City Harvest Church’s Church Without Walls ministries resumed their on-site services after almost a year.
For the past year, the Church Without Wall ministries—Harvest Kidz, Dialect Service and Jesus for All Minds (JAMS), which serves the intellectually disabled—have been busy meeting their members online.
With Singapore in Phase 3, CWW has resumed in-person services. While it is momentous, it is also a lot of work for the teams. Having the safe-distancing measures in place means that only a small group of people can attend services on-site, hence the ministry is running both online and on-site to reach all its members.
HARVEST KIDZ & NURSERY SUPPORT SERVICES
Harvest Kidz’s support services enable parents with young children to fully enjoy the service. When CHC first resumed on-site services, Harvest Kidz’ support was not yet ready, which presented a challenge to these parents.
So it was much to the relief of many parents that in March, Harvest Kidz resumed their support services for the Saturday 5 pm and Sunday 10 am main services. For a start, classes for three age groups—4 to 6-year-olds, 7 to 8-year-olds, and 9 to 12-year-olds—recommenced. In the first weekend of April, the toddler class (under 4s) also resumed.
“The total capacity for support services is 150, so we have around 30 children in each group,” says Seah Eng Wee, the Harvest Kidz teacher who organized the return to on-site services.
The 7-12s are seated in rows of eight in a classroom style and only play games and do group discussion only with the children in their row. There is no intermingling with kids seated in another row. Praise and worship, games, and Bible lessons are still taught from the stage as before.
For the younger children, there is some departure from the familiar. Before COVID-19 happened, the classrooms of the younger children were equipped with toys and books that they could freely move around to enjoy.
“There are no more toys and no more sharing of materials,” Eng Wee discloses. Instead, the children are seated in groups of five and assigned to one teacher—no intermingling with other groups is allowed.
“For the 2 to 3-year-old age group, we are only allowing one parent to be with the child and there is no intermingling between groups,” Eng Wee said. “Also, no snacks.”
The most noteworthy thing about the new Harvest Kidz classes is that, for some of the segments, the on-site and online classes merged into one. That means that the children participating in the Zoom services would see the teacher on stage in Suntec Singapore and the children attending on-site services would see the teachers teaching at home on Zoom.
“They have one teacher on stage and one teacher on Zoom, and the duo would talk to each other and lead the welcome and games together. When they play games together, it will be the Suntec Kids against the Zoom kids. It’s a lot of fun,” he shared.
Both online and on-site congregations engage in praise and worship and Bible lessons corporately, before splitting up for activities. The on-site children go into their discussion groups which continue till the main service sends, while the online children go into breakout rooms to do their activities for another 20 minutes.
Going back on-site may be great news for the adults but for little ones who have become used to the comfort of attending Harvest Kidz at home, separation anxiety can get very real.
“For the younger children, coming to Suntec is a whole different ball game. On Zoom, they can be very active, but in Suntec, they become very quiet. For the four-year-olds, this is their first time attending class without their parents so they can be a little apprehensive.”
However, most of the children are happy to be back in church. Eng Wee shares, “They had so much fun that they are asking their parents to bring them back every week. So we are allowing parents to drop off their children even if they (the parents) don’t have tickets for the main service. They just have to register with their cell group leaders the week before.”
Parents returning to the Nursery have to adhere to strict safe-distancing measures. “We have two rooms: one room for nursing mothers and another for the toddlers,” said Shirley Yeo, head of Nursery ministry. “But the mothers cannot go from one room to the other. If they have a baby they need to nurse and a toddler, both of them need to be in the same room.”
Each room can only accommodate up to 15 pairs of parent and baby. The babies and toddlers are not allowed to crawl around in the room, and there will be no toys or books to entertain them while their mothers watch the service streamed to the screens in the rooms.
“They will be two high chairs available for the mothers who wish to feed their toddlers, but we won’t be providing hot water or a fridge for the breast milk as we did in the past,” she added.
JESUS FOR ALL MINDS SERVICE
The JAMs ministry welcomed back a group of very excited members in the month of March. “They have been asking us, ‘When can we go back (to on-site service)?’ for the past year, so now that we are able to do it, we thought why not?” says Adiel Choy, a JAMs pastoral supervisor.
Preparing to restart on-site services was no easy task. The JAMs workers had to ensure that the members who attend the services could adhere to the safe-distancing measures and that their parents were comfortable with the new arrangements.
“We did a survey with the parents to find out if they were comfortable with their charge going for on-site services. Some of our members have existing health issues that put them at a higher risk, others are not comfortable wearing masks, and there are also those who haven’t collected their Trace Together tokens,” she shared. In the end, just 96 members—a third of the JAMs membership—could attend on-site services weekly.
JAMs has services in Suntec Singapore and Jurong West on Saturdays 10.30am and 11am respectively, and Zoom services for the rest of the members on Sunday.
For the team, it was heartening to see the members again after a year’s hiatus. “Our members are very friendly and they wanted to hug us the moment they saw us,” Adiel recalled with a laugh. “I told them ‘Cannot, we cannot hug now.’”
Apart from the no-touching rule, the JAMs members also had to learn to worship quietly and to sit in their assigned groups, according to the bus they came in, instead of mingling with their friends.
Regardless of the limitations, the JAMs members were full of excitement when they came back to church.
“One of the members, Joanna Tan, 38, brought a whole year’s worth of offering on the first service,” Adiel says with pride. “Each of our members was given an offering pouch during COVID and she had been setting aside her offering in the pouch every week for the past year.”
Witnessing the joy of the JAMs members and watching them worship God with all their hearts was a great reward for the JAMs workers. “Truly, how awesome it is to return to the House of God,” says Adiel.
The on-site service for dialect-speaking seniors in CHC is held on Saturdays, 2pm in CHC’s Jurong West premise. Justin Chiang, a pastoral supervisor in Dialect ministry shared that the members were very excited to go back to church.
“We have a large number of elderly members that do not have mobile devices or who are just not tech-savvy. So, even though we are still doing Zoom services and Pastor Maria (Tok, who oversees Dialect Service) is still doing sermon recordings to post on YouTube on every Sunday, we need to go back on-site because many of them do not have access to the online content. We need to ensure that these members’ spiritual needs are met,” he explained.
Dialect Service uses the Chinese Church Hall, so they can have up to 100 people for their service. “The elderly members are a vulnerable group, so we didn’t want to start with a big bang. We are trying out different arrangements to see what works best for them.”
The members are divided into two groups, according to the estate where they live and take turns the on-site service on alternate weeks. Only the members living in the Bukit Batok area get to attend the services weekly.
“You could see the excitement on their faces—they’ve really missed church,” Justin describes. “There are those who made the effort to go down to collect their Trace Together tokens just so they can come to church. In the past, we provided bento sets for the members after service, so some people think that they are coming for the food. Now we can’t serve food because of COVID-19, but the members are still coming because they really just want to come to encounter God!”
He added, “Being present in church makes a lot of difference. It gives our members a chance to take time out of their usual routine to just be focused on God, to experience His presence. That is so much more precious than anything else.”