The covid 19 virus has had a significant impact on the churches in Singapore. Every church had to make adjustments to its programmes. The Roman Catholic Church suspended its masses shortly after the government activated the DORSCON orange alert. So did charismatic megachurches like FCBC and City Harvest Church, as well as a large Presbyterian church. This is besides the two other churches that the Ministry of Health intervened in, and suspended its services, because of the infection cluster among its members.
However, for most other denominations and independent churches, the essential worship service continued, and other peripheral services, events, and programs were cancelled or postponed.
Various precautionary steps were initiated in most churches: temperature readings, attendance taking, handwave instead of handshakes, more hygienic ways of delivering Holy Communion, shorter services, dismissal and dispersion of members after service, and live streaming of services for members who opt to stay home.
This meant more stress on the pastors as the dilemma of decision making in the midst of DORSCON orange was a tug of war: to continue with services might be misconstrued as a lack of prudence and sensitivity; and to suspend the services may be perceived as a lack of faith in God.
Thankfully I have a pastoral team to work with and to discern the best decision to go with at each point in time. In addition, I have good pastor friends from other churches, and we share notes about the decisions we were making. Finally, the church I serve is a part of two larger network of churches: the Love Singapore movement, and the National Council of Churches of Singapore. We take to heart their advice. These support systems helped to take the stress off me, and in the end our group discernment led to a decision to go ahead with the services, doing live streaming of the services, and encouraging our parents with young children, and the Pioneer generation to stay home, if they wished to.
The staff also had to plan for continuity in case the covid 19 hit the church. So we formed two teams, worked from home, and we tried using Zoom, a software for group meetings via internet video conferencing. The first time we used it, it took us 45 minutes just to get all seven of us on the screen. It was an interesting experience. One thing noticeably different was that I had to consciously concentrate and listen. We also interupted each other less and listened better. The Bible injunction to “Be slow to speak and quick to listen” became a reality!
I worked more from home and this gave me more time for prayer, reflection and reading. A prophetic word from Tan Gee Paw, the man who spearheaded the cleanup of Singapore River, stated that God had pressed the PAUSE button for China and for the church too. PAUSE to halt mindless pursuit of wealth and pleasure, to pray and listen to God. I believe God is squeezing good out of evil, and my prayer is that more of God’s people will spend more time seeking the Lord in prayer than they had before.
There are many reasons to be thankful in the midst of walking in the valley of the shadow of death. There may be fear, anxiety and even panic, but these should reveal something about disordered values in our life, and an invitation from God to take an inward journey that will hopefully free us to be all God wants us to be.
I felt inspired when I saw members still attending worship services with increased earnestness in their singing and praying.
I feel thankful that we have a government that is organized and efficient.
I feel God’s hand is on this nation in the midst of the covid 19. May it bring a greater clarity to all Singaporeans that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, power, honour, or achievements. Life can be unpredictably short and we need Jesus Christ to be Lord of our life more than anything else.