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Hiatus of religious services 'tough but necessary decision': Inter-faith body

Hiatus of religious services 'tough but necessary decision': Inter-faith body

The Al-Ansar Mosque in Bedok is usually packed on Friday afternoons. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

SINGAPORE: The decisions by the Islamic council and the Catholic Church to temporarily shut mosques and suspend mass were “tough, but necessary”, Singapore's Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) said in a statement on Friday (Mar 13).

On Thursday evening, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) said it would close all mosques for at least five days from Friday for cleaning, to prevent community spread through mosque activities.

The Catholic Church also announced that evening that it will continue to suspend mass in light of the rising number of COVID-19 infections, reversing a decision it had made a week earlier. 

READ: 'It's really sad': Some turn up to pray even as mosques closed for cleaning due to COVID-19

IRO, which has members from 10 religions, said that it appreciates and supports the efforts by the various religious communities amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The inter-faith group encourages members of religious communities to work with their leaders to make adjustments in practicing their faith during this period, and to continue to be united.

“This is a time for us to show solidarity as Singaporeans,” said Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, president of IRO.

“We should not panic, cause confusion or mistrust. We must pray and care for each other, regardless of religion.”

RELIGIOUS GROUPS SCALE DOWN FUNCTIONS 

On Friday morning, the Ministry of Health advised religious groups to pare down mass gatherings to 250 participants or below.

In response, the Hindu Endowments Board issued a list of precautionary measures to its temples, which included asking the priests to serve sacred elements with spoons, and to consider postponing religious classes and talks.

Events with fewer than 250 attendees can continue, but participants should not be in close proximity with one another, the advisory said. 

Devotees with pre-booked weddings are recommended to reduce their number of guests, and have them seated at least 1m apart, it added.

The National Council of Churches’ president Bishop Terry Kee said that it will be meeting with authorities to discuss guidelines.

NCCS, which has about 200 member churches, has not suggested that its members cancel church meetings. However, Bishop Kee said that he encourages churches with larger congregations to livestream their services. 

The Methodist Church of Singapore similarly said in a letter to its members that it will meet with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth next week. 

READ: COVID-19: Catholic Church suspends mass; other religious groups turn to livestreaming, among other measures

As part of interim measures, Methodist churches will continue services this weekend, but members are encouraged to stay home and watch a recording of the service. 

Its churches are working to reduce the number of attendees to 50 per cent of the venue’s capacity, and possibly getting churches to conduct additional services in order to scale down the density of each meeting. 

Several other churches such as Faith Community Baptist Church and Redemption Hill Church have decided to go fully online during this period. 

Redemption Hill Church’s pastor Simon Murphy said that it decided on Friday to cancel services “for the immediate future” as the team reviews its next steps.

“We believe this is the wisest move as we join the Government in delaying the spread of the virus in Singapore,” he said. 

"Our three Sunday services typically exceed this number of 250. This has been largely true even with the dip in attendance due to COVID-19."

The church will be livestreaming its services from its office instead. 

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Source: CNA/rp(hm)

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