It was pleasant to meet up with Pastor Peter Sze, to see his boyish smile and hear his cheerful voice. He is one who always bothered to arrange to meet people and friends whenever he was in town. Although he had retired, he is still the pastor of New Covenant Church, a grace-based church in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Lunch was in Din Tai Fung at Suntec City and we caught up about family, church and, of course, frustrating Malaysian politics. Peter has three daughters and a son and a blessed total of eleven grandchildren. The pandemic has meant more times of family togetherness – one of several meaningful and happy outcomes.
Church During Pandemic
The pandemic in Malaysia has affected his church just as it had affected churches in Singapore during the few periods of tightening and loosening of pandemic regulations and restrictions in the last two years. The church has had to respond quickly to the ever-changing situation. The church’s media team had to learn to pre-record services while keeping to the government restrictions. It learned to be resilient and quick to respond to changes. It had to be able to shuttle between online, on-site and hybrid models of doing worship services.
The church conducted more meetings on zoom and when it offered mid-week online Bible studies the attendance was much better than when it was done in-person in the past. They have also found that the online presence of the church now saw visitors from other countries viewing their worship services and messages and with a few emailing letters of appreciation.
Now the church has a hybrid model and restrictions have been loosened. Members are returning to the services. However, like in Singapore, church members are creatures of habit. It will take some time before all the regular members and attendees turn up for the in-person services.
My take is that two years of watching mainly online services have enslaved the people of God to the idol of convenience, and made us spectator worshippers with special multi-tasking powers and lazy bones. Without judgmental and holier-than-thou attitudes, while being sensitive to special situations of some members, we need to pray for God’s people to be freed from this digital captivity, cross the Red Sea, and return to embodied community and worship, where one can be more fully attentive to God and one another.
As for me, the online worship had been a blessing. Having retired I felt compelled to be away from church so that the new pastor of the English congregation, Ps Alvin Lim, can freely establish the new dynamics of his leadership with members. With the church going online, I had the joy of remaining in contact with my home church, and did not need to look for other church services to attend. It has now been a year and a quarter since I retired, and I feel it is a good time to return in-person more often but keep a low profile.
Last Sunday, I found it a joy to be together with God’s people, singing, listening to the preached Word, and having lunch with members. Being able to sing, albeit with masks on, was a bonus.
What is it like for your church with the loosening of restrictions? Let us know by making a comment. It would be enlightening to know what’s happening in churches in Singapore and Malaysia.