The first week of returning to church
We thank God for seeing us through the planning to allow for 20 worshippers to return to church starting from 18 May. Over the past week, we have had both English and Chinese prayer meetings and fellowship meetings conducted in church. One may think that preparing for the return of only 20 worshipers may be easier, but in many ways, it turned out to be more complex than it would have possibly been if it were for 100. And with a short time to react, the work was intensive. But we thank God for His enabling grace as we held our first face to face meetings. It was such a joy being able to see worshippers face to face again and hear singing in the sanctuary as we conducted our meetings. Once again, the foyer which had been empty and quiet for 2 months became our “informal fellowship room” after the meetings, while we still maintained social distancing.
This return is a significant milestone in our church’s history and I feel it is important that we visit this milestone and to know as a church what happened. What preparations needed to be done? What are some “new normal” processes that we need to learn to live with? What can you do to help moving forward?
The preparation for Phase 2 return. What were the guiding thoughts for planning for the return? (1) Registration. An online form had to be set up for worshipers to register their return. Those unfamiliar with IT usage were contacted by phone. (2) Groupings of 20. Worshippers who indicated their desire to return to church had to be grouped. Those (such as students and the elderly) requiring transport had to be matched to drivers and grouped together. Likewise, households were grouped together as well. Beyond this, other factors such as seniors or families with children in similar age groups/Sunday School classes etc, were also considered. Based upon those who registered to come back for English meetings and services, 4 groups were rotated to come back for weekday meetings, while 7 groups are being rotated for Sunday worship. For Chinese weekday meetings, since the total number registered is below 20, all can return without rostering on weekdays. But due to the higher Sunday registrants, those who come back for Sunday worship are alternated between 2 groups. (3) Return sequence. Since many from all the groups were eager to return to church, the order as to when each group would come back was determined by a random sequence generator so that it was determined objectively. (4) Informing. Invitations for the English groups needed to be sent using Google calendar invites. Since the Chinese groups were a small number and many elderlies may not be familiar with the use of IT, we chose to use personal contact and WhatsApp instead.
Processes for the Phase 2 “new normal”. (1) 20 patrons at each meeting. Do remember that the 20 patrons cap set by the government does not need to include service personnel that are needed for the running of the event. As such, the speaker, pianist, worship leader, AV personnel and usher/counter are not counted, so do not be alarmed when you see more than 20 people in church. (2) Attendance tracking. The church is required to maintain a record of attendees. For English meetings and services which are currently rostered, this is done through the Gmail appointment, while the Chinese brethren track attendances at each meeting. (3) Cry room capacity. With the 4 sqm per person requirement, only 6 people (inclusive of the AV duty personnel) are permitted in this area. As such, priority for the use of this room will be based on age. To allow this room to be used by those who need it most, younger infants, for example, will be given priority over toddlers. Since we have several families with babies that may come in at the same time, it is suggested that mothers remain in the cry room with the babies, while fathers can sit outside in the main sanctuary with the older children. Should this still be insufficient for the room’s capacity, we suggest that families then sit in the main sanctuary. This is a new normal we cannot avoid. This is also good training for toddlers to begin to be taught to sit still in reverential worship to God. However, since livestream is still ongoing for those at home, we do request the parents’ assistance to help maintain a conducive environment of worship for everyone. Do not be tempted to not come, or stay outside the sanctuary unless you are really unable to settle your child. But do remember that the preparation begins at home. (4) COVID Safety Plan. In line with regulations, we have completed the required assessment areas and put in place the necessary actions for compliance.
How can you help ? (1) Reply to the Google calendar invitations with a “Yes” or “No”. As long as you have received an invitation, please do respond even if your spouse/parent has done so, if you are indeed coming. As we have been facing intermittent problems on Gmail and Google calendar, having an indication of a yes or no from everyone who was sent the email helps us to know if the email was not received and thus missed, or just that the person didn’t reply though he or she saw the email. We do request that each individual who has registered their Gmail address with us respond to the emails received. This way, if this becomes a process that will last for several months, the burden of tracking attendance will be eased. (2) Come for the meetings/ services. Yes, there are new processes that you may not be used to. But this will be the new norm. As Christians, we should not be tempted to stay away from church and worship because the new processes are not to our preferences, likings, or conveniences. Our priority should still be to follow God’s command for us to maintain our assemblies. We are called to be God’s people, and not just individuals. Come back to worship Him as He has enabled. (3) Maintain social distancing requirements and personal hygiene. We cannot post markers everywhere on the floor. They are pasted mainly as reminders in the foyer and outside the toilets. Do be conscious and obey the government’s regulations which are for our good. Remember to be a good example to the neighbourhood also when we fellowship outside on the church compound.
What should you expect in Phase 3 ?This obviously depends on what additional measures may be required by the government. With the rather tight measures already required for Phase 2 returnees, it may be that nothing much will change for Phase 3, except that you will see more people in church. We hope to restart our Children Sunday School, possibly without the toddlers/kindy classes due to the difficulty of conducting these classes with social distancing. At present, the anticipation is that Phase 3 will allow 100 patrons in church at any one time, as compared to the current 20 for Phase 2. This means that we will be able to see more people in church each time we go back and be able to fellowship in bigger groups. Based upon the number who have currently registered to come back on weekdays, it could possibly mean that there will be no need to roster for all our weekday meetings, but English Sunday Worship may still need to be on alternate weeks.
All these have been done only for 1 key purpose – to be able to allow God’s people to return to His house to worship Him and to obey the command for the assembling of ourselves. Much preparation and sleepless nights were needed as Session members and some lay persons worked behind the scenes. But it was all worth it for our Lord, so that God’s people could reassemble together in worship of our Triune God in church. I am thankful to God for His guiding Hand, and the hard work put in by His children to help us to enable that to happen again over the past week.
Finally, brethren, let us be reminded now of the importance to supplicate, pray, intercede and give thanks “For kings, and forall that are in authority”. And God reminds us why we do so – “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1Tim 2:2) So let us pray, and let us return to church. See you when you return.
Yours in our Lord’s service,