Tuesday, 26 April 2022 marked the start of Singapore’s DORSCON Yellow status. It has been a long two years of DORSCON Orange, but now, with the easing of safe distancing measures, churchgoers can now gather freely in church again, albeit with masks on. City News writer Tabitha Tan relates why she loves going back to service in person at Suntec.
This is a very special week for all of Singapore: after a little more than two years, Singapore has done away with TraceTogether and social distancing, marking a tangible “end” to life with COVID as we have known it.
For City Harvest Church, since late March when the Singapore government began easing safe distancing measures, allowing up to 75 percent of capacity for large meetings such as church service, life in church finally regained some semblance of normalcy.
For CHC members like me, going back to live service is one of the best things about this. It’s undeniable that attending service on-site feels different, though not everyone feels the same way as I do.
From Christmas 2021 to March this year, CHC members could take turns to attend service with the church functioning at 50 percent capacity. CHC went from a balloting system to an e-ticketing system created to allow as many members to be at Suntec for service on a rotational basis. The discussion—to go back to Suntec or stay home and watch service—is tired and worn. The comparisons, the pros and cons—we are all too familiar with them. At some point, every member would surely have thought about it and weighed the benefits (or not) of returning.
THE WARM EMBRACE OF COMING HOME IN PERSON
For me, attending service in person, without having to ballot for tickets felt like the warm embrace of coming home.
It’s that subtle feeling of camaraderie knowing that you are part of someone’s headcount. It’s knowing that someone’s out there trying to hold the seat for you between furtive glances at the ushers and hopeful, searching scans for your arrival (provided you are 15 minutes early for service). Rumour has it that someone has been reserving seats with their belt. The ingenuity is lauded, just so you know; not encouraged, but well-appreciated.
It’s the little things you don’t realise you have missed until you encounter it again—like that little pat on the back, a fist bump, a handshake. That familiar instruction of turning to your neighbour on your left and right, and not being met with the indifference of your dog.
A few Sundays ago, while lingering in the hall after service, I noticed my cell group member being approached by someone unfamiliar.
It turned out that he was a Taiwanese who had just arrived in Singapore a week ago. How had he found out about CHC church? Through YouTube. He loved the songs from our church, he said. And now, here he was, in the flesh.
This is where the two worlds collide. This is the congruence and harmony of physical and virtual services: how the virtual world beckons us towards communities we otherwise would never have the chance to know about, and the physical services wholly envelop us into a family.
He wanted food recommendations while he was at it. He didn’t know who else to ask—the average Singaporean on the street did not feel too forthcoming. Within the church setting, we do always feel obligated to be friendlier, right?
“GET UP. GO BACK TO CHURCH”
My parents finally headed down to Suntec Convention Centre last week for Easter service. It was their first time since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.
That was a surprise for me because being the homebodies that they are, they were more than happy to wholly embrace “virtual service Sundays”. My dad is usually poised in the living room with his guitar by 9.55am. They sing, they clap, they try to dance. As a result, the last two years, I missed hearing Amos (Ang, CHC’s worship leader) lead worship—even though my parents aren’t too shabby either.
During the sermons, my parents really listen. There is no social media multitasking going on, nor any dozing off. They do not need a friendly mint. On occasion, to my annoyance, a WhatsApp message comes through from my mom to me to “stop using your phone” or “stop slouching”, just because she does not want to “talk in service”.
Under those circumstances, they were unequivocal in their decision to take virtual services as far along as they could. So, I was surprised when my dad told me they were back at service.
On the morning of Resurrection Sunday, my dad was still taking a nap on the sofa, with every intention of spending yet another Sunday at home. Then, he heard an audible voice say, “Get up. Go back to church.”
At that, he jolted out of slumber and within minutes he was out the door, with my mom in tow, and on the way to Suntec Singapore. Being in service, they realised they really missed attending physical service. What’s more, my dad testified that during the service, he was healed of persistent pain in the heel of his left foot.
At the time of my writing this, he gleefully demonstrates standing up from a seated position—not something he could do before Easter Sunday—for the third time this week.
It goes without saying that the church is not defined or confined to its four walls.
Yet, the four walls create a haven for people to congregate.
Church is where hearts engage, souls connect and His presence reigns strong. If you need one more nudge, here it is: come back, and say hi to the cell group members who may have become hovering pixels on the screen. It’s time to come back home.