For more than 40 years, Reverend Kang Ho Soon has preached the message of inclusiveness.
He has welcomed homosexuals to his services, invited religious leaders from various faiths to speak to his Christian flock and reached out to prostitutes and migrant workers.
The Methodist preacher, who retired this month at the age of 65, said: “I’ve been open to friendship with anyone in any station or walk of life, from all religions.”
His retirement service at Paya Lebar Methodist Church on Nov 22 was testament to this.
Among the 1,000-strong crowd were Catholic nuns, a Taoist priest, imams, Sikhs and a representative from atheist group the Humanist Society Singapore.
Rev Kang, a 30-year member of the Inter-Religious Organisation Singapore (IRO), said he does not set out to change people but to “accept them for who they are and to be their friend”.
At 23, in his first role serving the Methodist Church as chaplain of Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) and pastor of the Barker Road Methodist Church, he gave his “full blessings” to a Muslim caretaker – known to him only as Madam Saminah – to hold Islamic classes in her living quarters at the church.
Their friendship blossomed and he would visit her and her family every Hari Raya. Her grown-up daughters were present at his retirement service.
Instead of pursuing an engineering degree, Rev Kang studied theology at Singapore Bible College and Trinity Theological College.
He spent a decade at Paya Lebar Methodist Church, five years at Wesley Church and 17 years at Kampong Kapor in Little India – his longest term. There he reached out to prostitutes and migrant workers in the community.
He said: “Everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, sex trade workers and migrant workers were welcome to attend our services at Kampong Kapor. If we don’t reach out to them, we end up neglecting them.”
He credits his openness to having spent his youth growing up in a kampung on the southern isle of Pulau Bukom.
There, he learnt Jawi, an Arabic alphabet for writing Malay. It was something his late father, a labourer from China, encouraged him to pick up so he could interact with his Malay peers.
Rev Kang is married to former St Andrew’s Junior College teacher Kang Yeok Lung, 65, and brought up his three children in the same way.
His elder son, 35, a deputy public prosecutor, has four children of his own. Rev Kang also has a 29-year-old son who works in the communications field and a 26-year-old daughter who is an officer at the Economic Development Board.
Another friend, Imam Habib Hassan of the Ba-Alwie Mosque, an IRO member, said Singapore needs more open-minded leaders like Rev Kang.
“One time he wasn’t well in hospital, I went to see him. He asked me to pray for him,” said Imam Habib. “We pray for each other… This is the spirit of inter-faith relations that he has been building up.”
Bishop Wee Boon Hup of the Methodist Church Singapore said Rev Kang’s approach to reach out to those who might have a “less favourable view of the Church” has been well received.
“It is difficult to move forward in inter-faith relations unless someone first starts to reach out to another,” he said.
“Ho Soon is one of those who reach out… He makes friends with people from all walks of life, engages in conversation with them and, in the process of hearing them share their faith journey, he is also able to let them hear of his faith.”
Rev Kang, who admitted that his approach has not been “fully accepted” in some Christian circles, believes it is time for the Church “to speak more words of love, hope and peace to marginalised communities, instead of words of condemnation and judgment”.
While he has retired from the Methodist Church, Rev Kang said he will be a pastor till the day he dies.
He said he will devote his time to people, rather than institutional or organisational concerns.
He aims to be a “listening ear” and counsellor to people from all walks of life, including pastors, people of all faiths or no faith, and people of all sexual orientations.
“We’re a conservative society, but everyone can have a place and equal standing,” he said. “We look to try to understand and accept one another, with no agenda to convert.”