Bishop's Message

The Post-COVID-19 Challenge for MCS

“Him we proclaim with all wisdom…” (Col 1:28)

We are in the midst of a three-phase approach to resuming activities safely after Singapore’s circuit breaker ended on 1 June 2020. While we look forward to life returning to normal, the government has warned that things will not be the same as before the pandemic. Even if a vaccine is developed, we shall have to accept a new normal—living with the coronavirus—as it may never be totally eradicated.

I have been asked what the MCS will be doing for a post-COVID-19 way of life. Let me share some thoughts. I welcome your comments.

Online Sunday Worship Services

Over the last two months, we have been streaming Sunday worship services online and the production quality of such services has improved. Many believers feel that online services are more convenient and they can invite their pre-believing family members who do not normally attend church services to join them. Online worship services offer another option and can complement the traditional on-site mode as part of the Church’s outreach.

Virtual meetings and seminars

A common complaint of those involved in church ministries and programmes is having to attend endless meetings and sessions. Most classes and cell group gatherings are held either after Sunday services or on weekday evenings, leaving little time for family.

During the circuit breaker period, all were advised to stay home and face-to-face gatherings were banned. Worship services, choir practices, Bible study classes and cell group sessions were conducted online. The virtual meetings have helped reduce the time spent away from home, encouraging more participation in training courses and meetings. Not only has general effectiveness improved, there is also closer interaction among participants. Furthermore, geographical distance is no longer a barrier to inviting eminent speakers to conduct courses. This has indeed been an unexpected advantage.

Giving serious regard to the faith of our church

The government’s strict circuit breaker measures meant that from April, onsite worship services and Holy Communion were disallowed. Moreover, there were restrictions for the production of online services e.g. no more than two persons were allowed to lead worship and praise, and the duration of each service, including the sermon, must not exceed one hour.

This gave rise to much discussion among Christian netizens of different denominations and religious backgrounds about church systems and structures, online worship services, Holy Communion, baptism and online wedding services. Many believers seemed confused and unsure who to listen to. Some members from the same traditional church background ignored instructions and did things their own way. This was when church ministers realised the importance of teaching about their own church organisation, beliefs and worship liturgy so that their members can be more discerning.

Social groups that need our greater concern

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed our society’s long-term neglect of the living conditions of migrant workers and fringe groups. This has had an effect on social and religious organisations—in particular, on MCS, which emphasises loving our neighbours as ourselves. There is much to be done to show our care and concern, and extend help to migrant workers and fringe groups as well as other vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. Our Church needs to do a comprehensive review of our ministry among these communities and redouble our effects to extend help and care to them.

How will the Church meet the new challenges?

It is time we reviewed the practice of spending almost $10m for a 30-year lease on a plot of land and another $10m for a church building. Instead, based on actual needs and conditions, we could consider a strategy to acquire technical expertise as well as hardware and software for producing and streaming online programmes. Online seminars and training courses ought to be an important part of the new norm. Some of our bigger churches are already equipped for producing online programmes. Our local and Annual Conferences could perhaps explore the sharing of resources so as to help those that need assistance. On its part, the General Conference can consider developing its multimedia outreach ministry.

During the circuit breaker, workers, with a few exceptions, were required to work from home. Although some businesses were affected by reduced on-site coordination of work processes, working from home has been deemed to be generally viable. What will it mean for our church staff? Perhaps not all churches of the future can afford to provide on-site workspaces for all their pastoral and administrative staff. Rather than giving priority to office space, churches with limited space may prefer to use their space for activities and gatherings of their members and social communities.

One thing is certain: we will have to adapt to a new normal after COVID-19. It will create opportunities for the Church and chart new milestones for the gospel ministry. Let us take it to heart, plan and make our preparations.

Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.