Another COVID lockdown in WA

Dear BPCWA worshipper, Though we had read about it in other states, I suppose many of us probably didn’t think that WA would have another lockdown, especially not such a stringent one, after what we experienced in the second quarter of 2020.  It was just another Sunday, or so we thought, and we continued to thank God at our pre-worship prayer for the privilege of continued assembling in WA.  After the Church Extension briefing, there seemed to be more cars than usual along Bombard Street.  While I was taking a quick lunch, I received a flurry of messages with news of the lockdown that would take place between 6pm Sunday to 6pm Friday 5-February.  When driving back to preach for the Chinese worship, the same street was now in chaos, with cars parked on the side of the road, leaving 2-way traffic stalled on 1 lane of the road.  The cars were not moving because panic buying at the supermarket nearby was in full swing.  But while households were preparing to stock up on their food to feed themselves, we needed to prepare to ensure that church meetings would not be interrupted for continued spiritual feeding during this time.

What happened last Sunday.  After the Church Extension briefing completed for the Chinese service, Session had a meeting to discuss the next steps.  Unlike the last lockdown, this was a hard lockdown, and in a number of ways different from that last year.  Travel was restricted to those doing essential work and face masks were required outside of the home.  With a snap lockdown, we had to call a snap Session meeting immediately on Sunday too.  Since it was announced to be just a 5 day lockdown period and it was not very clear yet whether we can stream services from church premises, we decided to try to livestream the English prayer meeting via a laptop from home.  By God’s providence, we had already decided to livestream our worship services online earlier, so our church‘s webpage had already been set up with the livestream icon that was already available.  Doing it from home would be trickier, and it would need setup on the laptop and I now had to familiarize myself to be able to operate it on my own.  As for the Chinese prayer meeting and fellowship meetings, it was less complex.  These meetings could be conducted through a group WhatsApp video call without reaching the maximum limit allowed due to the group size.  A brief informational message was drafted to be placed online at our website on what to expect for the mid-week meetings.  By the time we left church, it was evening and the 6pm lockdown start time was imminent.  The supermarket nearby had closed, and the roads were quiet again.  With no one going to church during the week, we did a final check to ensure that the church was in order, and a notice placed to inform visitors to go online.  As I left the empty church, it was with a feeling of déjà vu… would the doors open for worship this Sunday?  Even the Premier wouldn’t know, but our Almighty God knows.  Another part of BPCWA’s history, another revelation of God’s Hand in the history of His people and His church.  We could only hope and pray that in a week, we would once again be opening the doors of the church to welcome His people in to praise and worship Him together.  Nevertheless, we had to discuss contingency plans if we could not return on Sunday.

A look back at the week past.  We thank God for His providential Hand in preventing further community spread, especially considering the many hotspots identified.  We thank God also for His help through the past week of livestream.  With the hard lockdown in place, it was yet another first in home based online recordings as well.     Due to the hard lockdown, we could not stream from church and so the Tuesday English prayer meeting was recorded from home.  Behind the scenes, it meant learning how to generate a livestream link on the church laptop, debugging the problems with the laptop sound, and finding a place with suitable lighting.  This time, we also tried to simulate a service in church by using past recordings of congregational singing for the hymns.  By God’s providential Hand, I attempted to record the video early just in case.  Guess what?  The streaming dropped midway due to the weak wi-fi reception.  It would have been a disaster if that occurred during a livestream. To overcome this, AV dropped the quality of the recording while at the same time I set the laptop to connect by tethering to my handphone at home instead.  It was just by a hair’s breadth, as the recording was completed only at 7:30 pm, just in time to put it online for the meeting.  On the other hand, with a smaller group size that thankfully did not exceed the WhatsApp group size limits, the Monday Chinese prayer meeting and Thursday Chinese fellowship meeting was conducted live by simply using WhatsApp video.

A look at the week ahead.  On Thursday evening, the WA government announced the guidelines for the gradual easing of the hard lockdown.  The measures that will be in place from 6pm Friday, 5 February to 12:01 am Sunday, 14 February will include 1) Mandatory mask wearing, 2) 4 sqm per person capacity (double the space required per person), 3) Cap of 150 people per venue.  With the 4 sqm ruling in place, the English congregation will not be able to gather in church and will meet and worship through online means for the Tuesday prayer and Friday fellowship meetings.  Thankfully, the Chinese congregation will be able to continue physical worship and meetings in church wearing masks, though seating will need to be spaced out to cover the fellowship hall area as well, to ensure that we meet the 4 sqm regulation.  Because of the restrictions in place, the Lord’s Supper for February will be postponed till next Sunday instead.  The Sunday School Promotion and the Adelphos Adelphe Bible Study, activities originally planned to be held today, have also been moved to next Sunday, while the Teens Q&A (originally scheduled for next Sunday) has been brought forward till today instead.  Unless there are further restrictions announced by the WA government during the week, we will all resume worshipping in church next Sunday, as we used to.  So do pray earnestly.   

What we must learn from another lockdown.  Even when things are going so well, God still permits another lockdown.  Nothing happens haphazardly, but under His Sovereign and all-wise plan.  What good does He intend from this?  Surely there are lessons we must consciously learn.  1) Man’s helplessness.  We can and should put all necessary measures and processes in place.  But the virus escapes in ways that leave doctors and scientists nonplussed and worried.  The question on people’s minds now about the transmission is how and from who?  Perhaps an answer will be found.  Perhaps not.  This virus has brought large and powerful nations to a screeching halt and many businesses to their knees.  Economies are affected globally.  Lives are lost in the millions.  Large pharmaceutical companies and governments are supporting the development and production of a vaccine.  But even the most hopeful of vaccines are still reported to have various side effects.  One little virus has thrown the entire world into disarray, changed life as we knew it, disrupted the normal function of society and government.  The best brains and powerful nations are humbled at something so small that the naked eye cannot see.  What is man, what are the achievements of this world?  This must be a lesson to help us realise how puny and helpless man is.  Let this thought be something to remind us not to trust in health, wealth, and power. Also, these events should cause us to turn away from the vain pursuits of the world and seek Him with our whole hearts!  2) A reminder to be thankful.  Of the many states in Australia, WA has been relatively protected from community spread of the virus all this time.  Even other parts of Australia have observed that life has gone on almost as normal for us in WA for a long time.  We are indeed thankful that many have returned for worship.  But has that delight in His house and in His worship become something that we “expect” rather than something we anticipate and delight in?  What is the offering that we bring before Him each Sunday as we come into His house?  Ps 100:4 “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”  When we once couldn’t wait to come to church worship, serve Him, fellowship with one another, have we taken these for granted and recently found coming to church a weary duty and can’t wait to run off and go home?  Our God who is a Spirit, seeks worshippers that worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23, 24).  I truly thank God that He allowed us to have both worship services last Sunday before the lockdown came into effect.  But did you relish in that Sunday’s worship as you would have, had you known there was a lockdown looming?  How was your heart’s attitude as you left God’s house last Sunday?  As God sends us a timely reminder now, let us renew our spirits to worship and serve Him aright, in His house, among His people.  It was perhaps a fitting reminder that last week’s message was “A Care for the Future”.  If we have little affection for God’s church, will we actually care for God’s kingdom?  Let us repent quickly and return to our first works. 

 “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.  15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”  
Jas 4:14-15

Yours in our Lord’s service,