How will church be like this week?
Ezra 3:11 “And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid”.
The returnees from captivity rejoiced greatly when they could restart worship in Jerusalem.
Western Australia has given the green light for gatherings of 20 patrons at this stage, ahead of many other states. Some businesses may be struggling with the decision on whether to reopen or not, given the amount of logistics they need to take care of just for a relatively small group size. As for church, why do we want to gather if only 20 people can come in? How will church be like during this phase? What should you do when you come? Please do read the details as you need to know them.
Why gather when there are only 20 people ? Just simply because we have a congregation that is a bit bigger does not mean that it is meaningless to gather with only 20 people. It is much less of a logistical nightmare for Session if we just waited till phase 3 where 100 are anticipated to be able to return. However, let us remember that in some places, there are churches with even less than 20 people, or even less than 10. Yet, during pre-COVID-19 times, they continued to gather together every Sunday in obedience to God’s Word in Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching”. And even with these small numbers, they treasure the opportunity to be able to gather as a local light in that location. In the New Testament times when there was widespread persecution, the early Christians gathered in houses – perhaps some bigger and some smaller in number. But what must ultimately guide us should be biblical principles. 1) Gathering is a biblical injunction, 2) the local church is a light to those around, 3) we must respond when God answers our prayers to be able to return, 4) in all matters of life, we must exercise faith, not fear. So, we thank God for the ability to return to His church. I am glad that so many of you are excited to return. Though it is only for 20 persons at a time, we are still grateful and happily bear the challenges to enable 20 people to gather in-person to worship, learn, and fellowship together, and be a local neighbourhood testimony of faith in and desire for the living God.
How will church be like when you come ? Here are some key highlights. (1) The Lord’s Day. There will be no pre-worship prayer, children Sunday School, or Basic Bible Knowledge during this phase of return. There will not be ushers and welcomers. Hardcopy bulletins will be in the foyer, and hymn books in the usual shelves. (2) Weekday meetings. One of the major changes that is needed to maximise the number of returnees is that we need to move the weekday Chinese prayer meetings and fellowship nights to Mondays and Thursdays respectively. It was a difficult decision to make. But since the aim is to maximise fellowship in each congregation, then by doing so we can have the entire Chinese regular attendees come back to church in full numbers on Monday prayer meetings and Thursday fellowship without need to split the group up. We cannot achieve this if both English and Chinese meetings remain on the same nights in church. This will likely be the case even in phase 3 because the total number of people that come for weekday prayer and fellowship meetings historically exceeded 100. Also, until the government lifts social distancing, we are limited by the seating arrangements. (3) Prayer groups. Bring your headphones and earphones! It is not conducive to pray aloud in a group in church with a 1.5m distancing. Until there is a better solution, during the prayer time, after the message, returnees will need to use your phone’s earsets, find a place you are comfortable to pray in (there should be plenty of room for 20 people), and call in to your usual group to pray. We do not want you to drive and pray. For the Chinese prayer meeting that can now meet together without rostering, groups can choose to pray face to face (with social distancing) or through phone calls. Do stay back to fellowship after that. (4) Fellowship groups. Regen and Y180, and CAF and CSF will remain together for Bible studies.
What should you do when you return? (1) Maintain social distancing. We will not reconfigure the seatings (in fact you will get to see the camera in the middle of the hall!). Immediate families should sit as a group without empty seats between you. There should be at least 3 chairs between individuals/groups of families. All are to sit with one empty row between them at the front and back, away from others. But do fill the front part of the hall while maintaining these guidelines. So please cooperate. Please stay back to fellowship but maintain the social distancing at all times. (2) Please pick up your own bulletin and hymnbook. Do use the sanitiser (preferably bring your own as well) at the entrance before you pick up the hymnbooks. Please return the hymn books to the shelves after using them. If you prefer, you can use your own softcopy or your own home’s copy of hymnbooks if you have them. Do not leave your bulletin behind on the chairs or in the hymn books! And do not come in if you are unwell, even though you are rostered. (3) Do not swap places in your roster. If you do, you may affect the entire group’s arrangements as we need to consider transport needs, family units, etc. (4) Using facilities. There will not be any biscuits or coffee/tea after worship or fellowships Though the water filter will be available, we encourage you to bring sufficient water for yourself and your family. Please maintain the 1.5m social distancing when entering, leaving the church, and also while queueing for the toilet usage. The upper level sanctuary, the ground floor library, and the upper fellowship hall will be closed on Sundays in this phase. Minimise touching things in church. (5) Cleaning roster. Some of you may be requested to help perform basic clean up after people have left. Disposable gloves and cleaning materials will be provided. You will be briefed. Let us all do our part for each other. (6) Livestreaming. Livestreaming will definitely continue for the English Lord’s Day worship service and weekday English meetings because the majority cannot come in due to the 20 person limit. However, since Chinese weekly meetings sign up falls below the 20 patrons limit, there is no need to publicly broadcast the livestreamed weekday meetings anymore. Whether or not the Chinese worship service will continue to be livestreamed on our church internet after the Phase 3 return will depend on whether or not all who have registered to return can come to do so without rostering. When no rostering is required for a particular group, we will revert to the pre-COVID-19 AV process. If you are unable to come for valid reasons such as due to illness, please request for the link to the meetings from the AV team as before (firstname.lastname@example.org for English, and email@example.com for Chinese links) and these links will be sent to you via emails. We are doing this because we want to encourage people to return to church. In a conversation with a Christian (who is not from our church), he said that he enjoyed the convenience of online worship from his home, in his pyjamas. It is a nice new hassle- free worship every Sunday now. That is why I started off this Pastoral explaining why we should gather physically, applying biblical principles to guide us. This is going to be the new norm. While we continue to practice social distancing, it is time for us to return to worship God. It is not just social distancing that will prevent you from falling ill, but a Sovereign God Who is in control. Let us use the opportunities God has given to us here in WA where we can worship our living God back in church.
Let us be thankful and rejoice that we can return! And so let us also be accommodating, understanding, and cooperative if there are things that are not to your preference and likings. We will continue to strive to provide the right environment by keeping to regulations sensibly as required by our government. And you must do your part too. Most importantly, let us return to worship the Lord and encourage one another in fellowship and faith.
With much rejoicing for our return, yours in our Lord’s service,