Churches are finding new ways to share Christmas hope. "We’ve learnt through this pandemic season that so much more can be done outside the four walls of church, even though we can’t see or put a number to the people we have reached,” says Cornerstone's Tiffany Chok. Screengrab of Christmas trailer by Trinity Christian Centre.

Re-enacting the Nativity scene can be a tricky task if you need to do it whilst adhering to strict social distancing regulations.

How does Mary give birth to baby Jesus with Joseph and the midwife both standing two metres away from her? Should everyone wear their masks on stage so that they can act it out in the usual manner — with Joseph by Mary’s side?

At one point during rehearsals, the performing arts team at Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church (BBTC) chose the former.

How does Mary give birth to baby Jesus with Joseph and the midwife both standing two metres away from her?

In another scene, a father comforted his distraught seven-year-old who was worried about her missing mother – without any physical contact.

“We were weighing the worse of two evils, ” said the show’s director, Natalie Goh, 28. “Our stage wasn’t even long enough to accommodate all that safe distancing.

“We had to change the way we understood the stage and how our actors would interact with the audience,” she said.

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This was just one of the unique challenges that the team had to take on in their efforts to prepare for a small musical with just five cast members this Christmas.

But as we enter into a second Covid-tinted Christmas – with the looming threat of yet another new variant – churches around Singapore are grabbing the bull by the horns.

The BBTC evangelistic musical, Peace on Earth, explores how a family is able to keep their hopes and spirits up – even though their beloved mother has gone missing. Screengrab from BBTC Peace On Earth trailer.

Some, like BBTC, are pressing on towards some semblance of pre-Covid normalcy with in-person events, while others are going with the flow of encouraging small, intimate gatherings alongside virtual events.

Everyone, it seems, has found their own way of adapting creatively to the limits imposed by Covid.

Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church: The “immersive experience”

BBTC’s Peace On Earth, held over four shows on Dec 18 and 19, will feature Christmas carols as it unravels some of the stressful events surrounding the birth of Christ.  

The church, which has an active performing arts ministry, used to hold major productions involving up to 50 cast and crew for up to 4,000 audiences over several shows. While this year’s musical is drastically scaled back, it is not any less meaningful.

To encourage on-site attendance, the decision was made not to have a live-stream.

“It has been three years since we have done any kind of show,” said ministry lead, Pastor Darren Kuek, 42. “So it has been on our minds to do something that is safe and yet meaningful to share with friends and family.”

He added that they decided to proceed with a live show despite the pandemic because of the “variety” and “immersive experience” that guests would enjoy.

Additionally, to encourage on-site attendance, the decision was made not to have a live-stream of the musical, and Pre-Event Testing (PET) will be provided free-of-charge for unvaccinated guests.

Pastor Darren said: “We hope that the telling of the birth of Christ through songs and drama will bring hope and God’s peace to others in this season.”

Trinity Christian Centre: Innovative illusions

At Trinity Christian Centre, where there is a tradition of live Christmas presentations since the early 1980s, took an unconventional approach in the carolling segment of their Christmas programme.

Live performers will perform carols “alongside” the virtual choir in this year’s programme, The Heart of Christmas, held from Dec 17 to 24 at its premises in Paya Lebar and CHIJMES.

Enjoying live carols is a rare experience in the midst of this pandemic. Trinity Christian Centre hopes that the performance of over 70 singers and musicians will lift the spirits of its audience. Screengrab of video trailer.

The elements were ingeniously – and painstakingly – orchestrated to create the illusion of having more than 70 singers and musicians on stage all at once.

In addition, Trinity is also screening an original movie written and produced by members, starring local celebrity Gurmit Singh.

“I could relate to the story.”

In Your Love is Enough, Part Two, Gurmit takes on the lead role of Alvin, a father with a complicated past who attempts to rebuild his relationship with his daughter.

“This story really spoke to my heart and soul,” Gurmit Singh told Salt&Light. “I could relate to the story.”

