• Kay Morgan-Gurr

Singing in a Face Mask?

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

3d cartoon of a boy wearing a face mask.

Is it possible to sing in a face mask?

It’s a daft question I know, but I have a reason for asking…

Since the announcement that places of worship can open in July, there has been a plethora of questions, that actually cannot be answered until the guidelines are issued. But it hasn’t stopped people from asking the question…even though there is currently no answer.

No, I’ve not taken to repeating myself in my writing, this is how the conversation is going around in circles on social media.

Two things appear to be high on the agenda for many: 1. Can we sing (congregationally)? 2. Can we have Communion/Eucharist/Lord’s supper?

The wording of these two questions has been clumsy at best, leaving those who are still vulnerable to the virus questioning if they no longer exist in people’s thinking.

To many, it feels as though ‘The Church’ has gone from “We won’t forget the vulnerable when this is over” to “Can we do all those things that will make church much riskier for the vulnerable?”, and changed in just the click of a switch.

We don’t know if we can do congregational singing or not yet, but the questions I’ve seen have gone like this:

“Is this going to be an advisory thing or an actual rule – can we ignore it without getting into trouble?”

Let me put this in simple terms to those asking the ‘what can we get away with question’.

It’s the wrong question.

Like you, there are vulnerable people desperate to get back to a physical place of worship. For some it’s risky, but manageable. This maybe because technology is hard for them or they need to be there for their mental wellbeing. They are willing to accept the fact they won’t be able to hug anyone, or sing – just so they can have the privilege of being there, to wave to another person across the room. To fellowship in a new way.

But. One of the deal breakers for them will be ‘singing’.

It has been shown by many scientists that shouting and singing blasts germs across a room much faster than just talking (And yes I have seen the cynics who say you can’t prove that). If we want to circumvent the guidance because “Church is not church without singing – and *I* want to sing” then we are saying the to the vulnerable “You are not welcome here”.

As an aside, having enjoyed and even led sung worship in the past, I understand the pain of having this taken away. But my disability has taken my singing voice. I haven’t been able to sing in church for a few years. Yes I miss it hugely – sometimes to the point of tears, but I’m still here and still enjoying worship. It hasn’t killed me!

Then there's my countless deaf friends who worship with BSL, and friends with a learning disability who worship using Makaton - all doing so with grace and beauty. And there's no infection risk! (Pondering moment: Maybe BSL and Makaton worship could be the way forward...)

This is why I was wondering if singing with a facemask on would make things less risky, because from what I’ve seen – all the questioners are determined to sing even if it excludes some and is not advisable.

Thankfully, these appear to be a vocal minority. The larger part of the church are asking “How can we make church the safest it can be for those who can/need to attend?”

The question about communion (or whatever name you use) could be a moot point as we’re yet to hear if food will be allowed (I assume refreshments and communion will come under the same heading) But I have also seen the ‘is it a rule or guidance?’ debate on this too.

Once again, those who are vulnerable will have to choose whether to risk it or stand back and watch everyone else – which is hard. I know – when I’ve been visiting another church I have sometimes not been able to physically access it due to steps and numbers of people. Take it from me - it’s harder than not having it available at all. And this makes you value it more when you can access it.

Let’s change the question and the language – and along with the majority of church leaders ask: How can I help the most people to access church, in what-ever way they need?

Not singing congregationally in church could be your way of washing someone’s feet.

NOTE: Of course - if people are wearing facemasks, we have to ask how this affects those who reply on lip reading, or those for whom the mask muffles speech. But this post is just about congregational singing at the moment - and (with some difficulty) you can get masks that allow lip reading.