Why we still don’t have music in church yet

Most of what we do as church, in our usual Sunday service, is now happening again. We are reading and preaching the Word, praying, taking communion and doing most of what we would typically do. But we’re still not singing. In fact, we don’t have any musical element to our services at all. So why haven’t we brought this back in yet?

First, it probably helps to have a quick look at the specific government guidelines. Here is what they say:

What the leader(s) can do

Small groups of professional or non-professional singers will be able to sing in front of worshippers both outdoors and indoors from 15 August. Singing in groups should be limited to a small, set group of people and should not include audience participation.

Places of worship should take account of the Performing Arts guidance.

Where music plays a big part in worship, and recordings are available, we suggest you consider using these as an alternative to live singing to mitigate risks.

Any instrument played during worship should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use.

Avoid playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult or that may encourage shouting when people will be trying to converse before or after worship.

What the congregation can do

People should avoid singing, shouting and raising voices. This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission from aerosol and droplets.

Activities such as singing, chanting, shouting and/or playing of instruments that are blown into should be specifically avoided by congregations/worshippers. This is because there is a possible additional risk of transmission in environments where individuals are singing or chanting as a group, and this applies even if social distancing is being observed or face coverings are used.

Therefore, spoken responses during worship should also not be in a raised voice.

The Baptist Union note:

Congregational and choral singing. Small groups of singers, such as in a typical
church worship band, may sing in front of a congregation, both indoors and outdoors. In
Wales, this is still limited to one solo singer.

In short, government guidance is discouraging congregational singing and hasn’t yet stated that we can begin singing again.

Whilst that clearly rules out normal congregation singing as we might otherwise do it, some have come to the view that there are other ways to mitigate this restriction. To that end, some have decided to play YouTube recordings and listen to songs being sung. Others have allowed one or two to sing from the front while the congregation listen. Others still have tried things like congregational humming. All of these things undercut the limitation.

However, we have taken the view that we will not do any of these things. The main reason (on our view) is that these things somewhat miss the point. They seem to make the music the point. Whereas our view is not that music is inherently important for church services. Rather, we are called to sing with one another for the encouragement of each other (cf. Eph 5:19); Heb 10:25). The principle of scripture appears to be singing truth together to encourage one another.

As far as I can see, none of these potential mitigations allow us to do that. Humming along to music means we aren’t singing words to and with one another. Listening to YouTube together doesn’t really achieve this either. Even singing really quietly under our breath so nobody sat two metre away from us can hear us (which, I think, would be stretching the guidance to breaking point at any rate) doesn’t really allow us to sing together for the encouragement of one another. We aren’t going to be encouraged if we can’t hear you! And the truth is, we don’t have to go to church to get any of these things. We can watch YouTube, listen to a performer or quietly hum a familiar tune on our own too. We can be just as encouraged on our own doing those things as we might be in church and the congregational element to any of them seems to make very little difference (so far as I can see).

So, whilst we are keen to be allowed to sing together again – we want to be able to lift our hearts in unity to the Lord and sing his praises so that we might encourage one another – until we are actually able to do that, we have taken the view that adding music to the service simply misses the point of what we are doing when we come together to sing.