I have a friend, a pastor in another part of Minnesota, who recently shared on Facebook, “I keep telling people, ‘wait and see is my new spiritual practice’.” This struck right to the heart for me. A spiritual practice. Yes. It will take me spiritual discipline to ‘wait and see’ and to be relatively ok with it. Planning is still important and good, as long as it’s done with a ‘wait and see’ attitude. It was with this posture that the Worship and Music Team met on Sunday to discuss recent research in the transmission of Covid-19, and the connection it may have to some of our worship practices, specifically singing.
In a very thorough and well-researched article, Dr. Heather Nelson (a professor of vocal science and a worship leader) explains that when we sing, the particles in our lungs become aerosolized, which makes them microscopic and, thus, suspended in the air for hours, rather than seconds or minutes. Additionally, the velocity of the aerosols that are expelled in singing send them 3-4 times further than would speaking. Dr. Nelson admits that we don’t know definitively whether Covid-19 is spread through singing, but we also don’t know that it is not. In an effort to be conservative, careful, and caring, the Worship and Music Team have agreed that it would be wise for only Sean and myself to lead the singing in our worship recording sessions, and that we would limit the number of other people in the room. This opened up fruitful and creative discussion of how we could safely involve more musicians in our worship. We plan to include some “virtual choir” pieces, and we invite musicians to record yourselves playing or singing at home, so we can include your musical offerings in worship, as well.
While we proceed this way, and wait and see what comes next, I also wanted you to know that we are thinking more about singing. More and more experts are weighing in on this subject, such as Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Osterholm advised a large online gathering of church leaders that gathering in person is risky. The example he gave was, “How many aisles away can you smell the perfume section in a department store? That is the distance the virus can travel and hang in the air.” Additionally, a large group of singing experts, including leaders of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and the American Choral Directors Society, along with specialists in otolaryngology and infectious disease with specific research focus on aerosolizing of particles from the lungs through the vocal tract, including the mouth and nose, presented a webinar with this sobering news: “There simply will be no safe way for gathered people to sing, until there is widespread, quick, accurate testing and treatment or a vaccine.”
How is God “making all things new” in us and through us? How will we become more creative with our singing and music-making when we’re apart, so that we can begin to be and remain together again? What will be birthed from this painful labor that we are experiencing together? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Stephanie Luedtke, Deacon