St Andrews Community Chapel has an interesting way of serving their gathered and scattered congregation, their on-site and online service. I was invited to guest preach before Covid 19 gatecrashed the Singapore church and turned every church’s program upside down. Unsure of whether they still wanted me to preach, I wrote to them and released them from any commitment to have me if the new circumstances warranted something different. They promptly replied that the guest preaching appointment was still in place as their congregation had already started to meet under the government guidelines of 100 maximum in the hall with social distancing and other safety measures in place.
Pre-recording and on-site preaching
The interesting thing was that they would also like me to pre-record the same sermon I would preach to the on-site service, and hand the recording to them beforehand so that they could screen it at the same time for the online congregation to watch. I will post this pre-recorded sermon in another post.
The chapel originally was located with St Andrews Community Hospital but due to covid 19 they were using the auditorium of the St Hilda’s Primary School in Tampines. Covid 19 has been disruptive in more than one ways.
Vicar Daniel Tong
I had a chat with the vicar Daniel Tong, a veteran Anglican vicar and notable author of five books and had a chat with him. While I think and talk about writing books, he has already written books that are selling quite well. Seeing him made me wonder if I have what it takes to write a book.
The order of service
Soon the service started and noticeably there were no songs. However, they used liturgy to establish a connect between the gathered people of God and worship of God. Before I knew it, I was at the stage preaching with a mask on. It wasn’t easy as members still trickled in in front of everyone, while I was speaking, and it affected my concentration.
The late we have with us always. Most would at least come before the sermon and they would sit at the back, but with covid 19, there is no buffer time of three songs and announcement and prayer, and in a performing art auditorium, there are no entrances near the back rows (everyone sees you when you are late!).
Online service pampering
Online services also have its late-comers. Many actually attend to the services later on. And they can use the cursor to move forward the video to skip what they are not interested in, perhaps the preliminaries, and merely watch what they like. Online services facilitate the making of churchgoers into consumers, and not disciples! The several months of online pampering have sealed the marriage of God’s children to comfort, convenience and compromise.
On site services impacted by covid 19
Covid 19 has also conditioned us pastors to offer a more compact and concise service. The service I preached it included baptism and holy communion, and all in, if I remember correctly, the service ended in one hour fifteen minutes. Safety measures meant that we had to keep our services compact and dismiss God’s people into the world (without much interaction in the church premises). Outside they can have lunch together in public eating places in groups of five. And we Asians are communal and put community above individualism and we comply with law and order.
I noticed that no offering bags were passed around. Digital giving is encouraged, but those who still want to give cash can put in in an offering box at the front of the stage. Holy Communion is by intinction, partly dipping the consecrated wafer into the wine and handing it to the communicant for consumption. Safety observed at all times.
My personal take on online services
This new normal is something I am grateful for even though it stifles the church of expression of worship in song, in prayer, and warm fellowship. I pray the church will soon go back to what it was before. I miss live worship among God’s gathered saints. I miss singing heartily and mingling around and catching up with church folks. I do not want the spiritual disconnect I feel when I watch an online service. I love the comfort and convenience and time-saving of commute free Sunday worship, but I fear it places limits on the felt experience of the Spirit’s moving and activity on the affections and desires of God’s gathered people. We must determine to awaken God’s people from their atrophied spiritual muscles, and stir holy desire and hunger for God afresh.