Although I am writing this message on 10 April, the prevailing conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic have given me cause to assume that we will most likely not be able to resume worshipping as one congregation by 24 May, and will not be able to hold the Aldersgate SG 2020 Celebration Service at Paya Lebar Methodist Church like we have in the past.*
Since 27 March 2020, all Methodist churches have suspended their Sunday as well as weekday worship services on church premises, and switched to conducting these online. This was to continue till 11 April. All churches responded positively with live streaming or pre-recorded worship services. It was expected that on 12 April, we would have been able to celebrate Easter Sunday in church with congregation numbers kept to a maximum of 120 for each service.
However, owing to the continuing spread of COVID-19, the government announced several new stringent and stricter restrictions in early April in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Among the measures announced was one that mandated that all forms of religious services and gatherings were to be suspended from 7 April to at least 4 May.**
It matters not, however. COVID-19 has been an enlightening experience for the Church. The risen Lord is not with us physically but through His Spirit. The Holy Sprit indwells and is with every believer (Rom 8:9–10). The Lord is with us always, wherever we may be, and we can worship Him and pray to Him. John Wesley wrote, “The image of invisible God, whom none can represent, but his only begotten son, in his divine nature the invisible image, in his human the visible image of the Father.”1
This is Paul’s treatise on Christ in his epistle to the Colossians. For this reason, I have decided not to cancel the annual Aldersgate SG Celebration Service. Even if the sanctuary is empty, our three presidents will take turns to participate in and lead the service. We believe that members of the Methodist Family will worship wherever they are—in their homes or at other venues. For the Lord is with us where we come together in His name. This is also Jesus Christ’s prayer to the Heavenly Father—that God will give the Holy Spirit to the disciples. The Holy Spirit will be with the believers, and where the Holy Spirit is so is our Lord Jesus (John 14:16–20).
So, like you, I will look forward to 24 May, the turning point of our spiritual life. Together, let us remember the Aldersgate experience of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. He was attending a church service at Aldersgate Street in London that day when, at 8.45 in the evening, the Holy Spirit moved him and and his heart felt “strangely warmed”. John Wesley subsequently became a passionate evangelist for God and began to undertake works for the relief of the poor and destitute. This is also what he expects of all Methodists: to love God with all our heart and mind and to love others as ourselves.
Perhaps we can learn from the plea of Elisha to Elijah: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9). Pray to the Lord that the Spirit that moved John Wesley will move us too.
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.
1 From John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible: The New Testament (Notes on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, chapter 1:15).
* Bishop’s Message was written on 10 April 2020, before the announcement by the government that the circuit breaker was to be extended from 4 May to 1 June 2020.
** The circuit breaker has since been extended to 1 June.