Singapore is known for its national pastimes of eating, shopping, and queuing. Thanks to Crazy Rich Asians, the country is now known for lavish weddings and marriages to secret billionaires. (Read: The next Mormon get rich scheme.)
But now the island city-state can make another claim to fame. At a special stake meeting on January 20th and under the direction of stake president Jean-Luc Butel, Singapore’s only stake was entirely reorganized from 10 wards to 7, including Asia’s first young single adult (YSA) ward. There aren’t many YSA wards that can claim they encompass an entire country!
Second and Third Wards, which both encompass the entire country, remain unchanged, and eight wards have been discontinued, including Clementi (RIP!!!).
After the announcement, I spoke with President Butel who said the motivations for the changes were simple:
“We could go through many rational reasons to explain why we wanted to move from ten wards to seven wards, but these would all be about practicality, common sense, and the ‘mechanics’ of running a stake. All are valid, but it was simply a very clear prompting that to strengthen the stake we needed to strengthen the units, and to do so we needed fewer and larger units.”
Echoing President Butel, one of the stake counselors said during the special meeting that the boundary changes would hopefully relieve the pressure of those serving in multiple callings.
As for the YSA ward, President Butel said:
“We have a very large number of YSAs in the stake, but the majority have stopped coming to church. We felt it was time to have them organized differently. This is the creation of the first YSA ward in Asia. We know this will be a source of tremendous blessings for them and the stake. The response to these changes was very positive. We are very excited about the prospect for strength and growth for the stake.”
The newly called YSA bishop confirmed that there are over 400 young single adults in Singapore, but only a third regularly attend. The hope is that the best way forward is for them to be strengthened and supported by their peers.
This is not President Butel’s first stake reorganization. After being called in 2017, one of his first acts was to dissolve two expatriate wards. Not long ago, there were expat wards separated from local Singaporean wards. An individual could live directly across the street from a chapel, but still fall into a different ward boundary depending on where he or she was from. This is an arrangement that still exists in some countries, notably China.
Arguments behind the reasoning for the dissolution of expat wards are mostly based in conjecture and speculation, but one theory is that it was a logistical decision because expat schools operate on a different holiday/break period to Singaporean schools, making it challenging to organize events such as the annual Young Men’s camp out. (Because men’s adventure trips are much more important than stake unity, am I right?) Officially, the 2017 reorganization had nothing to do with dissolving the expatriate wards.
At the time of the first reorganization, President Butel shared his hopes for the Church in Singapore moving forward:
“We are at a turning point for our stake, united in faith and spirit. This new spirit of unity will be key in the months and years to come, making our stake a light for many new people who want to seek for truth and peace. We have an opportunity to make a difference and bring joy and happiness into the hearts of many through the message of the restored Gospel. It is a wonderful opportunity to be involved in. I pray that we will have the vision, wisdom, and courage to go after it!”
The feedback then was also positive, with some members expressing their excitement for integrating and appreciating the diversity in Singapore.
Sister Lee Choi Chan, a longtime member who has seen many changes in small country said:
“Change can create in us feelings of apprehension. However, when directed by the spirit of the Lord, we can embrace this new direction with the hope that all things are meant for our good. We can look ahead with fortitude and patience.
Singapore still has a very small population of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, only 3,367 out of the country’s 5.6 million people. The most popular religions, in order, are Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism. The demographic makeup of the country is roughly 72% Chinese followed by Malay and Indian.
Not only does this make for incredible food, but you can also catch a cab through the city and see mosques and temples of every kind. We are yet to have one of our own, but hopefully this series of new changes will lead the members in the right direction.
News of the first YSA ward in Asia is no doubt the most exciting result from the 2019 changes. Perhaps because as a global church that has seen massive growth in South America and Africa, we are excited for progress in Asia. The past few years alone have seen no less than four temples announced for Southeast Asia in Thailand, Cambodia, and two in the Philippines.
Young Single Adults in Singapore no doubt face a different set of circumstances compared to their North American counterparts. But before one gets cynical about YSA wards, set aside all of the painfully awkward memories or grievances of YSA wards in Utah and other Latter-day Saint-heavy areas and hope and pray that the YSAs of Singapore, who at present are majority less active, will embrace this opportunity to come back to church and find a sense of belonging and purpose. Those 400 young adults may be craving a sense of community and renewed faith. And now, with a landmark creation of a ward just for them in a far-flung, exotic locale, hopefully they are one step closer to coming home.