Former Methodist Bishop Rev Yap Kim Hao passed away on 16 Nov 2017 at age of 88. Born in Port Dickson to a Hakka family in 1929, he has a fighting hakka spirit that made him a giant during the transition from colonial Christianity in the 60s to head the Methodist Church in Malaysia/Singapore as Bishop from 1968 to 1973, the liberal ecumenical movement of the Christian Conference of Asia 1973 to 1985. His compatriot, Anglican Bishop Chiu Ban It died in 2016. They went their separate ways in 1973.
When he retired from the Methodist Conference in Singapore in 1994, he was then effectively demoted to the role of an assistant pastor to a church that has changed from a bastion of western liberal colonial christianity to the evangelical and charismatic movement of the 70s and 80s. Christianity had changed as Singapore increasingly became the Antioch to Asia to preach the redeeming Gospel of Salvation. Rev Yap became a reminder of a prophetic voice of liberal social justice of the past.
By the mid 90s, the battle was seemingly lost. The narrative for Christian social services was taken over from the liberation movement in the 80s by the mega churches with their church without walls and social services initiatives. The ecumenical movement was curtailed by the withdrawal of the National Council of Churches Singapore from the Christian Conference of Asia. Everything was seemingly lost for the likes of Rev Yap who had spent 20 years to set up the framework of Singapore being the center of the liberal ecumenical movement with their HQ at the Methodist church in Toa Payoh Singapore. But Rev Yap kept on fighting and talking, and turned to being a champion of the GLBT community which he now became very well known for.
Ironically, Rev Yap’s involvement with the gay community which he was so vilified was not even mentioned in the very lenghty liberal CCA’s tribute to him after his death. The Methodist gave him only a three line tribute. They said that he is now promoted to glory but they never promoted him whilst he was living, nor mentioned the wake/service details. The fact the funeral services wasn’t conducted by the Methodists for one of their bishops is queer indeed.
When i visited the wake for Rev Yap, i saw him in my spirit with his wicked and cheeky smile, and wagging his finger at me. Surely I have been naughty again. He can’t tease you now said Susan his daughter, he can’t talk to you now. But really, Rev Yap was passing a torch to me, to continue writing, blogging which has stopped for some time.
Goodbye my friend and on many occasions my Sunday lunch time companion after church at Yangtze and Geylang. I could at times matched your intellect but never your heart of compassion and love. You have been a real pain but you intended it that way, provoking others to join you in a pilgrimage of justice and righteousness. Your legacy is in each one of us to bear witness to your inclusiveness and welcome to the wounded and marginalised. Goodbye and may we meet again in heaven’s coffee shop to have coffee again and perhaps a debate or two. There i can no longer escape your teasing….i will miss you. Till we meet again.