“Not that I have been to prison,” he joked. “But because almost every father goes through that phase where he feels he has let his child/children down and haven’t made the mark as a father as planned or hoped.”

Host and actor Gurmit Singh shares his thoughts in a behind-the-scenes publicity trailer for Your Love is Enough, Part Two, an original movie written and produced by Trinity. The Heart of Christmas will be held at Trinity@Paya Lebar at 247 Paya Lebar Road and CHIJMES from December 17 to 24, 2021. Screengrab from Trinity Christian Centre’s website.

Gurmit hopes that the movie will help fathers like him “realise we are not perfect and we will continue to fall”.

“But with His grace and mercy we can bounce back and find strength to persevere and there will be good days. He is a Good God after all,” said Gurmit.

“His love and hope awaits.”

“Our Father in Heaven is always ready, always by our side, always loving. We just need to do our part and reach out to Him.

“His love and hope awaits.”

Trinity’s spokesperson, Jennifer Ng, said: “With the pandemic still in the air, the main consideration is to bring the message of hope, love, and forgiveness to uplift spirits this Christmas season.”

She added that the creative arrangement provides Trinity with the flexibility to go entirely virtual and quickly decentralise should the situation call for it. For the unvaccinated, Trinity is also offering free PETs at selected time slots.

Cornerstone: Mix-and-match

Cornerstone chose a similar hybrid model through screening a short film projected within an actual theatre set in the church’s auditorium.

Mother’s Laksa, a parable confronting the harsh reality of life circumstances not going our way, illustrates how, despite trials of pain, loss and grief, God is still found layered in the pieces of our lives through acts of kindness, selfless love and endurance.

On-site services will also be live-streamed into homes where cell groups and families are hosting Christmas gatherings.

Socially-distanced cast members of Mother’s Laksa, the Cornerstone drama held on Dec 18 and 19. There will be on-site services and screened online over Christmas gatherings hosted by church members. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Community Church.

Different celebrations, same Gospel

Several other churches have made similar arrangements which focus on small, intimate settings because of the operational challenges faced in planning mass events.

A 31 Days of Christmas campaign by 3:16 Church hopes to fulfil the vision of having Christmas lived out in December through something as “entry-level” as inviting someone out for a meal to spend quality time and share the love of Jesus to them, said church staff Alisa Choor.

“We wanted to help everyone get their evangelistic feet wet.”

“The expression of it can come in many forms,” she said, using the young adult ministry’s “Reserved For Friends” programme as an example where the Gospel is shared after a dinner and some games with all the materials provided.

“Ideally, we should all be living out the Gospel every day and every month. But the idea is to just start somewhere, so we wanted to help everyone get their evangelistic feet wet.”

Building on their Christmas initiative from last year with Treasure Box 2, Pentecost Methodist Church is encouraging their members to share the true meaning of Christmas through the love of Christ by establishing relationships with the people God leads them to such as neighbours, and even familiar hawkers or shopkeepers.

A Treasure Box prepared for members contains outreach activity ideas and conversation starters.

There is also a Home But Not Alone programme for those willing to host youth in their homes for a Christmas celebration.

Hope that matters

Despite being limited by on-site capacity – most churches are running on a smaller scale than what was formerly possible in pre-Covid days – Cornerstone spokesperson, Tiffany Chok noted: “We’ve learnt through this pandemic season that so much more can be done outside the four walls of church, even though we can’t see or put a number to the people we have reached.”

Rev Dominic Yeo, Lead Pastor of Trinity Christian Centre, said: “Christmas is a reminder that hope came and invaded darkness with the birth of Jesus.

“As the year comes to an end, let’s remember that hope came 2,000 years ago when a Saviour arrived.

“I pray that the hope of Christmas will make a difference in your view and perspective as you cross over into the year 2022.”


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About the author

Tan Huey Ying

Huey Ying is now an Assignments Editor at Salt&Light, having worked in finance, events management and aquatics industries. She usually has more questions than answers but is always happiest in the water, where she's learning what it means to "be still".