2020 marks the 135th anniversary of The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS). It is also the 55th anniversary of Singapore’s nationhood. 2020 will certainly also be remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first time in Singapore’s history, all churches are closed. Easter Sunday has always been celebrated in churches with worship services. Even during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), churches that had not been damaged remained open and services continued to be held.
This will certainly be a Lent and an Easter to remember—when we gave up the privilege of corporate worship in our churches for the sake of our neighbours and nation, or as Bishop Chong put it, “Giving up an act of piety for an act of mercy.”
What a stark reminder that the Church is not the building but the people, the body of Christ. So we are out of the buildings, and in our homes. How did One MCS come through at this time? So far, two things in particular stand out.
Suspension of worship services: worshipping with one another
Churches moved quickly to put together clear communications to their members and to launch online worship services. General Conference Comms staff helped to collate a list of our churches’ online worship services, which were either pre-recorded or streamed live.
Members had a feast of time slots, and visiting one another’s worship services “virtually”. Many were also able to listen to sermons by more than one speaker.
It was a moving sight to see Prof Tan Chew Lim of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church (MC) and his family, all dressed up and standing for the Call to Worship in their living room. Equally inspiring was a photo of the mother of Henry Tan, Trinity Annual Conference Vice President and lay leader of Wesley MC, in full concentration as she bent over her phone, with her Bible open and making notes of the sermon streamed by Queenstown Chinese MC. Indeed, we were ministered to by pastors from the different Annual Conferences. It was MCS without borders: One MCS.
Suspension of Holy Communion: Together as one
When it became clear that the suspension of worship services would extend beyond Palm Sunday, the question in everyone’s mind was “What about Holy Communion on the first Sunday of the month?” To conduct Holy Communion in one fashion or another, or to suspend?
In the end, it had to be a unifying decision. Bishop Dr Chong disclosed in the pastoral letter to members that he and the Annual Conference Presidents had “a lengthy discussion, covering many different perspectives. Each one of us put out valuable views and critical considerations, till we reached an unavoidable and painful decision: to suspend Holy Communion until the end of April.”1 A painful decision, but one that held every Methodist together as one body.
As the pandemic continues, there will be more challenges. Crisis exposes the true character of people. As the people of the Way, let us learn to emulate Christ in His oneness with the Father: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:20–21)
By the Structural Review Task Force