St Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore (Exterior)

St Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Andrew's Cathedral
Location: Singapore
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 April 2016, 5:00pm

The building

A relic from Singapore's time as a British colonial possession, St Andrew's Cathedral was built in the mid-19th century in the Gothic Revival style. The whole cathedral is notable for being covered in a white plaster called Madras chunam, a curious mixture of shell lime, egg whites and coarse sugar, thinned with water in which coconut husks had steeped. This was a common building material of the time, as most of the workers who built the cathedral were Indian convicts. The north and south transepts, complete with Disney fairy tale-style pinnacles, were added in the 20th century and somewhat take away from the original style. The interior is extremely cluttered due to piecemeal reorderings of the fittings and additions of new technologies (air conditioning, fans, televisions and so forth). It could use a proper restoration.

The church

St Andrew's is surely one of the more active and vibrant cathedrals across all of the Anglican Communion, at least outside Africa. It hosts numerous ministries in multiple languages and is actively evangelizing across the borders of neighboring southeast Asian countries.

The neighborhood

The cathedral's precincts occupy an entire block directly across from the striking colonial-era city hall and supreme court, which now house the National Gallery of Singapore. Nearby are a cricket club, the famed Raffles Hotel and the Singaporean city-state's parliament.

The cast

The young minister, who wore a white cassock underneath a short white surplice without any scarf or stole, was not identified. He was assisted by a crucifier, who wore a white cassock-alb. The sermon was delivered by the Revd Peter Truong, a charismatic evangelist pastor from Hope Church, Brisbane, Australia, and the head of Peter Truong Ministries. He wore a lounge suit and necktie.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

There weren't more than 50 congregants scattered across the nave when I arrived and took a seat near the front. By the end of the recessional, when I departed, there were easily 100 or more of varying ages, nationalities and ethnicities.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher handed me a bulletin just before the short organ prelude, but I was never greeted or welcomed before or after evensong.

Was your pew comfortable?

The comfortable chair-style pews make you forget about the oppressive heat and humidity.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very social to the point where I just about told a group of older Chinese-speaking ladies behind me to lower their voices.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good evening and welcome to the 5.00pm evensong."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There were at least eight hymnals and other books, including a Bible, in various languages at each seat. None were used, as the entirety of the liturgy and hymns were displayed on closed-circuit televisions that were mounted every few rows of pews on pillars along the nave. The liturgy was nominally from the Diocese of Singapore Service Book, which is based on the Church of England's Book of Alternative Services.

What musical instruments were played?

The principal instrument was an organ, but an unidentified guitarist, who provided direction to the congregants, played from a standing position in front of the free-standing altar. A small choir of six, all wearing gowns and pennant-style stoles, sat in the first two rows of pews. They were rather inactive participants, though, despite this being a service of evensong.

Did anything distract you?

The chap who sat next to me when there were dozens of empty seats all about. I kept thinking he knew I was a Mystery Worshipper and was sent to keep me in line.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

While hardly Anglican-in-name-only like certain other national churches, Singapore is very low church. Their churchmanship is probably closer to Methodism and other non-conforming evangelical churches than that occupying the middle to higher end on the spectrum of worship. In the Apostles' Creed we said that we believe in the holy Christian church, the word "Christian" having been hand-printed in and the word "Catholic" stricken out. The two hymns ("All Heaven Declares" and "Worthy is the Lamb"), accompanied by the guitarist, were unfamiliar to my ears.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

35 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

3 – There was no mention anywhere in this excessively long sermon of this being the fifth Sunday in Easter. The visiting pastor's preaching style was reminiscent of those American television evangelists of the 1980s or 1990s.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was more a self-promotion of the Revd Peter Truong's healing ministry.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The diversity of St Andrew's, which hosts over a dozen services on a typical Sunday.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The sermon.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Congregants went their way, some through the transepts and others down the nave to the west front.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 – This is my second service at St Andrew's. The evangelical low churchmanship leaves me spiritually unfilled.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

I appreciated being in an Anglican house of worship that is growing and clearly vibrant, even if I didn't feel at home.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

How little Anglicanism there was – other than the canticles (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) – in this evensong.

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