City News talks to the founder of the Festival Of Praise, Rev. Dr. Canon James Wong, about the journey the event has taken to reach this milestone year.
Contributed By Glynisia Yeo
In 1985, a group of Singaporean and Indonesian Christians visited the land of Israel during the Feast of Tabernacles. The lively celebration in the capital of Jerusalem was marked by music, singing, dancing and the procession of banners, which inspired the team of Asian tourists.
Among them was Rev. Dr. Canon James Wong, whom God spoke to about organizing a similar event in Singapore. “As it was not practical to expect a large number of Singaporeans to go to Jerusalem to participate in this annual praise and worship event, I thought it would be a tremendous blessing if we could organize such a celebration for the churches in Singapore,” wrote Canon Wong in his book, The Charismatic Renewal In Singapore (2010).
What followed was the launch of the Festival Of Praise, a yearly Christian event that sees a gathering of believers in one place to worship Jesus Christ and pray for the nation of Singapore. The FOP has three objectives: To encourage Christians to pray for the government of Singapore and thank God for His blessings upon the nation, to unite the body of Christ, and thirdly, to hear the Word of God for the new season through anointed preaching by world-class speakers.
In the early days, the FOP was held in several locations, with its first celebration at the hall of St. Margaret’s Primary School. Thereafter, FOP moved to larger venues such as the Mandarin Hotel ballroom, the now-defunct Harbour Pavilion at the World Trade Centre, and eventually to the Singapore Indoor Stadium where it has since been, to accommodate the increasing number of people who came to the event each passing year.
For Canon Wong, who has attended every FOP event since its inception, the most memorable moment happened at the Hougang Stadium. “This was the first and only outdoor Festival Of Praise event we had, and I remember how it was jam-packed with people who were standing for more than two hours throughout the meeting. There were the regular banner procession and the tambourine dancers which livened up the atmosphere,” he reflects.
Back in the early years, one of the highlights in FOP was the interchurch banner competition in which participating churches had to come up with one banner design depicting that particular year’s theme. Toward the end of the service, a special banner procession would be held to showcase the creative and artistic talents of the churches, and a winner would be announced before the meeting ended.
The FOP also attracted Christians to serve. In the early 90s, Margaret Yap, a Christian from Malaysia, moved to Singapore and approached Canon Wong to ask if she could serve at the FOP through tambourine dance. For several years, Yap trained hundreds of dancers from different churches to prepare them for the FOP, and this familiar performance segment at the FOP was only discontinued after Yap moved to America.
Apart from celebrating Christ through music, song and dance, the FOP bridged many Singaporean believers from the different denominations. More than just congregating in a place to worship and hear the preaching of the Word, the unity among the believers was a dream that Canon Wong had always wanted to see come to pass in Singapore.
“One of my goals of the Festival Of Praise was to unite the body of Christ in Singapore and pray for blessing on our nation and its government. This is why we moved the FOP dates from October to August, to coincide with our National Day celebrations. And to a certain extent, I believe this has been achieved,” he says.
Today, more than 100 churches from different denominations and para-church organizations participate in the yearly event, making it the largest Christian gathering in Singapore today. Out of the FOP, the Love Singapore Network was also born. LSN’s purpose was to provide another avenue to unite the various churches in Singapore and intercede for the country’s needs.
Over the years, the FOP has grown from glory to glory in both scale and quality. Overseas speakers have graced the stage, including Mike MacIntosh, Ed Silvoso and Colin Dye, as well as celebrated Christian artistes like Bob Fitts, Don Moen, Delirious? and the Hillsong team.
To Canon Wong, “praise and worship are an important part of building the spiritual atmosphere.” As such, he also hopes to raise the quality of praise and worship music in the local church scene as well as inspire more local songwriters and singers taking the platform.
This being its 25th year right now, the FOP committee is looking to the younger generation of leaders to play a more active role in interchurch events, such as the FOP. Canon Wong encourages young Christian leaders to get more involved and share their ideas and insights in order to bring this annual event to the next level. He also hopes to see more songs coming out from local churches because he wants to raise the profile of the worship teams in Singapore.
“My heartbeat is that [even with the new generation of leaders coming in], the churches will always grow deeper in the Word of God. This is why I place a great emphasis on the preaching and teaching of the Word during the Festival Of Praise. This year, we have invited John Bevere to share a message on holiness and intimacy with Christ, to tie in with the theme of FOP this year: “The Pursuit Of His Presence.” At the end of the day, our relationship with God should lead us to pray for revival in Singapore,” Canon Wong shares.