Novena Church worshippers to be dispersed during rebuilding

The 700-seat church (top) draws about 40,000 people a week to its daily sessions, with many often having to use the verandah (above). When ready, the new church will seat about 2,000.
The 700-seat church (top) draws about 40,000 people a week to its daily sessions, with many often having to use the verandah (above). When ready, the new church will seat about 2,000.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
The 700-seat church (top) draws about 40,000 people a week to its daily sessions, with many often having to use the verandah (above). When ready, the new church will seat about 2,000.
The 700-seat church (top) draws about 40,000 people a week to its daily sessions, with many often having to use the verandah (above). When ready, the new church will seat about 2,000.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

Most of those who go to the popular Novena Church for Sunday mass will have to switch churches temporarily when it closes for rebuilding in October next year.

This is because Saint Joseph's Institution (SJI) Junior School's hall, where interim services will be held, is not big enough for the usual 8,000-strong Sunday congregation, said Rector Simon Tan.

The school hall, with a capacity of about 500, can fit about 1,500 people over three services. That means about eight in 10 people will have to find new places to worship on Sunday.

Novena Church, which was gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 2011, is going ahead with its redevelopment despite raising just two-thirds of its building fund target of $45 million.

This is due to worries that costs might rise further in future.

The church draws about 40,000 people a week to its daily sessions, with many often having to stand in the verandah.

For the two to three years that the 700-seat church is being rebuilt, weekday lunchtime mass and the weekly Novena devotional services will be held at the Church of the Risen Christ in Toa Payoh, which can seat about 1,200.

Regular mass will continue to be held at Novena Church till September next year. When completed, the new church will seat about 2,000.

"Sunday will be very challenging, because we are using a school hall," said Father Tan. "I will have to ask (worshippers) to go to other parishes."

But he added that the inconvenience is a necessary burden. "With the rebuilding, there will be a certain amount of discomfort. People have to bear with it."

He is confident that worshippers forced to go elsewhere for a while will return to the fold when the church is redeveloped, a sentiment shared by those The Straits Times spoke to.

"The congregation will follow the church. We have grown up with it," said Mr Joseph Yeo, 44, who works in finance.

"We may worship at other churches in the meantime, but we will still come back."

Added secretary Joan Teo, 56, when asked if she would return to the new church after a few years away: "Return? Of course. I've been going to this church for two decades."

A volunteer from the nearby Church of Saint Michael in Boon Keng said that Novena Church worshippers were unlikely to head there as it is located far from an MRT station and is not very accessible.

"They'll probably go to churches in the city which are easier to get to."

davidee@sph.com.sg