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An Taoiseach Micheal Martin December 2020

Praise from the Heart – choral performances, choirs and congregational singing in Level 3 Covid-19 restrictions

Many church leaders were confused and concerned when the HSE issued new requirements late last Friday concerning choral performances, choirs and congregational singing.  Releasing this on a Friday evening was highly unsatisfactory given that most churches were already in advanced planning for their Sunday services.

Singing is an integral part of evangelical worship. It is difficult to imagine an evangelical church service without music. I have participated in underground churches in China where people worshipped in whispers – but that was a response to persecution, not a public health emergency.

The language used ‘Choral performances, choirs & congregational singing’ are terms that were used in the discussions between govt officials and religious leaders – they all refer to groups of people singing.  During those talks there was also talk of ‘cantors’ which in an evangelical/pentecostal context would be the equivalent of having one or two singers with a microphone. There is nothing in the latest requirements that addresses the use of cantors.

The discussion in those talks was that choirs and choral groups pose particular problems because of close proximity to each other and, particularly, the practice sessions required. The proposed solution was that if choirs were to be limited, then cantors could replace them.

In visiting hundreds of evangelical churches over the past few years, I have been struck by how few of the attendees actually engage in hearty congregational singing. The current fashion towards performance-type worship bands, coupled with the high volumes, actually inhibit people from singing out loud. A lot of people mouth quietly along with the words, but not as many are singing out loud as we would like to think. Normally I view this as a concerning negative – but perhaps not so much under the present circumstances!

Let me share how I, as a pastor, handled the new HSE advice at Solid Rock Drogheda last Sunday. We had our worship band (no wind or brass instruments) and a couple of singers (cantors) singing into mics. We informed our congregation of the HSE advice concerning congregational singing.  However, we made no attempt to police or enforce it. If everyone is wearing masks, then I would need superhero powers to detect if people are mouthing the words quietly to themselves or actually singing!

So we worshipped. Actually, people were more exuberant in clapping and dancing before the Lord than usual, and I have no idea who was singing or who was mouthing the words behind their face coverings.  All I know is that we had church!

I offer our experience as a common-sense way in which a church can show due honour and respect to the civil authorities at this time, work for the common good of church and society, and yet still worship from the heart.

Meanwhile let’s continue to pray for a speedy end to this pandemic, and for God to guide us all in the interim.

Finally, EAI has been assured by the Taoiseach’s Office that we will be included in any Church/State conversations moving forward, so the views of Evangelical churches and believers will continue to be presented to government, as well as our prayers for the nation’s political leaders to be guided by God.

Nick Park

Executive Director, Evangelical Alliance Ireland
Senior Pastor, Solid Rock Drogheda