Thursday, 22 Oct 2020

Places of worship slowly open up to more worshippers as Covid-19 rules eased

SINGAPORE – When the Cornerstone Community Church opens its doors on Sunday (Oct 4), around 100 worshippers will stream in to each of its auditoriums at Katong and Bugis for services.

The church is among some places of worship that started opening up to bigger groups this weekend after safe distancing rules for such venues were eased on Saturday (Oct 3).

The crowd limit has been raised to 100 people at any one time – double the previous limit in place since the circuit breaker ended in late June. Live music was also allowed at 16 faith organisations as part of a pilot programme.

Despite the green light, churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship mostly took a cautious approach, with many keeping to the lower crowd limit over the first weekend.

Worshippers also did not rush to attend services it seemed, with many still wary of crowds.

The temples in Waterloo Street, typically a hive of activity before Covid-19 hit, saw a trickle of devotees on Saturday.

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho, the biggest temple in the area, stopped opening on weekends during the circuit breaker and remained closed.

There were no crowds at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown, which was keeping to its rule of not allowing walk-in visitors.

It was one of a few religious organisations on the trial for live music, and sounds of chanting emanated from its cavernous prayer hall. But there were few people inside; only those who had made appointments were allowed in.

Businessman Adam Toh, 47, who was praying outside the temple with his sons, aged seven and three, said: “This is good enough for us. My kids are young and I am a bit uneasy about bringing them to crowded places with Covid-19 still not over.”


A devotee prays outside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple at around 10am on Oct 3, 2020. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

IT security officer Veena Govindaraj, 44, who was at Sri Krishnan Temple in Waterloo Street, said she hoped it would not get too crowded: “So far the temple is managing the crowds very well. I think as long as people follow the safe-distancing rules and wear masks, things will be okay.”

Even places of worship that did open up to more people had limited their activities given infection risks and concerns among worshippers.

Cornerstone Community Church, for instance, kept physical services to about 45 minutes compared with online ones that last over an hour. It also did not play live music or give communion.

Still, tickets for the services at both its Katong and Bugis locations were snapped up within minutes when online booking started.

Cornerstone Pastor Lim Lip Yong said: “It’s a great reprieve for people to go to church and participate in something congregational. But we understand the need to be cautious.”

BW Monastery, which was also ready to receive more devotees, continued to hold off on starting chanting sessions.

These typically attract up to 300 devotees, a number that the monastery could not accommodate with safe distancing in place, said chief executive Lim Jue Meng.

“We don’t want to disappoint some of them. If we do it online everybody will get a chance to participate,” he added.

“Also, having hundreds of people chanting together will increase the risk for Covid-19 and we don’t want endanger our devotees.”

Worshippers at Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Little India finally got to attend prayers where live music was played. Previously these rituals had been held without devotees in attendance.


Worshippers at Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Little India finally got to attend prayers where live music was played. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Temple secretary R. Rajakanth said devotees who were at the temple welcomed the music: “Hinduism is not a silent religion, it is centred around music and sounds.”

The increase in crowd limits did not make much difference at Taoist temples as devotees typically visit throughout the day and do not stay long, said Taoist Federation president Tan Thiam Lye.

It is only during special occasions, such as the upcoming Nine Emperor Gods Festival, that the temples will see big crowds. Mr Tan said they were already preparing to put up tents and are recruiting volunteers to help with crowd control.

Catholic churches and mosques were among places of worship that continued to keep to the 50-person rule over the weekend.

The Catholic Church said on its website that some parishes will begin offering 100 places for Mass from Tuesday (Oct 6), “contingent on the churches having the relevant safety management plans in place”.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore said the number of slots available for daily congregational prayers will be increased at 19 mosques from Wednesday.

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