65,000 worshippers affected as Methodist and Anglican churches suspend services for two weeks
Gracia Lee // March 20, 2020, 4:34 pm
Worshippers in Saint Andrews Cathedral. Photo taken from Facebook of Saint Andrews Cathedral.
Two of the largest Protestant denominations in Singapore – The Methodist Church of Singapore (MCS) and the Anglican Diocese of Singapore – have temporarily suspended all worship services for two weeks, in an effort to play their part in fighting the spread of the coronavirus.
In total, 65,000 worshippers from the two denominations are affected.
Both denominations said in separate letters to their members that there are plans to resume services by Palm Sunday (April 5) with precautionary measures in place.
Seeking the welfare of the city
Members of the Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS), the largest Protestant denomination with some 44,000 members in 46 churches, received an announcement today (March 20) from Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung.
“As Christians, we have to seek the welfare of the city that God has placed us in.”
“As Christians, we have to seek the welfare of the city that God has placed us in, and if this means foregoing the privilege of gathering together to worship our Living God as one body for a season, we will do our part to help.
“Please do not attend another church during this period of suspension as that would defeat the purpose and sacrifice we are making to break the chain of infection,” he added.
“When the physical church cannot congregate, the spiritual church must elevate,” he said. “I urge each of you to spend a determined time in prayer for our church and country that we may emerge stronger than ever. Reflect on the Word more deeply in this season of Lent, and repent, revive and restore your faith as we await our Lord’s return. We must remain one in the unity and bond of the Holy Spirit.”
He encouraged worshippers to join one of the podcasts or livestreams from the Methodists churches.
“Reflect on the Word more deeply in this season of Lent, and repent, revive and restore your faith as we await our Lord’s return.”
Bishop Chong told Salt&Light: “The Government of Singapore is very concerned about the situation, especially outside of Singapore, and has asked for us to make adjustments to our services. We are coming alongside the country in this effort and exercising our social responsibility towards our friends by pausing our regular worship services.”
In a similar vein, Bishop Rennis Ponniah told Anglicans in his letter yesterday (March 19) that the “prayerful decision” to temporarily suspend all worship services was made to “intentionally create a two-week break in church gatherings” and contribute to “the concerted national effort to ‘flatten the coronavirus curve'”.
The Anglican church here has 27 parishes with 21,000 members.
In the letter, the Bishop encouraged members to be a blessing to others in society, especially those in need. He ended with a prayer that God will help our nation to overcome this crisis.
Both bishops added that pastoral care and prayer support will continue to be provided through means that do not require large face-to-face gatherings, such as by holding online weekend services and providing pastoral care for the elderly and vulnerable.
The evolving situation
Since the coronavirus erupted in Singapore in January, a string of churches has been directly affected by its spread.
Two churches – The Life Church and Missions and Grace Assembly of God – have emerged as locally transmitted clusters, while others such as Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, Lighthouse Evangelism and Church of Singapore (Bukit Timah) have seen church staff or members infected.
A day after the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a nationally-televised message that religious services may need to be shortened and attendance at faith-based gatherings reduced.
“The issue is not religion itself, but that the virus can spread to many people in crowded settings, like religious gatherings and services. I hope that Singaporeans understand that during this period, we may need to shorten religious services or reduce attendance at such gatherings,” he had said.
“The issue is not religion itself, but that the virus can spread to many people in crowded settings.”
Last Friday (March 13), the Ministry Of Health (MOH) advised organisers of mass gatherings, including private functions and religious services, to reduce the scale of events to below 250 participants where possible, and minimise the crowding of participants, for instance by seating them one metre apart.
Since February 15, the Catholic Church in Singapore has suspended public mass indefinitely to minimise the risk of the spread.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) also announced on March 13 that all 70 mosques would close for five days for cleaning after several congregants tested positive for the coronavirus following a religious gathering of 16,000 people from different countries at a mosque in Selangor, Malaysia.
MUIS later announced that all mosques would remain closed until March 26 to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.