On Returning To In-Person Worship Services

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. 

And Now?

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.

Share this:

Read More →

I Am Grateful For 2020


Covid-19 has cast a menacing shadow on the year 2020. It is the year of the pandemic. 1,816,120 deaths from Covid 19 in 2020, and these are only reported cases. 83, 260,611 infected, of which 59,049,598 have recovered. These statistics are bad, mad and sad. Singapore had also been in the valley of shadow of death. Anxiety, fear and frustration are the moods of the year. However, I do not want to dwell on these tragic details in this post. We are all familiar with the roll call of facts about the source, spread and devastation of the coronavirus. Rather, this post is about my personal reflection of 2020. Despite the darkness, I have experienced much of God’s abundance and redemptive grace. I have much to be grateful for. 


For one, my whole family is back in Singapore. For a while my wife and I were empty nesters with my son Joshua and his wife Ping studying in London, my second son Matthew serving the air forces in Australia with his wife and our two grandkids, and my daughter Elaine working in the USA. In 2019 my two sons returned with their families, and as if that wasn’t wonderful enough, my daughter was allowed to work from home in Singapore from March 2020. We were prepared to quarantine her at home but the hour she landed in the airport she was briskly brought straightaway to the Grand Park Orchard for government imposed and paid quarantine for two weeks. What a blessing and relief to know she was totally well. 

Elaine works from afternoon to about 1am Singapore time and meets her office colleagues remotely at night. Then she would sleep in but we get to see her for meals like lunch and dinner and some weekends. It was wonderful to have her around. Now I wonder when she will be recalled back to her office in Washington DC. Hopefully she won’t be recalled until June 2021. 


I am also grateful that the Covid 19 circuit breaker period and the months after necessitated the learning of new digital skills that I never had before. Speaking to an empty room with only a phone camera in front of me is something I have become comfortable with. I have also become strangely comfortable reviewing my talks on video. I used to squirm and switch off when I watched myself preach on video. Not so any more. I have also learned to use Zoom for meetings, as well as teach a Christian Education course. I can see possibilities in using these digital platforms. In the larger picture, the churches here have moved from being digital laggards to progressives, and this is a big, big positive in terms of future digital presence.

It has also forced me to purchase stuff online, mainly from Lazada. It began with buying necessary equipment to improve my recording of sermons and digital presence. Soon I moved on to stuff like bicycle lamps and camera lens that I wanted for my hobbies, to frivolous stuff like buying a linen shirt for dirt cheap price for the experience of it. I learned that when it comes to clothing, it’s better to visit the shopping mall. 


I am grateful that my retirement after 40 years of pastoral ministry in the same church was done sweetly. I am thankful that a home-grown church servant, Alvin Lim had been called by God to serve as the English Congregation pastor, and he willingly obeyed. I feel privileged to have seen God’s hand in forming a team of young people in full-time and part-time ministry, and weaving them with the more experienced staff. All this made it possible for me to step down as senior pastor with peace of mind. It was also a quiet but pleasant send-off with words of affirmation and good wishes, from the President and church leaders and members, and prayers of the three congregational pastors. All pre-recorded before a live audience and screened later for people to view on-line. I was feeling joyful during the recording of that segment, which was done straight after, the pre-recording of the ordination of service of Rev Alvin Lim on a Saturday morning.  Very joyful and moving occasions when I sensed a strong anointing of God’s Spirit.

I was also grateful for the final retreat I would have as a senior pastor. Lance Ng, my spiritual director guided me to reflect on the 40 years of pastoral ministry and the desires that the Spirit is stirring within me with regards to the future. Co-discerning what God is saying and doing is so vital and that is the spiritual director’s role. I was excited with the desires of my heart that surfaced during that five days of silent delighting in the Lord at Life Springs Spirituality Centre. I have been giving God a blank page for post-retirement, refusing to plan but instead to wait on Him, and the Lord has started to reveal the steps I am to take after retirement. Exciting new chapter.


To summarize, although 2020 was a “negative” year in terms of the adverse effects on mental health, the economy, jobs, separation and loss of loved ones, and the surfacing of ugly politics, for me personally God has graciously allowed me to experience his abundance, guidance and preparation for the future. Oddly I will remember 2020 rather fondly because I see too many positives for myself and my family and the church– the lot has fallen nicely for us.

