“Significance of resuming physical services cannot be underestimated”: Pilot project churches open doors to 100 from August 15
Janice Tai // August 6, 2020, 5:58 pm
“There is some excitement at being chosen to be part of this pilot project. At the same time, we feel a great responsibility," said the Senior Pastor of Jurong Christian Church, Rev Anthony Loh. Photo courtesy of Jurong Christian Church.
The earliest that the four churches involved in the pilot initiative to throw open their doors to up to 100 people would be August 15 and 16, the weekend following the long National Day weekend.
St Andrew’s Cathedral at St Andrew’s Road told Salt&Light that it will start taking in 100 worshippers from August 15, while Jurong Christian Church at Tah Ching road and Amazing Grace Presbyterian Church at Upper East Coast Road are targeting to receive the additional worshippers in their premises on August 16. Sengkang Methodist Church said it plans to start hosting the expanded capacity on August 22.
One hundred is double the number of people that religious organisations are currently allowed to host at any one time.
On Monday (August 3), MCCY announced the easing of some Covid-19 rules to congregational and worship services, allowing 12 religious organisations spanning mosques, Hindu temples, churches, Buddhist temples and gurdwaras to hold gatherings of up to 100 people from Friday (August 7).
This is double the number of people that religious organisations are currently allowed to host at any one time.
The new move will require enhanced safe distancing measures, such as the use of two separate zones of up to 50 people each, at some of the places where seated or more structured services are held, said MCCY.
Zones will have to be separated by a physical partition or barrier, and must have separate entrances and exits, or staggered entry and exit timings.
Safe management logistics
Senior Pastor of Jurong Christian Church, Rev Anthony Loh, said his church has demarcated two sections in the church sanctuary with three-metre distancing between them.
“We have also set up safe management measures for entries and exits, both for the church building and the sanctuary. It is similar to what you can see in shopping malls where one-way directions are implemented to minimise the clashes of people,” said Rev Loh.
“Our positive experience can provide the confidence for the opening up of more churches … to accommodate a larger congregation.”
His church has also already implemented additional safety precautions that are taken during the Holy Communion segment.
Pastors and church leaders have been wearing masks and face shields, and using tongs to drop the wafer onto the communicants’ hands. The communicants would take the individual cups by themselves when the cups are offered to them in a large tray.
For Amazing Grace Presbyterian Church, the two zones within its 450-seat sanctuary will be separated using pews.
Worshippers will be ushered towards the respective zones by safety ambassadors via the designated entry point upon arrival from the designated entry lift. After the worship service, the worshippers will be ushered out in batches via the designated exit point to the exit lift to get to the ground floor.
Similarly, St Andrew’s Cathedral will block out five rows of pews, with a width spanning 3m, in the middle of its large sanctuary to divide its Nave hall into two. Those who wish to come for the services will still have to make a booking online.
Sengkang Methodist Church has a large worship auditorium so it is able to accommodate one group in the main sanctuary while the other group will use the mezzanine floor of the sanctuary.
Said Rev Dr Niam Kai Huey, Pastor at Sengkang Methodist Church: “We will need to mark out different routes of entry and exit to and from the meeting venues for the two groups, so they don’t mix. That includes the use of toilets and stairways.”
Despite needing to put in place new safe distancing measures, the churches say they are excited to be part of the pilot.
“Faith is not lived in isolation; faith is expressed and nurtured in and through a community.”
Said Rev Loh: “There is some excitement at being chosen to be part of this pilot project. At the same time, we feel a great responsibility to ensure that every precaution that needs to be in place will be carried out properly so that our positive experience can provide the confidence for the opening up of more churches with safe processes to accommodate a larger congregation.”
Rev Dr Steven Gan, Senior Minister at Amazing Grace Presbyterian Church, noted that the latest development “shows that the authorities are seriously keen on easing up further on the current Phase 2 restrictions albeit in a very cautious manner”.
One key challenge for the church, he added, is to encourage more members to attend its services physically on-site.
“After exactly four months since the Circuit Breaker first kicked on April 7, there is this growing sense of convenience and comfort in joining the weekly online worship from home, which some church members may have unconsciously begun to enjoy and embrace,” said Rev Gan.
Faith nurtured through community
Rev Keith Lai, president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), said face to face fellowship will encourage many of the older persons who do “feel the need for ‘high touch’ relationships which on-line, virtual meetings can never replicate”.
“Showing up in church is about serving others and to gather is to encourage others.”
However, he emphasised the need to manage expectations well so that the safety of worshippers, and Singaporeans at large, is not compromised.
Said Rev Lai: “There is no doubt, more churches will open when the advisory permits and restrictions are lifted. I believe many of the safety measures will still be in place, and if there’s a need for more, we will follow the advisory.”
The significance of working towards resuming physical services on-site with more people being able to attend services cannot be underestimated, said Rev Niam.
“Faith is not lived in isolation; faith is expressed and nurtured in and through a community. Showing up in church is about serving others and to gather is to encourage others, in the midst of Covid-19 when many people need the extra support.”