Updated: Aug 3, 2020
By Dr. Barry Johnson
Due to the novel Coronavirus, this is a special set of observations for reentry into our sanctuaries for worship services.
Recently, we watched in horror as the President visited a church in which a choir filled the choir stands, while singing without masks. This could be interpreted as a political stunt, or a playing to the attitude of the current occupant of the White House, whose stance on this pandemic is as a hoax, and the wearing of a mask, irrelevant. One of the most observed-and-proven factors that support the spread of the virus is found in our churches, especially in the choir. As we speak, infinite clouds of spatter are emitted from our mouths into the air, which is the basic reason for wearing a mask – to reduce or prohibit the spread of these particles. These particles in the air can infect other people through breathing, in shared airspace. As we sing, or preach, we push these expectorants into the air with greater force than when we speak because of the lung power that is used to produce louder volumes of notes, or a greater intensity while preaching. Filling the choir stand may look good, but it is actually a recipe for disaster. The primary reason that churches have had to alter services or completely close, in the midst of a COVID-19 spike, can be attributed foremost to choirs. This defiance of risk is not worth the damage to the lives of our fellow parishioners, whom we profess to love.
Methods for Singing and Preaching
We can, nonetheless, sing and preach while wearing masks. The mask will restrict some of the vocal tonality; however, if the mask is a cloth mask, and used with a microphone, the quality of the sound will not be drastically diminished. I recently experimented with a vocalist, who wore a mask while singing; and her voice was not altered to the degree that the beauty of her timbre was lost. Yes, you could tell (and could see) she used a mask because of some muffling; but do we not also notice a difference in sound that is live-streamed? Additionally, while singing, we must do so at a distance of at least six feet. Preaching from the pulpit will generally meet the distance requirement, and the pastor delivering the message will not experience a noticeable loss of tone or intensity. Preaching with a mask does not hinder the delivery or the power of the Word! Again, my recommendation is that we wash our masks and only sing or preach with a clean unit. Recall my recommendations for the use of microphones: that we do not share them and that they are covered with foam windscreens, which can be easily washed with soap and water after each use. The shafts of the microphone should also be cleansed with a Clorox or Lysol wipe after each service to ensure the removal of germs; however, do not spray cleansers into the microphone because the chemical agents will destroy the inner electronics. Additionally, musicians should wipe the keys and fingerboards of any instruments that are shared.
Another issue that will be detrimental to the re-opening to full implementation of in-person services will be found in members who will not be truthful about their possibility of virus exposure. These members will go to other places (and attend other churches that are not following guidelines), then, attend their home church as a possible carrier of the virus. That is a large concern occurring in our hospitals and doctor’s offices, as people want treatment for other ailments but know they may have the virus or have possibly been exposed. This is incredibly selfish but sadly, an element of human nature. Moreover, our older youth, who are filled with an aura of invincibility, are the demographic that is most rapidly contracting the virus. The 20-44-year age group has been confirmed as better having the ability to fight the virus, but they also serve as the leading carriers to their family members, who are generally older and more susceptible. We, as churches, must take this COVID-19 period seriously. If you know someone that has been affected by the virus, you will not want this for your family. In some cases, people that have recovered from the disease have lasting effects, such as damaged internal organs that will never function on a normal basis. During this pandemic, “It is what it is;” but we must use best practices to positively contribute to the return of in-person church services. Let’s be serious and be safe!
Next month, we will continue to examine methods for the reopening of the church, while cautioning that restarting may be worse if safe practices are ignored.