In this issue of CHORUS, our theme centres on Anglicanism. This article features our new Diocesan Bishop The Right Rev Rennis Ponniah. He is the 9th Bishop, taking over the helm from The Right Rev Dr. John Chew. CHORUS’s Shirley and Serene had a chat with Bishop Rennis Ponniah on a sunny Monday morning. In the midst of the chat, we gleaned several lessons that all of us can surely apply in our lives.
by Serene Ng
Q: Good morning Bishop Ponniah, would you share with us when you entered the full time ministry and what prompted you to do so?
A: In God’s grace, I grew up in a practising Christian family. My mother diligently taught my two brothers and me the Psalms and we had daily family prayers. Growing up in Christ Church, I was a server then. One of my joys was making sure everything was in order for Holy Communion, including the polishing of the candle sticks. That’s how I came to appreciate the aesthetics and sacredness of corporate worship.
I was very active as a Lay person. Thoughts of entering the full time ministry did cross my mind. Thankfully, my father wasn’t against the idea. He advised me to complete my studies and acquire some working experience first. His reasoning was that I needed to know enough of the world in order to minister to it. I’m glad I heeded his advice.
After university, I worked as a social researcher with Housing Development Board (HDB). This opened my eyes to the different strata in Singapore. A few years later, I felt I needed to be trained theologically. Dr John Chew put me in touch with a school in Chicago. Together with my wife Amir and two very young children then, we moved to Chicago for almost a year and I studied at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. All these were accomplished while I was still employed with HDB. In fact, they granted me a year of no pay leave to study Theology. This was in itself a miracle and God’s favour!! (very animatedly)
Upon completion of my studies and further Diocesan training, I was ordained as a Deacon by Bishop Moses Tay in 1990.
Q: Share with us a personal lesson that you have learnt.
A: My wife and I had to undergo a major relocation with two children. On top of that, we had to adapt to a new culture too. I felt I wasn’t in charge of the situation and definitely not in top form. But the marvellous lesson I learned was that even though I was not coping well, God is still faithful. He gave me the inward grace and the wonderful support of my wife to keep going and complete the Course. Many people think that God can only use someone who is in top form. In reality, “our weakness is made perfect in His strength”. Our brokenness is the perfect opportunity to experience God more.
Q: In the midst of your busy schedule, how do you juggle family and ministry?
A: During school holidays, I would take my family for short trips to Malacca or Desaru. This is a family bonding time and a time of relaxation for us. Life may be packed, but through the busyness, God gives us a rhythm. This is a template taken from Genesis. For six days we work. On the seventh day, we rest, replenish and enjoy the gifts God has given. It’s a major test of faith. A clergy man models what it means to put God first. With the help of the Holy Spirit, pastors are to demonstrate trust in God.
For me personally, if I don’t keep my Sabbath, my family won’t know when I’m working and when I’m not. By keeping Sabbath, it’s a signal that I’m there for them.
My wife Amir concentrates on looking after the little “flock” at home, releasing me to care for the bigger “flock” of God’s people. The key word is releasing, not replacing. I still have a role to play in the family and that includes loving my wife and nurturing my children. Fathers definitely have important roles in the family! It is not easy to balance ‘ministry’ and ‘family’ but I find encouragement knowing that “in Christ all things hold together” (Col 1:17).
Q: Do you have any hobbies and how do you de-stress?
A: Sometimes I would go on retreats in Malaysia. Also, I love train rides, especially riding the train at night and seeing the stars. I play football with my children (daughters too!) and watch ‘who done its’ with the family.
Q: (Both smiling cheekily) Which football team do you support?
A: In Europe, it’s AC Milan. In England, it’s Tottenham Hotspurs. In fact, my children and I have great fun watching the football matches and supporting our respective teams.
Q: Bishop Rennis, thanks for sharing with us your personal and family life! On a more serious note, what do you think are the challenges the Anglican Church faces today and how do we respond?
A: I see three challenges facing us at this time:
Conviction in the clarity and authority of the Scripture. We have to help our members interpret the Word of God without manipulating or allowing cultures to stretch or undermine it.
Confidence in the power of the Gospel. Learning and acquiring the confidence to share about Christ with sensitivity and without arrogance in pluralistic Singapore as well as the Deaneries.
The cost of discipleship. The spirit of consumerism is so strong in Singapore. Many people are prone to “what suits me?” Instead, the question we all should be thinking about is “how can I serve?” – because God has so designed life that in serving Him there is true freedom. Serving God in a world of need is costly but so rewarding.
Serene is happily married to Lin Sian with two adorable daughters, Ruth and Natalie. She discovers that the joys in life often comprise of the simple things.
This article first appeared in Issue 7, April 2013 CHORUS Magazine.