COVID-19 SPECIAL

Churches take Holy Week services online for Good Friday, Easter

The pandemic has dampened Holy Week, but the message of hope prevails, said Pastor Vincent Choo of The Life Church and Missions Singapore. PHOTO: THE LIFE CHURCH AND MISSIONS SINGAPORE
Senior Pastor Tan Seow How of Heart of God Church recording an online sermon. The church will have online services this Easter. PHOTO: HEART OF GOD CHURCH
Senior Pastor Tan Seow How of Heart of God Church recording an online sermon. The church will have online services this Easter.
The pandemic has dampened Holy Week, but the message of hope prevails, said Pastor Vincent Choo of The Life Church and Missions Singapore. PHOTO: THE LIFE CHURCH AND MISSIONS SINGAPORE
Bishop Chong Chin Chung of The Methodist Church in Singapore recording his Easter message on April 6.
Bishop Chong Chin Chung of The Methodist Church in Singapore recording his Easter message on April 6.PHOTO: THE METHODIST CHURCH IN SINGAPORE

Places of worship using tech to connect with congregants on Good Friday, Easter

For the first time in 17 years, The Life Church and Missions Singapore in Paya Lebar Road will stand silent on Good Friday.

Its 150 members will not be there. They will be in their own homes, observing the occasion - which marks the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ - via livestreaming.

The church - a former coronavirus sub-cluster, linked to 10 cases - will also hold an online service for Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. But unlike in previous years, there will not be any baptism ceremony or lunch catered.

The coronavirus pandemic may have dampened the Holy Week celebrations, but the message of hope still prevails, said its pastor, the Reverend Vincent Choo, who will deliver the sermons live from his Bedok home. "As Christians, we give thanks not only for good things, but also the seemingly bad things in life. We seek God in prosperity, and we seek God even more in crisis."

The scene will be played out across Singapore, as Christians go online to mark Good Friday and Easter instead of flocking to church.

It is in keeping with the circuit breaker measures that kicked in on Tuesday, requiring people to stay home and go out only for essential services. The move to stem the spread of Covid-19 saw schools and most workplaces closed until May 4.

Rev Choo told The Straits Times some of his congregants said it was a pity they could not celebrate the occasion like before, but added that the measures were necessary.

"We believe legislative measures keep us safe, while faith is needed to give us hope," he said.

At the Grace Assembly of God church - another former Covid-19 sub-cluster, linked to 23 cases - it will be the first time in its 70 years that services will be held online for Good Friday and Easter Sunday, its senior pastor, the Reverend Dr Wilson Teo, told ST.

As part of the Sunday service, the church, which has more than 4,000 members, will conduct Holy Communion. Congregants will have in hand their own communion emblems, and a pastor will lead them in partaking of them during the service.

"It is regretful that we are not able to meet our loved ones and invite them to our on-site services," said Rev Teo, adding that Holy Week services in the past sometimes included plays and skits. "However, we can still send a text, make a call, or meet them online, to encourage them."

Other churches, such as City Harvest, New Creation and Cornerstone Community, are also taking their Easter services online.

At the Heart of God Church, online services are interactive, with live chats and games. Its Easter services will be designed to be as engaging as possible, including a short film that allows viewers to choose their own ending.

 
 
 

The Methodist Church in Singapore noted this Easter will be quieter. But it added: "This does not take away the meaning of Easter. We encourage our congregants to use the time to reflect on what Easter means and help those in need."

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore has introduced a series of online masses throughout Holy Week. "Never before in modern times has the Catholic Church here been so stripped of our rich liturgical traditions," said Archbishop William Goh's communications office, adding that the Church has had to adapt and simplify various liturgical aspects.

Archbishop Goh said: "While it is painful, I believe that this is a grace period for us to dig deeper into our faith and to go beyond our focus on the externals."

For the 3,000-strong Jewish community, the virus has forced them to mark the Passover in their own homes. The festival, which remembers the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, is observed for eight days outside Israel.

 
 
 

The traditional Seder dinner, which marks the beginning of the Passover and fell on Wednesday this year, was a less lively affair. In the past, it would involve large family gatherings around a table.

There were no video chats either, as observant Jews abstain from certain activities, including using electrical devices, during the festival.

Singapore Chief Rabbi Mordechai Abergel said: "We need to take it positively. That's the whole spirit of the Passover.

"We have faith in God, and our fellow men, to overcome this."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2020, with the headline 'Churches take Holy Week services online'. Print Edition | Subscribe