Coronavirus: We were shunned by some, says Grace Assembly pastor

Soon after Wilson Teo, senior pastor at Grace Assembly of God discovered he had Covid-19, he realised getting the virus was not just a health issue. Having the virus also affected how people behaved around those connected to him.
Senior pastor Wilson Teo, who has recovered, says the cluster of infections at his church has brought his team closer but admits they were not prepared for the crisis when it happened.
Senior pastor Wilson Teo, who has recovered, says the cluster of infections at his church has brought his team closer but admits they were not prepared for the crisis when it happened.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Church has passed that phase when its members were told to stay away by employers, GP clinics

After the Grace Assembly of God church emerged as a coronavirus infection cluster last month, its members experienced abuse and ostracism in their workplaces and schools.

The church was at the time the nation's largest cluster with 23 cases linked to it.

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, its senior pastor Wilson Teo revealed: "In many ways, our name had become synonymous with Covid-19."

Some of the church's members were asked by their employers to stay away. Even the children were not spared, with classmates bombarding them with questions and calling them "Covid kids". General practitioner (GP) clinics put up signs turning members away.

"We understand the fear. But when we were going through it, it was very difficult. Many people had no clue how the virus was spreading. So out of that fear came a lot of stigmatisation," said Reverend Teo, who was infected with the coronavirus himself. "We were not welcome in many places... But we have passed that phase."

The church, which has more than 4,000 members, suspended services and activities at its Tanglin and Bukit Batok branches on Feb 12, and the more than 70 staff were issued quarantine orders.

Church staff have since been operating on a split-team arrangement and there are currently no plans to bring everyone back. Services and activities remain suspended.

Rev Teo, who is in his 40s, explained: "We want to make sure if ever there's an outbreak again, the staff do not all get quarantined."

When the crisis broke out, "we were not very prepared", he admitted, adding that his staff were quarantined and some were infected.

"In a sense, we were immobilised."

That episode, however, has brought his team closer. Meetings have been held online - some lasting more than three hours - to discuss church matters and share their common struggles.

Senior pastor Wilson Teo, who has recovered, says the cluster of infections at his church has brought his team closer but admits they were not prepared for the crisis when it happened.
Senior pastor Wilson Teo, who has recovered, says the cluster of infections at his church has brought his team closer but admits they were not prepared for the crisis when it happened. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

At one meeting, a staff member shared that he might not be able to attend his daughter's wedding because he was under quarantine.

"What father wouldn't want to be present at his daughter's wedding?" said Rev Teo. "It was a challenging time. We cried together. We encouraged one another, we prayed together."

Of the 23 cases linked to the church, only 17 involved a staff member or a member of Grace Assembly. All have been discharged and have returned to their normal routines.

Despite the ordeal, his outlook on life has not changed, Rev Teo said. "Rather, it has reinforced my conviction, my Christian values."

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The father of three was discharged from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) on Feb 20, after being warded in an isolation room there for 10 days.

He decided to get tested at the NCID on Feb 11, when his symptoms persisted despite having seen a GP twice. Subsequent test results confirmed the infection on Feb 12.

He started feeling unwell on the night of Feb 4 and after running a temperature, visited a GP the next morning, who gave him a two-day medical certificate. On Feb 7, his temperature came down and he felt well enough to exercise and take his daughter to school as part of his normal routine.

However, on Feb 9, his temperature went up again and he sought treatment at the same GP clinic the next day. He decided to get tested at the NCID on Feb 11 after being informed that one of his staff was a confirmed case.

"The doctor called me up in my ward and broke the news to me. I was shocked, but I was more concerned if I had infected other staff, whether I had infected my family members," he said.

During those 10 days of isolation, he created his own routine, "because from morning to night, you are trapped in that room".

Besides his devotional time and online meetings, he set aside two daily time slots to do his static exercises.

 
 

After his discharge, he took a cab home and had a shower before hugging his family. "I made sure I didn't hug them when I first saw them," he smiled. "They were just thankful that I could be back home."

Since then, Rev Teo has been busy having online meetings with staff and members.

"If you ask me, have I really rested or taken a break after I came out? No, I haven't," he said. "As the leader of the church, I can only rest once we have recovered fully."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2020, with the headline 'We were shunned by some, says Grace Assembly pastor'. Print Edition | Subscribe