Between September 12 and 14, 2014, approximately 200 people participated in the Amplify Conference (Amplify). The theme of the Conference was ‘Renewal’. This is the sixth All-Asia-Pacific Open and Affirming Church + Life Conference that gathers diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex and queer persons, as well as straight-identifying allies (LGBTIQS) to share personal stories and learn more about intersecting issues of gender, sexuality and the Christian faith. Amplify began in Singapore in 2009 as a retreat for LGBTIQS persons who served in the music ministry in their own inclusive churches in Singapore and Malaysia. Consequently, Amplify grew in size and country representation as more relationships were forged with open and affirming churches and ministries around the region of South, Southeast and East Asia, and Australia. The conference has been held in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
This year, Amplify was hosted by Free Community Church, Singapore, and received clergy and non-clergy delegates from Australia, China (both mainland and Hong Kong), Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the USA. Keynote speakers included Bishop Yvette Flunder of the City of Refuge in San Francisco, USA, Rev. Elder Darlene Garner of the Metropolitan Community Churches and Rev. Dr. Yap Kim Hao, the Pastoral Advisor to the Free Community Church. The conference was also graced by the presence of Bishop Flunder’s spouse, ‘Mother’ Shirley Miller, Australian singer-songwriter Natasha Holmes, and Pastor Twanna Grause of New Jersey, USA.
In the late afternoon of Friday, September 12, Bishop Flunder and Elder Garner led a Pre-Conference Leadership workshop on developing communities on the margins. This was followed by a powerful presentation by Bishop Flunder on the evolutionary character of churches and the need to discern the role of God in movements and change. On Saturday, September 13, Rev. Yap delivered a stirring address that called for greater inclusivity of lesbian women and straight-identifying persons, a wider mission towards other vulnerable groups and the willingness for more radical theological explorations within affirming churches. Various concurrent workshops were held throughout the day. In the morning, Rev. Garner wove the theme of ‘new creation’ into issues of church renewal. Natasha Holmes discussed challenges of worship. Pastor Pauline Ong of Singapore led a discussion on emotional baggage from relationships, ministry conflicts and family entanglements. Malaysian-born Rev. Joe Pang who resides in Hong Kong spoke on communication skills for conflict resolution.
In the afternoon, Malaysian academic and theological activist Rev. Joseph N. Goh provided a rethinking of sex and sexuality as possibilities for deeper connection with God. Singaporean Pastor Gary Chan’s workshop examined how non-clergy Christians impact on cultures and communities. Rev. Miak Siew of Singapore facilitated a session on ways to develop healthy small groups. Malaysian-born Rev. Ngeo Boon Lin who lives and works in New York, USA, elucidated the historical development of the LGBTI movement, and its impact on theological and ecclesiastical discourses. The day ended with Bishop Flunder’s talk on the renewal of purpose and ministry, in which she emphasised the need for circles of friends who will support, encourage and also ensure the accountability of church leaders and congregants. On both evenings, small group discussions were held to allow participants to further reflect on talks, workshops and events. Similar opportunities were provided for the clergy. There were several praise and worship sessions, group musical presentations and solo performances throughout the conference.
On Sunday, September 14, a Sunday Service was held to bring Amplify 2014 to a close. In her sermon, Rev. Garner spoke of letting go, respect for difference, the need for dialogue and change, and the quest for new forms of doing church instead of merely resting on traditional ideas of ‘gay churches’. Unity in diversity among clergy and non-clergy was at its most evident during Communion when bread and grape juice were prayed over in Bahasa Indonesia, Cantonese, English, Mandarin and Tagalog before being shared. In a Post-Conference session on intersex persons after the service, Small Luk, an intersex activist and counsellor, spoke on her personal experiences and work.
My thanks to Rev. Miak Siew and Sam Li of Free Community Church for their assistance in this report.
© Joseph N. Goh | josephgoh [at] josephgoh [dot] org
An edited version of this article appears at http://www.fridae.asia/lifestyle/2014/10/06/12716.amplify-2014-all-asia-open-and-affirming-church-and-life-conference-in-singapore