July 2021 Issue-Entering the New Normal

by Michael Kang

 A Graduates’ Christian Fellowship (GCF) forum entitled Entering the New Normal was held on 15 January 2021. Attended by 27 people over Zoom, the online event featured three speakers – Dr Chew Wee, Ms Susan K, Rev Yong Teck Meng and was moderated by Mr Michael Kang.

Responses from GCF surveys

Dr Chew Wee, chairperson of GCF’s sectional group, Engineering & Science Christian Fellowship, presented the findings of four GCF surveys conducted from June to December 2020. About100-150 people responded per survey with a good representation from different age groups of between 20 years to -70 years of age.
He said that Covid-19 is a disruptive global event, which affected all nations and people groups. The post-Covid-19 world would be radically different, as never anticipated before. He shared that the GCF surveys aimed to get some sentiments from the ground and be a conversation starter to promote active Christian responses such as how to love our neighbours and promote Christian witness in the post-Covid-19 landscape.
Dr Chew shared some observations from the four surveys.
a)             Working remotely in new normal
From the first survey, he highlighted that remote work had made the work hours arguably longer but may not be more productive, even with extended working from home (WFH) hours. It was more difficult to draw the line between personal and work time. There was therefore a need to address potential dangers and gaps to teamwork and working relationships.
b)             Social distancing and human relationship
The second survey revealed greater negative impacts for larger groups and those with lesser affiliations and interaction opportunities.  Some social needs were still unmet despite availability of alternative means for communication. There were some feelings of isolation, suspicion and lack of hospitality and consideration when interacting with others.
c)             Facing uncertainties in the new normal
The third survey showed that most people were coping well with the changes, having avenues to share their concerns over the new normal and staying optimistic. Some respondents shared concerns over pursuing skills or academic upgrades. Most respondents had confidence on the way Covid-19 was being managed locally in Singapore compared to what was being reported globally. The highest anxiety expressed was on the subsequent waves of pandemic and on job security.
d)             Faith in post-Covid-19
There was a good representation of Christians from different congregation sizes. A fraction (7 per cent) felt that their view about God was negatively influenced, 15 per cent had doubts about faith, 22 per cent noted their faith dwindled in the past months. 34 per cent of respondents felt more help could be offered by local churches.
For most respondents, virtual fellowship meetings and small group gatherings had been instrumental in maintaining spiritual vibrancy. Two out of three felt that their emotional and spiritual needs were met, and that relationships were strengthened through virtual gatherings. Half of the respondents felt that their local church was sufficiently creative in sharing the good news, and that the lack of regular face-to-face worship and fellowship did not bring about negative impact to their faith. Three out of five believed that their local church needed to make more efforts in holding community worship services. One fifth noted that they would most likely opt for virtual online fellowship, even after the pandemic was over.
Dr Chew concluded by reflecting that this pandemic may be a providential wake-up call for Christians and the body of Christ to be faithful as we wait upon the coming the Lord and to witness for Him.
Relooking at essentials in our life
Ms Suzan Kaur, National Director, OMF Singapore) shared how we can respond to the new normal both as individuals and as a church. First, she observed this pandemic season may be seen as the time to relook at what are the essentials in our life and to learn to grow spiritually and professionally, thus bringing blessings to people around us. This time also presented us great opportunities to get to know our neighbours better and to show empathy and kindness to those who need support.
In the area of church life, she highlighted the importance of small groups in contrast to the big and celebratory gatherings to provide members with intimate and genuine fellowship, and hence, the importance of training small group leaders to provide pastoral support to fellow small group members. With church activities moving into online platform, she also reminded us of the danger of consumerism, where people just shopped online for churches.
On the mission front, she highlighted the increased need for integral mission and marketplace professionals, including in the context of creative-access countries. In Singapore, the pandemic had brought to surface the need to minister to the diaspora, such as in the case of migrant workers in dormitories in the early pandemic days in Singapore. Looking at the global trend, she raised up the call for the church to step-up to become essential to the society. Finally, by way of reflection, she exhorted us to focus on the constants of our Christian life, that is, our relationship with God, His word and His mandates, amidst of the interruptions and disruptions in life such as the current pandemic.
Exposing issues in work & church
Rev Yong Teck Meng, national director, Habitat for Humanity Singapore, pointed out that the pandemic gave us an exposure of issues that were already around but brought to surface due to the current situation. In the area of work, he highlighted how the work environment had changed to mostly working from WFH, through which employers realised that they may not need to provide so much physical space for the employees to work. And as work-life balance was affected due to WFH, employees had to think like entrepreneurs to be responsible and to give our best in our work, and not to simply expect to draw paycheck when the work produced was sub-par.
In church life, Covid-19 had exposed the issues that we have been ignoring both in theology and in practice, for example, the issue on whether the church could observe the holy communion virtually, and whether an online church was really a church. All this exposed us of who we are, whether we worshipped and served as an eye-service before others, and what the church really is, whether it is centred around our relationship firstly with God and with one another.
However, one participant raised during the question-and-answer session that as church leaders trying to focus on what the essentials for the church, there was a danger of churches becoming inward-looking, caring more of their survival rather than caring for the societies. He said that these were real concerns, and therefore, Christians and churches needed to be consistently in touch with the ground where the people in need were, so that we would not be like “frog in a well”.