Going to church in Singapore

While many of you in the Americas were enjoying your Saturday night, I was walking into the stake center in Singapore for 9 a.m. services.  The first thing you should know is that going to church in the Singapore 1st Ward (which is the ward I stumbled into) was almost exactly like going in the United States.  The ward, like many you see in large financial centers around the world where expats tend to go, was filled with Americans.

This was my first time in Singapore.  It’s a fascinating city.  Anybody who wants to learn more about Singapore should read this Wikipedia entry.

The main impression I got is that Singapore is the kind of country many places would like to become.  It is multi-ethnic, but most people get along, despite lots of tension in the past.  It has a wide range of religions, but the only religion that appears to be banned is the Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they encourage conscientious objectors.  Singapore has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, and I didn’t see a single slum, even though I spent most of Sunday afternoon driving around the city.  The public transit system is incredible — buses and subways are everywhere.  And it is CLEAN and an incredibly well-planned city.   American’s urban planners should come to Singapore to learn how to create urban spaces that don’t feel crowded.  Singapore has one of the highest population densities in the world, yet there are vegetation and parks everywhere.  You never feel claustrophobic (which is how I often feel in concrete jungle cities like Houston or Atlanta).

Singaporeans are rightly proud of their city-state, which has grown from near-poverty to near universal wealth in just a few decades.  I heard several people say, “we have the best government in the world.”  When was the last time you heard people say that in the United States?

There’s not much I can surprise you with about going to church — as I say it was pretty similar to your typical ward in the United States.  Lots of expats, many of them working in the banking business, with large families and sometimes well-behaved kids.  One couple who sat in front of me had seven boys aged from about 18 to about 4.  I kept on thinking:  how do you afford to travel anywhere when you have to buy nine plane tickets?  But perhaps that family didn’t travel that much.

Singapore has its problems.  It is HOT — tropical weather all year-round.  I’m not sure I approve much of caning of drug addicts.  But if you ever get a chance to go to Asia, I heartily recommend visiting Singapore.  Next time I come I’ll go to another ward — there are apparently other English-language wards in town.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

9 thoughts on “Going to church in Singapore

  1. OOO Geoff, I am so jealous!!! Welcome back. What a great trip! I have never been there, but like Ben I sure would like to go there. Could you tell from the membership in the Singapore FIrst Ward about what percent were native Singaporeans?

  2. In the First Ward, which is the expat ward, less than 5 percent appear to be native Singaporeans. But there are eight other wards and branches, so I think total membership of native Singaporeans is pretty high. Please see the attached:

    http://www.lds.org.sg/sg_church_history.htm

    By the way, as I say, “expat wards” are pretty common in large financial centers like Singapore. Hong Kong has an “expat branch” and Sao Paulo and Mexico City have several “expat wards” populated largely by American, European and Australian expats. There is no such ward in Rio de Janeiro, where I lived for four years, and I can tell you that there are advantages and disadvantages of worshipping in an expat ward rather than in a local ward. My guess is that the intolerant in the Bloggernacle will be quick to judge people for attending an “expat ward” but there is something to be said for worshipping with people who are culturally more like you. There are, of course, language issues in many countries (not necessarily in Singapore, however, where everybody speaks English). If I lived in Singapore, I honestly don’t know whether I would prefer the expat ward or not, but I certainly wouldn’t condemn people for making that choice.

  3. Were there many non-Americans there? Frankfurt has an English ward, but my understanding is that a lot of the members there are not American (they’re from Africa, the Middle East, etc.)

  4. Tim, from what I saw 80 percent U.S. A few Australians and Brits and Europeans. We had an investigator from Rwanda. (Hurrah!!!).

  5. I’m curious… What (if any) translation services did you observe during the meetings?

    While living in Japan with my family about ten years ago, we frequently used real-time interpreters in sacrament meeting for visitors and/or expats who only spoke English and/or Portuguese. (We were far from Tokyo, where the “English” wards are located.) A common setup involved an interpreter sitting at the back of the chapel with a smallish transmitter (that worked kinda like a CB radio) and the target listeners hanging a small earphone receiver on one ear.

    When there were only one or two such visitors, the interpreter would sometimes just sit in the row behind the listeners and kinda whisper sweet nothings in their ears. ;-)

    When I visited the Shanghai Branch a couple of years back, I was fascinated to see five different two-person teams of interpreters (as I recall) spaced out across the back of the chapel. (…and yes, I’m using the word “chapel” somewhat loosely.) The main meeting was conducted in English — I suspect because the majority of the attendees were expats from the US or Australia — but there were significant enough constituencies from other parts of the world that significant effort was expended to provide translation.

    It was far and away the most “international” sacrament meeting I’ve ever attended.

    …followed by the most fascinating joint Priesthood/Relief Society meeting — a wonderful lesson about adapting the food storage program to the diet, available food and water sources, and living space constraints of Shanghai. :-)

  6. Taylor, there were no translators in the Singapore 1st ward because everybody in Singapore speaks English and most of the people in the ward were from English-speaking countries such as the US and Australia.

    I would be interested to know if there is translation for the Mandarin and/or Malay wards/branches in Singapore. My guess is no because people who want to speak English usually go to another ward. Singapore is unique because of the widespread knowledge of English.

  7. Very interesting. What a difference a couple thousand miles makes. ;-)

    Thanks for replying, Geoff!

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