Resuming Choir Rehearsals During a Pandemic- How we’ve done it.

Being a firm believer that all ages should be engaged in serving the Lord in music ministry, finding ways during a pandemic has been challenging. Since March, our church like virtually all others, has had to adapt to the ever changing challenges of providing music leadership in the safest way possible. As I’ve talked with many of my fellow worship leaders, I’ve realized there is not a one-size fits all approach. Context, location of church, demographics of the church, number of people in the fellowship affected by the virus and so on, will influence decisions related to how best to utilize your musical teams. In my next blog post I’ll explain our process of reincorporating our orchestra into worship, but I wanted to share with you about our first choir rehearsal in six months on August 26th.

The church choir is about music for sure, but more importantly, it’s about setting aside our personal preferences and working in unity to serve and proclaim the message of the Gospel. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian church urges [us] to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV).  The first song I chose for us to sing in our rehearsal was “By Our Love,” a song of unity for the church. It was quite emotional for everyone in the room. This was the first time most of our people had sung outside their home or car in 6 months.

I’m a list guy; I love them. Anyone who knows me well knows that lists keep me focused. I see information better in a list than in written prose. When I email my college students at Truett McConnell reminders about what’s due and what we’ve worked on, I tell them a Whittaker list is coming! In fact most of my blog posts include a list of something. So, I started a list of things related to this first rehearsal so I would remember what happened and wanted to share my observations with you. Behold! a Whittaker list:

  1. 95 active singers on roll, 69 returned for first rehearsal. 73% rate of initial return.
  2. When I look at the 16 singers who didn’t come, I noticed health concerns (them or a family member who is immunocompromised) as the number one factor for not attending.
  3. Singers of all ages–YES, intergenerational!
  4. All wore masks when entering and exiting.
  5. Soprano/Bass had one entrance to the foyer and Tenor/Alto had another entrance. The middle of the foyer was blocked off by rope and hand sanitizing machines. The folders were laid out for retrieving. Each entering should wait on the 6ft markers on the floor to enter.
  6. Each person was given a temperature check before entering.
  7. 75 (actually 80) minute rehearsal. One 10 minute “quiet” break after 30 minutes of singing where I did some encouragement (devotion) and announcements to let the air clean.
  8. Use entire floor of sanctuary spread out 6-10 feet apart all around each singer unless next to family member.
  9. Told we would mask entire rehearsal, but sang one tune without masks (which we recorded to use next Sunday morning for worship). All but one sang this song unmasked. In fact I got the impression from the affirmation that the singers there would’ve been fine to remain unmasked through the entire rehearsal.
  10. I asked those who were most uncomfortable singing without a mask to go to the back of the room, since the back of the choir seems to be the “safest” place to sing right now.
  11. We had HVAC going strong. One benefit in our room is that we have a large surplus of AC tonnage because of our stained glassed windows that emit much heat. You can literally feel the air moving in the room when you’re in it.
  12. The distance all around, the HVAC, and the large room with very high ceilings, basically mimicked an outdoor singing space.
  13. When we did sing with masks (90 percent of time), the sound was greatly affected. Maybe 40% of the sound gets out of the masks. Little dynamic shading or articulation of text possible, which is already hard with a room as “live” as ours is. Not a fan of the masked singing, neither were my people.
  14. The live room and the masks muffling sound made it hard to hear each other, which also contributed to dragging tempi on lyrical tunes.
  15. Normal types of masks caused glasses to fog up when singing for long periods of time. The alternative for a very few was to just use the mask to cover the mouth, and some did that.
  16. I think no one would’ve come to our rehearsal had they been truly “scared” to get COVID. The risks of singing are very well-documented so the choice to come was in spite of that risk. Therefore, I tried to mitigate the true risks with HVAC and distancing; the use of masks is a added barrier of protection.
  17. General consensus was rehearsal was a WIN! I want to skip a week before we meet again, primarily to make sure no one gets COVID.
  18. At our next rehearsal (two weeks from this rehearsal) we will also record one or two songs for use in worship. Tentatively, I would like to start separating my group into 2-3 teams and use them on Sundays beginning second weekend in October if things continue to trend downward. Not sure about mask use for that service or how we’ll mic them properly with our orchestra, but I’ll cross that bridge soon.

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Here is a snapshot of (most of) us recording our song for worship. Four generations present, worshiping and encouraging each other–what a blessing!

Idol of Certainty

2 Corinthians 5:1- 7
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. 

I recently read a post that the Holy Spirit used to convict me in a major way—the phrase was directed at believers who have doubtless been struggling these last few months and it said, “we’ve made an idol out of certainty.” As I’ve mulled over this concept I had to ask myself, is my need to understand and be in control of all that is happening around me replacing my need for faith? Friends, I’m afraid it has. By nature I’m a very organized person. I like a plan; I pride myself on communicating as often and as clearly as possible so everyone under my leadership understands the plan and is “together.” Over the last few months I’ve realized that my security has been in working within constructs of certainty. I’ve made an idol out of certainty.

