THE church's services take place beneath two silver disco balls and next to a bar.Two nude gold mannequin torsos and several furry pink and purple couches have been pushed aside to make way for rows of foldable black chairs.It's not your traditional house of worship. This church holds its services in a Tanjong Pagar pub. And it welcomes gay people.The church has even gone as far as to say that homosexuality is not a sin.
This makes Free Community Church probably the only one in Singapore to accept homosexuality. Although mainstream churches do accept gay worshippers, their stand on homosexuality is that it is wrong. (See related report.) Said Mrs Susan Tang, a vice-chairman on the church's council: 'We have a congregation of about 50 people, of whom about 75 to 80 per cent are gay. 'Our stand is that homosexuality is not a sin, and we welcome gay people to come and worship.' A check on the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority of Singapore website revealed that the Free Community Church is currently registered as a company. Its members said the church is striving to be accepted as a regular church, and not be labelled a gay church.
Said church-goer Peter Goh, 31, an R&D programmer: 'Our church welcomes gay people, but why should it be called a gay church? I would rather call us an all-inclusive church.' Mrs Tang herself is a straight 48-year-old housewife, who has been happily married for 20 years, and has three children. She is one of two vice-chairmen of the church council. There are about 10 members in the council. According to another member, a businessman in his 30s who gave his name only as Eugene, the church gives people an environment to work out the conflicts they may have about being gay and Christian. 'Many gay Christians choose to remain closeted in mainstream churches, for fear of getting blacklisted,' he said. Said another member, a 40-year-old financial engineer who gave his name only as Tianci: 'Many churches believe in 'accepting the sinner, but rejecting the sin'. 'But they expect you to change and become straight, or at least be celibate,' he added. Tianci revealed that the church was started about 1 1/2 years ago, when one of its original members was expelled from his church for being gay. He declined to give the name of the church.
With no place to worship, the original member gathered a few gay friends, and they began to meet weekly in one of their homes.When their number grew to about 10 to 15 in two months through word of mouth, they moved their place of worship to an art gallery.When they further expanded, they moved to the pub in April this year.But it won't be their permanent home. The church requested that the pub not be named.'The pub location is only temporary, we are still looking for a more suitable place to gather,' said Mr Goh. He added that the church had managed to rent both venues - the pub and the art gallery - as their members knew the owners of the premises.
The New Paper team attended a service on Sunday, after receiving an e-mail about the church from a mainstream Christian who was uncomfortable with the church. The e-mail had a link to the church's website, which gave its meeting venue and time. At first, we only had the address of the venue, so we were shocked to discover that it was actually a pub. There was no sign outside indicating there was a church service being held inside. But once we were seated, several friendly church members approached us on their own to make us feel welcome. And, once you got over the unusual surroundings, it seemed like any other church. There was Christian music playing, and several people in prayer.
JUST LIKE A REGULAR CHURCH
When the service began, it was just like any other service in regular churches. There were hymns, the Holy Communion, and a sermon given by a straight Christian counsellor. Despite its obvious differences in theology from mainstream churches, the Free Community Church, which does not belong to any denomination, says that it is a regular church like any other. But the 'gay factor' has drawn criticism for both the church and outside speakers who come to give talks to the congregation. 'Some of our speakers are high-profile in the religious world, so word gets out, and they come under lots of pressure from other Christian organisations not to be associated with us,' said Tianci. He added that the general misconception about the gay community has deepened the prejudice. 'Admittedly, some gays do behave irresponsibly. But we want our members to develop respectable lives,' he said. But the speakers are not deterred. Said the Christian counsellor, who declined to be named: 'These are fellow imperfect people, so I have no reason to reject them - it's not my job to condemn them.' And that effectively summarises the meaning of the church's name, FREE - First Realise Everyone is Equal. Church-goers say that the church's openness towards not just sexuality, but to all religions and church denominations, has attracted even a few Buddhists to attend the services regularly.Tianci added that the church has faced many struggles, and only wished to worship God in peace. When The New Paper visited the church's website again yesterday, the venue of its services had been removed.
- Additional reporting by TAN MAE LYNN