Sing like never before

Sing like never before
Covenant Community MC’s outreach to TransitPoint @ Margaret during Christmas 2020

The Church and the pandemic, one year on

We did not know it then, but on Sunday, 15 Mar 2020, Methodists left their church buildings after worship services and would not return for at least three months. This was the first time since World War Two that church buildings in Singapore would be shuttered for such an extended period.

One year on, Methodists have emerged from the hiatus, and churches have had to grapple with how to resume their activities safely and within government-mandated guidelines. Methodist Message looks at church life over the last year and considers what might lie ahead.

The virus that shook the world

In Dec 2019, a mysterious outbreak of viral pneumonia with unknown aetiology was reported in Wuhan city in China.

On 23 Jan 2020, the first case of this illness was confirmed in Singapore. Within the next two months, clusters of the illness, then known as nCoV-2019, began appearing. Two church clusters were confirmed in early February.

On 7 Feb, the government raised the DORSCON level to orange. This reflected a situation where the disease was severe and spread easily, but was still contained.1 That same day, Paya Lebar Methodist Church (MC) was closed for deep cleaning because an active case had visited its kindergarten premises. It was re-opened after several days when no other cases were reported.

With the virus was spreading like wildfire worldwide, the World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic and renamed the disease COVID-19 on 11 Feb.

On 20 March, then-Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung announced that, in view of the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Singapore, all Methodist churches would cancel their in-person services for two weeks as a precautionary measure. There were plans to resume services by Palm Sunday (5 Apr).

Then the government multi-ministry taskforce announced the most drastic virus-mitigation measure yet—the national “circuit breaker”—to last from 7 Apr to 1 June. Only essential services were to continue. Schools—kindergartens and childcare centres included—shifted to home-based learning. Non-essential workers were to work from home. Migrant workers were confined to their dormitories. Only takeaway food was allowed. Mask-wearing in public became mandatory.

We were in unknown territory. Case numbers were rising exponentially. Many were fearful. We did not know when church—and life as we had known it—would go back to normal. Church camps and ministry plans were cancelled. Many missionaries were recalled to their home countries. Places of worship remained closed during the circuit breaker as well as through Phase One of re-opening on 2 June. They were  eventually allowed to resume services, subject to very strict limits, on 26 June, a week after Phase Two commenced.

The “new normal”

At the time of writing, there have been more than 141 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and 3 million people, including 30 in Singapore, have lost their lives to the virus. The long-term effects on the health of those who have recovered from the virus are still unknown.

Everyone has been deeply affected by COVID-19—socially, financially, emotionally and logistically. We have had to learn to live, learn, work and worship while adhering to government-mandated restrictions. Collective responsibility has had to trump personal freedom. And churches, like everyone else, have had to evolve to continue feeding their flocks and reaching out to those in their neighbourhoods and beyond.


Faith MC was one of a few churches who had begun live-streaming their services long before COVID-19 struck. Their first such service was the Watchnight Service in 2017. By the time DORSCON Orange was announced, their media infrastructure was well in place. They held a sharing session on 20 Feb 2020 for 80 attendees from 51 Methodist and non-Methodist churches on how to live-stream services. This proved to be useful when church buildings were closed and many churches had to go online for the very first time.

The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) Communications team helped to disseminate information about various church services on its website,2 with the hope that everyone with an Internet connection could worship God at home.

Musicians sang and played from home; and pastors preached from home. Congregants were patient when there were glitches. Offerings were collected via internet banking apps. Virtual choirs sprang up, with congregations embracing new ways to worship God. It was a steep learning curve, and church members gave feedback that they missed meeting in person, but they soon got the hang of worshipping from home.

Worship is of the heart and not just an external gesture. Just continue to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.—Covenant Community MC

Not being able to go to church for worship, I worshipped via online services. It was comforting to know that we as a Church were still able to come together as a family for Sunday worship from our homes via the Internet.—Tamil MC (Short Street)

There is a missing element of impact without corporate worship. But we can share our struggle and support our friends or cell group members in prayer, or worship in smaller groups.—AMK Chinese MC


Remember the paper bulletins and the handshakes, and sometimes hugs, when attending worship services in person? Or the personal sharing and prayer in a corner of the church? These vanished once the circuit breaker started.

