablaze with the glory of God and the nations transformed in social righteousness (Isaiah 60:1-3).”
Rev Rennis summed up his time in office with gratitude: “The completion of my work as Diocesan bishop is not a personal accomplishment but a celebration of God’s unfailing grace, and a thanksgiving for the team He has given me.
“All glory be to the Lord God Almighty!”