Singapore churches on alert after pastor's death from SARS
Simon Loh, a 39-year-old pastor at Singapore's Faith Assembly of God, went to the hospital to visit one of his parishioners, who had been hospitalized with a form of pneumonia. But the woman, Esther Mok, was the city's index patient in its outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), the "mystery illness" that is spreading through Asia and elsewhere. So far, all 91 cases have been traced to the woman. Loh was the second in the city to die from the disease.
"There was a deep sense of sorrow" at yesterday's services at Faith Assembly, reports Channel NewsAsia (video available). "The sight of another pastor standing in for [Loh] was a painful reminder to worshippers."
Elsewhere in the city, Sunday school was canceled, church attendance was down to a trickle, ill people were asked not to attend, and parishioners were asked not to touch each other.
"In some churches, they have stopped confessions because the penitents are very close to the priests. And so this weekend and next weekend, we'll not have (them)," Johnson Fernandez, parish priest of Church of Christ the King, told the news agency. "As we know, church congregations are always crowded and you do not know who has and who doesn't have, and it may also spread very fast."
Faith Assembly's website is filled with mentions of SARS. Condolences, prayer requests, and church service changes are all posted in response to the disease. But there is also a note of hope: "The church will like to assure all members that apart from Pastor Simon Loh who contracted the SARS virus while doing vistation work, no other members of the church has contracted the virus or show any symptoms of it. The church pastoral staff and administration has taken all necessary precautions to prevent any further possible infection of the SARS virus."
The Assemblies of God News Service also has a brief report.
Harvard Undergraduate Council votes to fund InterVarsity chapter
Just days after InterVarsity Christian Fellowship won its dispute with officials at Rutgers University, it received another victory at Harvard.
By a vote of 31-to-5, with five abstentions, the school's Undergraduate Council approved a financial grant to the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship.
Last year the council had postponed the grant, saying the group's constitution (which requires leaders to "subscribe without reserve to the [group's] principles of faith") violates the school's anti-discrimination policies. That decision led to an investigation into the InterVarsity chapter by the Harvard administration.
In January the Harvard Crimson reported that the chapter's leaders had met with the associate dean of the college to bring "the group in line with the College's non-discrimination policy."
But today's article suggests that it was Harvard, not InterVarsity, that made the changes. "In an apparent about-face, the College's approval of the constitution came after only minor alterations," Crimson reporter William B. Higgins writes. "Though the nondiscriminatory status of its general membership requirements has been clarified, the section requiring officers' belief in Christianity remains."
The associate dean was unavailable to the Crimson for comment, but Undergraduate Council President Rohit Chopra told the paper that the administration "felt that religious organizations should have the ability to select their own leaders. … Many groups discriminate based on how they select officers and how they select members. Religious groups do provide a valuable service to students. How we change their constitution will not change how these groups operate."
Leaders of the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship refused comment to the Crimson.
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