UPDATES ON PHASE TWO OF RE-OPENING AFTER CIRCUIT-BREAKER
30 July 2020
Dear ORPC members and friends,
Continuation of Sunday Worship at Home Through Online Service
Phase Two of Singapore’s re-opening after the Circuit-Breaker began on 19 June 2020. In Phase Two, religious organisations were given guidance on gradual resumption of congregational and worship services in places of worship. The Government’s guidelines state:
- That congregational and other worship services may resume, starting with up to 50 persons at a time (excluding religious and supporting workers, which should be kept to a minimum), subject to safe management measures. These measures are:
- Worshippers have to observe 1 metre safe distance between others if they are worshipping individually. Worshippers may also worship in groups of no more than 5 persons, with 1 metre safe distancing between groups.
- Keep worship services to as short a duration as possible. Worshippers should leave immediately after performing their worship. There should be no reception or mingling between worshippers, before, during or after each worship service.
- All persons present must wear a face mask at all times. Those who are involved in the conduct of the worship service (e.g. preachers, prayer leader, scripture reader) may wear a face shield when performing their speaking duties and must be at least 1 metre away from any other individual.
- Singing and other live performances are not permitted during the worship service. Singing is considered a higher risk activity as it could potentially release a larger amount of droplets. Places of worship may consider alternatives to singing and other live performance components in their worship services.
- There should be no sharing of prayer and other common items (e.g. holy books, passing of offertory baskets, prayer mats) as this increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Worshippers are to bring along their personal prayer items instead, where required.
- Places of worship with reduced air circulation (e.g. enclosed prayer spaces, air-conditioned worship hall) should, where possible, open doors and windows to naturally ventilate the space after use.
Session had considered the possibility of a partial resumption of in-person Sunday worship services with the above measures in place, with concurrent broadcast of recorded/livestream services. However, we decided against resuming in-person worship services at the present time for the following reasons:
- No singing during services, and no fellowship allowed before and after services – Apart from the preaching of God’s Word and praying together as God’s people, worshipping together by singing God’s praises with one voice and having fellowship with each other are important reasons why we gather together in one place on Sunday for worship. Under the current Phase Two guidelines, no singing and no fellowship will be allowed. Through our online worship services, families and individual worshipers can worship God through singing at home. The weekly online post-service fellowship time on Zoom is also designed to let our congregation have some form of fellowship with one another, even if this falls short of actual in-person fellowship.
- Limit of 50 persons at worship services – The limit of 50 persons worshipping together at a time means that a vast majority of ORPC congregation members will still have to worship through our online services even if we were to resume limited in-person services. The Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY) has indicated that they hope to gradually increase the congregation limit beyond 50 persons, with worshippers divided into zones holding no more than 50 persons each, with no mingling between zones.
- Protection of our more vulnerable members – A large portion of ORPC’s congregation is aged 60 years and above, the population that is especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
- Adhering to the spirit of the law and not stretch boundaries – We recognise that while the guidelines allow the church to resume limited worship services, the overarching principle is still to maximise safe distancing and reduce social interactions. We should balance the exercise of our freedom (to resume gathering in person) with exercising love for our people (in making sure our congregation is able to worship in a safe manner).
- COVID-19 situation in Singapore has stabilised but the outbreak is far from over – Since the beginning of Phase Two, total COVID-19 cases globally have crossed 16 million and over 650,000 people have died from the pandemic. In Singapore, total cases have crossed 51,000, although community cases remain low. Many countries worldwide are experiencing a resurgence in cases. In South Korea, clusters were reported in religious gatherings at churches, highlighting the inherent risk in settings where there is close, prolonged contact among individuals. We cannot afford to be complacent at this critical juncture.
Nevertheless, under the Phase Two guidelines, we have proceeded with a special membership service on-site to receive new members through baptism, confirmation, and transfer. This on-site service component will be combined with an online component held on Zoom on 2 August during the usual post-service fellowship time in order for our congregation to welcome new members. Session will consider hybrid special services like this when it makes sense to do so.