Share this:

Read More →

Singaporean and Indonesian churches during covid 19

I was curious about how our neighbouring churches were doing during the covid 19 pandemic. I was familiar with what’s happening in Singapore. But try as I would I could not find much news about what’s happening among Malaysian churches except that 300 churches have applied in June to re-open for worship with all the usual safety measures in place and a maximum of 30 worshippers and for an hour and a half. Surprisingly the Indonesian church is the one with the best information due to a survey done by a research organization. Here are the links I have found pertinent and helpful:

SINGAPORE CHURCHES: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/christians-rise-of-the-hybrid-physical-and-digital-church THIS is definitely the best article that wraps up where the Singapore church is in terms of external response to Covid 19. It covers the rise of the “hybrid physical and digital church”, the generosity of churches in helping the foreign workers and the people hit with financial problems and job losses, and how some churches are resourcing other churches. Good, comprehensive and interesting article.

INDONESIAN CHURCHES: https://asiaevangelicals.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/AEA-Newsletter-202008.pdf THIS ARTICLE written by Dr Babang Budijanto, general secretary of Asia Evangelical Alliance is based on a national survey of 600 pastors in small and big cities in Indonesia done by Bilangan Research Center. Five concerns that the Indonesian churches face are: 1) Lack of capacity for digital engagement; 2) Decline in church revenue; 3) How to meet spiritual needs and give pastoral care; 4) Helping the poor and needy (job loss and health issues); 5) Members switching to another congregation with better online services. One interesting factor worth highlighting is how the presence of youth in the churches increased the church’s digital engagement and social involvement with the poor.

Share this:

Read More →

Christian Education on Zoom

Zoom Christian Education

I am currently doing a Zoom Christian Education course on “Interpreting Scriptures” for the church. It will run for 11 sessions and this Wednesday night I would be doing the third session of one-and-a-half hour workshop.

Tom Cannon, one of our pastoral staff, gave the rest of the staff a basic training on how to use Zoom. It was a good orientation. However, I lacked confidence, so I had to practice on my own, some of the functions needed in my workshops: like how to share screen, and how to use the whiteboard. Even then I needed another staff member, Ethel Shin-Cannon to help me with the organization of the rooms, when participants are put in virtual rooms for work on the scripture texts. 

The first session I was too ambitious. I wanted to get past the introduction quickly and crammed all the introductory material in one session. It was too long -two hours. After feedback, and also because there was less content material to cover, the next session was a sweet one-and-a-half hour. I will definitely get more and more comfortable as I get skilled in presenting material online through Zoom. 

I can see a potential in this format that Covid-19 has forced upon the church. Before this, it was almost impossible to imagine members fighting heavy traffic, or after work gulping a quick meal to go to the church premises for Bible studies, and then after that take a one-hour commute home. Now with Zoom, they can comfortably go home, have a meal, and even a shower, and tune into a Zoom meeting. He or she still has to be hungry enough to fight the natural preference to chill after a day’s work (perhaps of staring into a computer), rather than to sign up and show up for a course (again on the computer).  We are just lessening the number of hurdles that he or she has to jump over.

To keep the level of engagement high, the content has to be formatted in such a way that there is interaction, actual practice segment, and more conversational and less lecture like. 

Perhaps it is too early to get over-excited but I suppose with the Covid 19 situation unlikely to improve anytime too soon there will be a need to use technology to build the faith of God’s people. The church staff thinks that even if things return to “normal” we can still reach out to more people for spiritual formation/Christian education courses. So we signed up for annual zoom subscriptions to get a discount on what we are paying currently on a monthly basis.

Welcome to the “new normal” church of tomorrow.

Share this:

Read More →

Father’s Day

This Father’s Day was doubly special because it was the first time my family are all together for the first time in a long time. At one time all my children were working or studying overseas. One by one they came back to work in Singapore. Except my daughter. However, the pandemic opened the way for her to work from home in Singapore. So everyone was back, but covid-19 kept everyone away. My two sons have their homes and they had to stay home. Only my daughter was at home with me and my wife. While it was great to have her with us, Mother’s Day went by without the whole family together. This Father’s Day then was the first time my whole family were together for the first time since the Circuit Breaker, about 70 days.

They brought over beef steaks, sausages, baked vegetables, mashed potatoes, mushroom soup and garlic bread. We sat around the round glass table and ate a decent Western meal, talking about what’s happening, my retirement, the election, the grandchildren, working from home, and news about our in laws in US and in Korea. 

We started early so that we could end early and the children can go home to sleep early and prepare for school. Chloe insisted on a game of UNO before they went back and it was fun to play card games as a family. 

A wonderful evening that is gratifying and filled with pleasure and fun and relaxation. When everyone said their goodbyes and left it was still early and we could wash up and watch some TV before we retired.

Grateful to God for watching over and blessing all the children and their spouses and the grandchildren. It is every grandparents prayer that all will go well for their descendants physically, spiritually, relationally and emotionally. May God bless and keep them. 

We were so absorbed that we hardly took any photos all that time!

Share this:

Read More →