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Muted Christmas celebrations to give Christians time to reflect on 'true meaning' of holiday, say church leaders

SINGAPORE — As Christians get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Friday (Dec 25), the familiar hymns and carols that would typically resonate through church halls during Christmas festivities will be largely heard online due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Christmas decorations outside the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in the Bras Basah district on Dec 11, 2020.

Christmas decorations outside the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in the Bras Basah district on Dec 11, 2020.

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  • Christmas services for Christians in Singapore will be largely held online this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Church leaders said the muted celebrations this year does not diminish the importance of the holiday
  • It provides Christians a time to reflect on the “true meaning of Christmas”

 

SINGAPORE — As Christians get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Friday (Dec 25), the familiar hymns and carols that would typically resonate through church halls during Christmas festivities will be largely heard online due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The various churches interviewed by TODAY said that while they have gradually raised the limits of the number of worshippers allowed within their premises, in accordance with government guidelines, there are some people who are more comfortable worshipping from home because of the global health crisis.

Religious organisations have been allowed to admit up to 100 people since Oct 3 — with safe distancing and management measures in place. This allows them to partake in congregational and other worship services in person after the halting religious activities earlier in the year,

This limit is due to be raised to 250 people, in five zones of up to 50 people each, when Singapore enters the final phase of reopening its economy on Dec 28.

The Ministry of Health said earlier this month that worship leaders will be allowed to sing at congregational worship services, with specific safe management measures in place, such as a limited number of unmasked singers and wind instruments.

At least four churches have been taking part in a pilot since October to test the feasibility of raising the limits to 250 people.

Among them is the Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church, which said that it has a congregation that numbers “a couple of thousand”.

Its deputy senior pastor Edric Sng said that although they have gradually increased the cap on the number worshippers allowed within the church since October, they will hit 250 people for each service only in early December, which is later than permitted.

“With each round of increase in permitted number of congregants, we’ve found that it takes a couple of weeks to fill up the new capacity, as members need time to adjust their schedules, routines and mindset to prepare to return,” Pastor Sng said. He believes that it will be similar for the latest increase.

Churches that are not part of the pilot, however, said that they did not feel it was an issue that prevented them from celebrating Christmas.

Decorations outside Toa Payoh Methodist Church. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/ TODAY

The Methodist Church in Singapore, for instance, explained that it has not sought permission from the authorities to increase the number of congregants allowed into the 46 Methodist churches it oversees beyond the 100 people limit because they “believe in supporting the authorities in the national effort against the pandemic”.

Others, such as Zion Bishan Bible-Presbyterian Church, will be holding four consecutive English services on Christmas Day to allow more people to hear sermons in person.

The church’s senior pastor Alby Yip said: “We believe that the Christian message of Christmas has much hope and love, not least for such a difficult time that we are all in.

"We also believe... that there is much blessing — spiritual, emotional, mental, social — in gathering in person, even with restrictions in place.”

However, churches such as Faith Community Baptist Church have no intentions of resuming in-person services until the first quarter of next year.

“So while our usual Christmas celebrations will not be taking place, we are looking forward to joining the festive celebration online, and to carol in our households,” its spokesperson said.

Pastor Sng of Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church said that as with all churches, the digital video and communications team has become a vital and growing ministry during this period.

Christmas decorations going up at the Church of St Alphonsus, better known as Novena Church, on Dec 11, 2020. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

TIME FOR REFLECTION

Indeed, the various church leaders told TODAY that even as they take the bulk of their celebrations online, this by no means diminishes the significance of the holiday. Rather, it provides them with an opportunity to reflect within the quiet of their homes on the “true meaning of Christmas”.

A spokesperson for the archbishop's communications office at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said that “stripped of all the bells and tinkles, it is perhaps a blessing” for Christians as the quieter celebrations provide them with a chance to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

“We are also encouraged to reflect on the first Christmas, where Christ was born without fanfare and only the angels and the shepherds, along with their sheep, bore witness to his birth.”

To help share the spirit of the season, Dr Anthony Goh, chairman of the council on communications for the Methodist Church in Singapore, said that some of the organisation’s member churches will be conducting outreach programmes with migrant workers, seniors and families in need, where volunteers will give out gifts and food, among others.

Dr Goh said that for Christians, Christmas celebrations consist not just of prayer services and carolling.

“Christmas is about giving and blessing the community... especially during this period where many have been affected by the pandemic.”

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Christmas church online Covid-19 coronavirus

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