Dear Messiah Family,
As I mentioned during the announcements on Sunday, Sandy and I participated in a Zoom conference put on by the synod on Saturday. The topic was Digital Ministry. There were over 50 people participating and it was informative. Most of the people who spoke up and shared stated they were recording much of the service music. I was surprised that some were recording the entire service then editing and playing on Sunday.
After the meeting I emailed Pastor Katie Kerringan of synod staff and asked her if she knew the percentage of churches recording or doing music live might be, the following email was her response.
I am sharing this with you so you are informed and up to date with as much information as possible as we navigate our way through a very interesting year.
Pastor Branstiter, it was a pleasure to see you at today’s workshop—an extra gift to Messiah, given that your ministry there is already service over and above your ministry at Mercy Hospital.
I understand your concerns about trying to migrate safely between those two contexts, and I am grateful that you currently have support at Messiah. We are finding that congregations are all over the place with regard to recognizing the increased risks of in-person worship, and the even greater risk of in-person singing. I think that large congregations can’t really ignore it—by virtue of their larger numbers, the “math” is just too difficult to deny. It is the smaller congregations who are perhaps more willing to “fudge the numbers,” thinking that their small size will allow them to get away with some sloppiness. They are also, perhaps, more closely bonded to one another, and, thus, more anxious to be with one another. Throw in some COVID-denial, and the pressure to return to “normal worship” can really ratchet up. And singing is so much a part of our worship culture. Unfortunately, these smaller congregations are often in buildings with ventilation systems that aren’t quite what they need to be to lower risk (insufficient air change/hour and insufficient filtration). We see a range of responses in our synod: congregations taking no precautions at all (thankfully, very few), congregations taking some (but often insufficient) precautions, and congregations who are very diligent in protecting one another as well as their community. I think the majority fall into the latter category—but leaders are all in the same boat you are, taking it month by month, with at least some pressure to return to normal. From my point of view, the healthier the congregation is in the sense of being missional in its orientation and focused on serving their neighbors, the more likely they are to be ready to make sacrifices for those neighbors.
In the Synod office, we observe that public health experts are still very concerned about the elevated risk of viral transmission when singing. So we wish people would not sing in worship. We recognize that it feels like a loss to many people—but we have also seen what opportunities have opened up during this time of enforced re-evaluation. We have seen some very creative ways to provide the balm of music as well as creative outlets for musicians to share their gifts. We have seen large plexiglass panels erected in front of praise bands and choirs (though we sometimes cringe to see insufficient distance between those same musicians), a lot of congregations are recording music, or relying on distanced instrumental music or solo and very small ensemble singing. And we have seen most of our congregations display amazing generosity for musicians who do not feel they can safely participate in in-person worship—ranging from allowing for a paid sabbatical so as to safeguard income to providing for an alternative safe sharing of their gifts. At the same time, a good many are using this break from “normal” as an opportunity to explore other ways of offering music in worship, and often uncovering gifts they did not know they had because the “normal” system did not allow for the recognition of these gifts (and this applies to every aspect of our ministries). I am noticing that much of the lamentation of the early months has evolved into surprised delight as musicians and the congregations they serve realize what new riches are available to everyone when we break out of “normal.” It is good to see God’s will for life emerging out of death.
My prayers are with you and the people of Messiah. These are challenging times—for everyone. Thank you for your willingness to negotiate these rocky waters with Messiah.
The Congregational Council reviews the situation every month during our meeting. My goal is to return to full service as soon as possible, however, as I have stressed in the past, everyone's safety is my main priority.