Churches face a lot of “unknowns” in reopening and must exercise caution, according to Keith Hibbs, director of the office of worship leadership and church music for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
Hibbs noted one church that faced an issue recently with its worship team.
“This group left services, had lunch together and went to someone’s home for more fellowship,” he said. “One person tested positive for the virus and two more of them were infected, so this is a time demanding precaution.”
Hibbs hosted a webcast Sept. 8 called, “Choir After Covid.”
Panelist Tom Smith, music minister at Providence Baptist Church, Opelika, said his church resumed in-person worship June 7 for its members 50 years old and older.
“We thought our younger adults were out-and-about more with possible exposure, plus the younger group is probably more familiar with live-streaming,” he said. “We’ve had temperature checks and only had to turn one person away since this reopen. Our worshippers do wear masks.”
Smith said he has recruited smaller choirs of 12–14 members.
“We’ve brought out some anthems from the past that we know, so our choral preparation hasn’t been as demanding,” he said.
Zoom choir rehearsals
Worship pastor Ryan Leffel of Woodmont Baptist Church, Florence, said his church hasn’t had choir in morning worship yet.
“We’re watching the progress of our public schools and hope this will inform us about our progress,” he explained.
“We’ve had Zoom choir rehearsals since April. This has provided communication, though not the best music preparation. We also had a drive-thru with choir members picking up music. I made some CDs for those not as familiar with Zoom.”
Private Facebook page
Leffel also began a private Facebook page for worship participants and has recorded a number of personal videos to stay in touch and provide encouragement.
Frank Jones, worship arts associate at Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover, said he’s had no live choral rehearsals yet. Hunter Street reopened June 21 with a single service, and added a second service Sept. 13 with provisions for children through sixth grade.
“We use one praise team for both services,” Jones noted. “This should prevent a lot of people being in the same space.”
All panelists agreed they’ve spent time ensuring their sanctuary platforms are not crowded.
“We’ve put some smaller instrumental ensembles outside to play as people enter and exit, and we’ve had a pianist in the foyer,” Jones said. “This way we’re able to use our instrumentalists without crowding our platform.”
Smith said temporary platforms might be a possibility for some churches.
Regardless of how churches are handling music during worship, church staff need “backup” from others about reopening plans, Hibbs said, and church worship leaders agreed.
Jones said, “We have an executive team that meets weekly and helps us chart our course.”
Leffel said leaders at Woodmont “submit proposals to our team, and they help us chart our course,” noting the church has included physicians in their planning.
And at Providence, health experts also are involved.
“We have a doctor, our parish nurse and a retired forensic scientist on our decision team,” Smith said.
Regarding Christmas plans, Leffel said that, regrettably, he scrapped Christmas plans in June.
“I’m still thinking about what we can do,” he said. “We’ve made no Christmas decisions yet. Perhaps we can do a simple ‘lessons and carols’ service multiple times to accommodate smaller groups.”
Jones said their Christmas music also will be smaller, and perhaps virtual, rather than the three large events the congregation normally does.
Smith said Providence is discussing a live nativity walk-through on church property with prerecorded choral music at several Christmas scenes.
“I know we can’t do Christmas choral music inside our building,” he said.
Panelists also agreed the way forward would be informed by appropriate protocols, including CDC guidelines and vaccine availability.
Leffel said there is no “new normal.”
“Certainly we can worship alone or online, but I do think worship is sweeter together,” he said. “I hope our people will not neglect the assembling of themselves together when it’s safer.”
Smith, who has been at Providence for more than 40 years and is a retired music professor from Auburn University, said the trend he saw even before COVID-19 was that choirs were getting smaller.
“But the people I’ve seen coming back to sing and lead worship have genuine excitement,” he said. “This gives me renewed hope for the future.”