I’ve been asked by several people recently about when we might be considering a return to indoor, in-person worship. The Session’s Building Reopening Task Force has been hard at work on that very question for months, which of course is a very complicated one in a number of ways. The Task Force will be providing an update on its work and thinking in the next few days, so please keep an eye out for a special message from them soon.

In the meantime, though, I want to communicate a decision that they’ve made this week regarding congregational singing at outdoor services. As you know, we are planning to return to outdoor in-person worship this Sunday, Palm Sunday, with a combined service at 11 a.m.

The Building Reopening Task Force has been tracking the scientific research around congregational singing since the beginning of the pandemic, and as you probably know, the scientific consensus is that singing in groups is one of the most dangerous activities possible in terms of transmitting the COVID-19 virus. It is no coincidence that many of the outbreaks that have happened in churches have been in choir practices or in worship services in which people sang, even with masks on and at least some attention to physical distancing.

Outdoor singing with masks on, however, seems to be a different story. Again, the scientific consensus for a long time has been that transmission risk drops dramatically outdoors, particularly when coupled with wearing masks and practicing physical distancing. While the Task Force has been unable to find any specific research on the transmission risk of singing while outdoors, it also has been unable to find any examples of transmission occurring from singing outdoors while masked and distanced.

Many churches across the country have followed our practice of digital worship combined with periodic outdoor worship, and more and more of them have allowed singing while masked and physically distanced. Unlike singing indoors, which has numerous examples of outbreaks, singing outdoors while taking appropriate precautions does not seem to have caused problems anywhere that we can find.

Accordingly, the Building Reopening Task Force has affirmed this week that we can sing and pray in unison during outdoor services, given that everyone participating is required to wear a mask and practice physical distancing.

So, weather-permitting, we will begin doing so this Sunday, March 28, at the combined outdoor worship service at 11 a.m. taking place behind the church (east side). Unfortunately, as I write this article, the weather forecast is discouraging, with a 90% chance of rain on Sunday morning.

So before coming to church on Sunday, please check and see whether the outdoor service is still on or if it has been cancelled and replaced by a digital livestream instead. If it has been cancelled, there will be announcements to that effect on the Facebook page, the website, and the church’s voicemail.

But the Session has already decided to resume a regular schedule of outdoor, in-person worship now that we are through the worst of winter, so more opportunities are coming even if we get washed out this Sunday. (NOTE: Whether or not there is an outdoor service, we will continue with the virtual service livestreamed via Facebook and on our website; it will also be available to listen to as always.)

In any case, I look forward to beginning the journey through Holy Week with you on Sunday, and to being with you in worship and singing, one way or another!

Grace and Peace,