Am I alone in this? I doubt it. In my 20 years of full-time ministry, I’ve NEVER had my understanding of how to serve in local church ministry turned upside down like this.  I long to connect with our people in person, I miss rehearsing our choir and orchestra, I miss making plans for events such as our biggest event of the year—Christmas at Ivy Creek. I just can’t fathom why these things, which minister to countless souls, should not happen. I’ve literally prayed so many times, “God what are you doing? What am I missing here?” In my frustration, I’ve been reminded that my faith is not completely yielded to the leadership of the Holy Spirit if I’m constantly praying that God return us to the normal we once had if all I want to do is erase these last few months like they didn’t happen. I wouldn’t have learned what I’m learning now! There is no way back to the certainty of before March of 2020. The Holy Spirit is saying to me, “I’m in control–I’m not surprised by what is happening around you–walk by faith and not by sight–don’t miss what I am teaching you in this.”

As I’ve mulled over my lack of faith, I’ve realized that my attitude has reflected my building frustration that I am not in control—this has come out negative and harsh to many around me. Everyday our new normal is disrupted with a change…it’s exhausting and frustrating. But, the Spirit reminds me again and again—walk by faith—trust me–remember what IS certain–I never change! Stop using your human constructs to understand what I’m doing; stop making an idol of certainty and relinquish control to me.

If you’re struggling as I am, here are a few ways the Lord has reminded me I can do the work of walking by faith and not by sight:

  1. Pray for those under my care. Put the needs of others above my need to be on control of the ministry to which God has called me. I will continue to check on our folks regularly as well since I cannot see them in person yet.
  2. Limit news and social media. Seriously, it’s eating me alive to see how the enemy is using social media to drive even believers to attack each other.
  3. Spend more time in the Word. Today’s sermon today was on James 1: 21-27 and we were reminded to be doers of the Word, which means we have to be so saturated in the Word that we reflect the words therein. The Holy Spirit, Christ in me, will change me/us from the inside out.

 

 

Physical not Social Distancing

Life during this pandemic has changed the world as we know it rapidly. The other day I was talking with a friend about how much I dislike the ubiquitous phrase, “social distancing” to refer to the idea that we should keep six feet of space between ourselves and non-cohabitating people. In fact my son Tyler told me a joke today that social distancing is a fancy way of describing a restraining order!

All joking aside, I’ve had a gut repulsion to the term “social distancing.” It has never sat well with me until about six weeks ago I noticed that some businesses began using the term, “physical distancing” and I began to ponder how important the distinction is between social and physical distancing.

The term “social distancing” says to me that I am to do the following thing literally: Avoid ALL social interactions. What? At face value, one could argue that we are to avoid all social situations–no socialization period! WOW! I know, I know—that’s not what most understand it to mean, but I question anything with flagrant ambiguity.  I would argue that it’s not inclusive enough. Let’s float the idea that “social distancing” applies to only in-person social encounters, and not all social interactions as I suggested previously. Even then, I would understand social distancing would apply only to social interactions. What about medical interactions, or business interactions? Are those exempt from distancing because they are not in social situations? I think we all know that those types of interactions are NOT exempt from distancing rules. I wish I could understand why social distancing came to be the preferred term and not what I would argue is the better term, physical distancing.

The term “physical distancing” is a more inclusive and exact description of what should be taking place during the pandemic. This phrase lets me know the following things:

  1. While the term “social distancing” might be misunderstood to apply to only social interactions or ANY social interaction really, “physical distancing” is clearly promoting behaviors related to my body (corpus) and where it is in relation to other people.
  2. It’s my physical body that needs to be distanced from others in all situations-not just social interactions.

I’m concerned that the term “social distancing” might be misunderstood to imply that we are to avoid social interaction altogether. Surely we are not that literal, but some have avoided any in-person interaction during this time when I believe we need each other more than ever. In fact I wold argue that we need to be less social distant figuratively than we were before the pandemic began. We can, and should be, more socially connected while being physically distant. 

One of the most difficult parts of living through quarantine was the loss of ability to interact with others regularly. Ministry became increasingly difficult as we had to learn to interact with our church over video calls and livestream worship services. These technological tools became a lifeline for us to stay spiritually and socially interactive with others. Personally, my brothers, sister, and Dad have begun regular video calls each week to check in with each other, something we didn’t do well enough before. Our social interaction has increased even though we’ve been physically distant. We should be more socially interactive while being physically distant. 

It’s vital that we as the intergenerational church make sure that we not remain socially distant from our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially our eldest members who may need extra encouragement and help. We must continue to adhere to 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV: therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  We must find ways of encouraging and spurring one another on while being physically distant. I encourage you to find at least one way to do that today. Be an encouragement and make a difference in someone’s life today.

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