Ministering to the Needs of the ORPC Community Through Unprecedented Times
The safe distancing measures and Circuit Breaker period implemented by the Government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have severely impacted our worship services and ministries in the past few months.
To ensure that our congregation is able to continue worshipping God, receive spiritual nourishment from God’s Word, and continue growing together as a community of faith during these unprecedented times, we have emphasized and started various initiatives within ORPC:
- Sunday Worship Services online – Enable our congregation to worship at home while sharing a common worship experience facilitated by our recorded online worship service.
- Small Groups online – Our small groups continued to meet online via Zoom through the Circuit Breaker period and have become one of the main channels through which we continue to connect and care for our congregation. Due to restrictions on the number of people who can gather, small groups will become increasingly important in the post-COVID-19 “new normal” of church life. In Phase Two, most of our small groups continue to meet online due to the number of people, while some smaller groups were able to resume in-person meetings in homes.
- Post-service fellowship – We started a post-service fellowship on Zoom which allowed for some form of interactive fellowship, especially in breakout groups of 4-5 people.
- SoCM Classes and teaching sessions – SoCM classes on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, teaching sessions on tongues and prophecy, and the SoCM Sunday Adult Classes on New Testament Biblical Theology where we will go through the entire New Testament, book by book, in 2 years, have been started through online means to make sure the congregation continue to learn from God’s Word during this time when in-person teaching is not possible.
- Monthly prayer meeting and weekday prayer time online – The monthly prayer meeting was moved online and has seen higher attendance compared to regular in-person prayer meetings. A weekly noon-time prayer session held initially on Monday and now on Wednesday (except for first week of the month when it is on Monday), was also started to allow members to seek God in prayer, interceding for the world and for each other.
- Ministry online – All ministries have, wherever possible and practical, moved meetings and activities online. Examples include Children’s Sunday School, Sunshine Fellowship Sketching, Choir, and Music Makers Club. Members can refer to the "Ministry this week" page on the church bulletin to see which activities you and their family may wish to join online.
We have also expanded our online worship services in Phase Two with recording of the sermon and other parts of the service in church. We have also started recording the hymns with the organ playing and a small group singing onsite. We are able to do this under the following guideline:
- (Churches) are encouraged to continue supporting the religious needs of their communities via remote means such as recording and broadcast of religious services and prayers. In Phase Two, we will allow up to 10 persons on-location for these productions, of which up to 5 persons can temporarily remove their masks when speaking or singing. Those who are unmasked for speaking / singing are strongly encouraged to maintain at least a 2 metres separation from other persons. All other persons present must remain masked and maintain a 1 metre separation. The time spent on-location for this activity should be kept as short as possible. The production team must also put in place safe management measures, including no-cross deployment between locations (where practicable), no socialisation during breaks and thorough cleaning of technical equipment.
Charting a Path Ahead in the “New Normal”
ORPC, like other churches in Singapore, await further guidance from the Government on when and how we may resume more activities. The Presbyterian Synod has been in dialogue with the MCCY and has formed a Synod Task Force to come up with recommendations on how churches may continue to worship and do ministry in the “New Normal”.
The Phase Two guidelines currently allow for other “non-congregational religious activities” (including religious classes) under the following guidelines:
- Places of worship may also conduct other religious activities (e.g. pastoral services, religious classes for adults and children). These activities can involve groups of up to 5 persons (excluding the religious worker / teacher). Where necessary, there can be multiple groups of 5 in the same activity, so long as each group of 5 is separated by at least 1 metre with no mingling across groups. As a best practice, we encourage a greater separation of 2 metres between groups of students attending religious classes.
We are awaiting recommendations and clarifications from the Synod Task Force on what kinds of activities are possible under this guideline. We hope to have more news at our next update. Do pray together with us as we seek God’s wisdom and guidance to chart a path forward for ORPC in this “New Normal”.
In the meantime, congregation members are encouraged to continue worshipping at home with their families or small groups through our online Sunday worship services and join the various ministry activities that are taking place online.
Yours in Christ,
Rev Dr Clive Chin
Senior Minister, Orchard Road Presbyterian Church