With stores and other businesses starting to re-opening with restrictions, churches will have to consider what is best to do with regard to worship. Not only will that mean roping off pews and wearing masks, disinfecting spaces and providing hand sanitizer. It will also have to take into consideration the particular things we do at church.
Some rather jarring predictions have come from scientists well-versed in virology as well as vocal practices. There are indications that may mean that our worship will be very different from what we are used to even when we can begin to hold services in the building. In addition to wearing masks, spreading out over the sanctuary and frequent cleaning and disinfecting, we may have to refrain from public singing.
In a recent piece in the Religious News Service, Dr. Howard Leibrand, public health officer for Skagit County, Washington, made a rather startling statement. “I would recommend that until we get a vaccine, we don’t do congregational singing,” he said, adding that it is “the safest recommendation.”
Leibrand was one of the investigators of the coronavirus outbreak that spread through a local chorale that had been meeting in a Presbyterian church. He is an author of a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracked the 61 people who attended the March 10 rehearsal with one symptomatic person. The report found that 87% of the group was confirmed to have COVID-19. Three members were hospitalized, and two of them died. The report noted that, “The act of singing, itself, might have contributed to transmission through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness of vocalization.”
Worship without congregational signing would be a very different experience than what we’ve known and treasured for generations. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Blessed Assurance” “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art” give language to our faith. The music gives shape to our connection to God and gives expression to what it is in our hearts and spirits.
Other denominations and religious communities are grappling with this issue. The situation is fluid and much is being learned each day about the virus and its transmission. There will be some churches that are more eager to go back to public worship and will do so with few restrictions. Others will remain more cautious. For the time being, our building at Calvary Church will remain closed but we will remain open in various virtual and online ways.
A word to consider. There are times in the past, both in in the Bible and in more recent history, when God’s people experienced disruptive events that prevented them from worshiping, at least as they were accustomed to. In each case, there was sadness and loss, but there were also new forms that emerged and the people found new ways to hear God’s Word and new ways to share what was in their hearts. We can trust that there will be something new will arrive even though we don’t yet see it.
Treasure and love those you are with. Stay safe and be well and remember that Christ is with us even now.