Congregations had to adapt when their churches went online: worship service, Sunday School, cell groups and other ministries had to be done with the help of various video-conferencing apps. Pastors and church staff kept in contact with members via telephone, such as calling members and setting up helplines. WhatsApp/Telegram broadcast channels were also set up. We thank God for the technology enabling churches and their members to stay connected, even though it was no substitute for meeting in person, due to technical difficulties and the fact that not everyone is tech-savvy.

MCS Comms also started a webpage with COVID-19 updates,3 such as letters from the Bishop, statements from churches that had cases linked to them, and church-related COVID-19 news.

Honest communication is the key in the smooth operations of the church, especially in a crisis. Never try to hide or downplay anything that needs to be communicated to the congregation. And time is always of the essence.—Paya Lebar MC

Although we had a lot more work and did overtime to plan, while learning to use new technologies, our faith was still strong during that time. The value of communication is not to be taken for granted in relationship building and uniting the church—Telok Ayer Chinese MC

Loving God by loving our neighbour

 Even while staying home and staying safe, churches reached out to love our neighbours.

AMK MC, AMK Chinese MC and AMK Tamil MC registered with Homeless Hearts of Singapore to open a shelter for the homeless. Faith MC and Queenstown Chinese MC, who share a building, opened a Safe Sound Sleeping Place (S3P) for rough sleepers, as did Toa Payoh MC and Aldersgate MC. Toa Payoh MC conducted an Easter Sunday blood drive in 2020 and collected 98 packs of blood.

Churches also reached out to the migrant worker community. Some church members partnered with organisations such as Willing Hearts to cook and distribute free meals to the disabled, low-income families and migrant workers, many of whom were confined to their dormitories during the circuit breaker.

Even after the circuit breaker ended, Methodists continued to reach out. The Interact Club of ACS (International) collaborated with Wesley MC to distribute care packages to workers living in dormitories that the church is supporting. Toa Payoh MC partnered with neighbourhood hawkers to provide 2,500 free meals for the community. Volunteers from Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference churches4 held Christmas and Chinese New Year events for migrant workers in the dormitories, recognising that they have had a very difficult year with COVID-19 lockdown and movement restrictions.

What does tomorrow hold?

 Churches in Singapore re-opened to their congregations on 26 June, with a cap of 50 people at a time. Mask-wearing and SafeEntry were mandatory, and no live singing was allowed. Restrictions were slowly and cautiously raised by the government; the cap was raised to 100 people in two separate zones on 3 Oct 2020, with no inter-mingling between zones; on 26 Dec, a maximum of 250 people5 and live worship were permitted.

From 5 Apr 2021, worshippers were allowed to sing with their masks on for a maximum of 30 minutes in a single service. Bishop Dr Gordon Wong has encouraged vaccination for all who are willing and able so that we can protect each other from the virus, and church life can go back to normal sooner.

As a member from Tamil MC (Short Street) shared: “This whole COVID experience has opened my eyes to see how faithful God is, how He is ever-present in our lives. He constantly provides us with ways and means to overcome all obstacles we may face.”

The COVID-19 situation is still evolving, with some countries experiencing their third or even fourth waves. New variants of the virus are also emerging. But as the old praise chorus goes: “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand / but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.” May we sing these words with good courage, for God’s presence goes before us and He knows what lies ahead.

1 For more information on Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON), a colour-coded framework that shows the current disease situation in a country, see The framework provides us with general guidelines on what needs to be done to prevent and reduce the impact of infection.



4 Tamil MC (Short Street), Pasir Panjang Tamil MC, Seletar Tamil MC and AMK Tamil MC.

5 In zones of 50 people, with the maximum size of the congregation also dependent on the size of the worship hall.

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Sheri Goh is the Editor of Methodist Message. This article was written with input and photos from Ang Mo Kio (AMK) Chinese MC, Barker Road MC, Covenant Community MC, Faith MC, Paya Lebar MC, Tamil MC (Short Street), Telok Ayer Chinese MC, and Toa Payoh MC.