Before You Panic: Thoughts on Congregational Singing and Choirs in Light of the Pandemic
We are hearing from several sources that choirs, and even singing in church, should not occur until there is a cure for COVID-19. Our guest writer has some great thoughts to help us navigate all this confusion.
By Robert Pendergraft, PhD
Assistant Professor of Church Music
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Belton, Texas
Associate Pastor for Music Ministries at First Baptist Salado, Texas
Last evening, the National Association of Teachers of Singing in conjunction with the American Choral Directors Association, Chorus America, Barbershop Harmony Society, and Performing Arts Medical Association held A Conversation: What Do Science and Data Say About the Near Term Future of Singing. Additionally, in the past week, Germany has announced plans to allow corporate worship, but without singing. This news has been sobering for the church music community—but let’s not panic just yet. The following article is a response to developments and suggestions about singing over the past week.
I will begin by articulating a big picture overview of current thought.
- There is significant concern for choral singing until there is a vaccine in place or a treatment that is widely effective. The time frame for such a vaccine could be up to 2 years out according to the NATS conversation.
- There is no data specifically on congregational singing, but many of the same principles of choral singing likely will apply.
- Masks and spacing that we can actually accomplish in our sanctuaries likely do not do enough to protect singers and others in the room.
- The recommendation is no concerts or performances through the Fall, which if we applied to our churches would mean no singing in worship services through the Fall.
The above recommendations are coming from respected professionals in the science and medical communities and as ministers, it is important to hear their advice. Before we panic, it is wise to think through these recommendations.
The science on COVID-19 is changing daily.
In the eight weeks since we have been actively dealing with coronavirus in the United States, we have heard recommendations and then seen those recommendations altered. That is not to discount the scientists and medical professionals making the recommendations, rather a reminder that we are learning new information daily. Though the recommendation currently is not to sing, that may change as new information comes to light.
In the United States, there has been no pronouncement against singing in worship as there has been in Germany.
Government officials have not said we cannot sing, but as shepherds of our congregations, we have a responsibility to make the best decision given the information we currently have.
“Not singing in worship” does not mean “no music in worship.”
Though wind instruments create many of the same challenges as singing, instruments such as guitars, piano, percussion, and organ would pose no additional threat.
Current recommendations should not keep us from exploring options and creative solutions.
Now is the time for the church music community to brainstorm ways for the servants in our ministry areas to contribute to worship. The temptation might be to pre-record and play videos, but congregational worship must be inherently participatory. As creative ministers, we need to be thinking through safely and wisely facilitating participatory corporate worship.
It is appropriate to grieve what we have lost and may lose.
When we regather for worship there will be faces unable to attend. When our choirs resume, there will be those with health conditions that will be unable to rejoin us. Choirs and congregational singing are not just items to include on a checklist of ten things to consider before reopening the church. The thought of losing singing in worship is painful.
Scripture suggests the following 7 actions in corporate worship. Rather than focusing on what we are losing, let’s make sure we are incorporating each of these elements.
Seven Actions in Corporate Worship
Reading the Word– 1 Timothy 4:13
Preaching– 2 Timothy 4:2
Singing- Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19
Prayer– 1 Timothy 2:1
Baptism– Matthew 28:19
The Lord’s Table– 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
Giving– 1 Corinthians 16:2
So how can we teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in our hearts to God? The key term in this question is in all wisdom. Is it wise for us to return to worship with congregational singing and gather our choirs for rehearsals at this point?
Baptist polity allows us to arrive at different conclusions. It does not, however, excuse us from wrestling with the issue. As pastors, we are entrusted with those God has placed in our ministry. Rather than looking at this situation solely as a musician, let’s look through the lens of ministry as we consider what is best for our congregations.
My prayer is we will not be dismissive of the scientists and medical experts; but, let us not look to regathering for worship (potentially without congregational song) and be disheartened. Tell the story of redemption through your worship, preach the gospel through each element, and long for the day when with the saints and angels we can surround the throne and sing praises with every tongue, tribe, and nation to the author and perfecter of our faith.
Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.