SINGAPORE - Some worshippers have returned to churches across Singapore for Holy Week, although services remain more muted than pre-Covid days.
Easter services last year were held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Representatives from three church organisations told The Straits Times that safety precautions were in place for services on Maundy Thursday (April 1), Good Friday and Easter Sunday, in keeping with government regulations.
While worshippers will be able to congregate for church services - with safe distancing in place - some elements such as the feet-washing ceremony traditionally performed on Maundy Thursday will not take place this year to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Restrictions on religious activities were eased in December last year under phase three of Singapore's reopening.
The maximum number of congregants allowed increased from 100 to 250 and live performance elements for congregational and other worship services, as well as religious rites, were permitted.
A spokesman for the Archbishop's communications office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said that most of the Catholic churches would be able to accommodate 250 attendees for mass, with congregants sitting in zones of 50 people each, with no mingling between the groups.
"Safety measures include conducting temperature checks, verifying individuals' identities, use of the TraceTogether token or app, ensuring safe distancing and proper sanitation of public areas," she said.
She added that attendees would have to be masked throughout the service except for a short time when they receive Holy Communion.
Despite the restrictions in place, the Catholic Archdiocese said the on-site Holy Week services were a positive step for the community after a difficult year.
City Harvest Church (CHC) will be conducting a short production for its English Easter service that combines live and recorded content, in keeping with safe distancing measures.
A spokesman for the CHC said: "Our services hold a maximum of 250 persons, seated at different sections, entering and exiting at different timings.
"A distance of 3m is kept between the stage and the congregation."
The Grace Assembly of God church will hold hybrid services online and on-site for Good Friday and Easter, with each on-site service capped at 250 attendees.
A spokesman for the church said that congregants attending the on-site services were required to book a ticket to be admitted into the service halls, which have been divided into zones with socially-distanced seating arrangements.
Since resuming on-site services, the church has asked congregants to pick up individually-packed Holy Communion emblems on their way into the service halls and to dispose of the empty cup into bins provided at the exits on their way out after the service.
Similarly, congregants can give tithes and offerings digitally or drop their cash or cheques into boxes provided at the exits.
Reverend Wilson Teo, senior pastor of Grace Assembly of God, said: "This time last year, many were reeling from the impact of Covid-19, which shook us out of our familiar routines, including not meeting anyone or going to church for Good Friday and Easter services.
"But, a year on, most of us have picked up new skills and embraced technology use in our daily lives. We have also understood and got used to the new rules that are deemed necessary to keep Covid-19 at bay."
He added: "With on-site services, there is certainly more flexibility to inject creative elements for engagement. However, with us live-streaming our service online, it does not stop others from participating in our services from their homes either."
Administrator Angelina Lim, 47, who attends services at CHC, said she cried when she returned to on-site services for the first time after Covid-19 restrictions came into force.
She said: "This year is better than last year, but it still takes some getting used to. We are organising a 'watch party' to partake in the service at home with eight friends and family members. It is still Easter, the most significant day for all Christians, only we are spending it in a different way."
Correction note: An earlier version of this story gave the name of the 47-year-old administrator as Angela Lim. This has been corrected to Angelina Lim.