Can Churches Sing or not?

The day after Victoria was declared COVID free, the DHHS reversed their directive and introduced a ban on singing in churches.

Yesterday my church gathered together for the first time in almost nine months. We did all the rights things in regard to social distancing and mask wearing, registering attendees and cleaning before and after each service. We didn’t share morning tea as we love to do. We even bought prepackaged communion wafers and cups. 

I preached a sermon on Psalm 33,  which begins with a call to worship, 

“Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;

    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

Praise the Lord with the harp;

    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

Sing to him a new song;

    play skillfully, and shout for joy.”

To obey the Christian call to worship in song has now been forbidden by the DHHS. Earlier in November we spoke to a DHHS officer who guaranteed that we are allowed to sing in church, so long as we wear masks. The Health directives on the Government website, even as late as last night, still stated in one section that singing is permitted for indoor religious ceremonies. 

First of all, I have no doubt that those working in the DHHS have much on their plates. There is an enormous breadth of decisions to make, including producing directives for areas of community life where they have little experience or understanding. This is hard at the best of times. I appreciate how the tragic events that Victorians have experienced this year does not make  producing health advice or directives any easier.

There is no need to attack the DHHS or impugn motives that we are not aware of. My aim here is understanding and to ascertain a helpful explanation from the DHHS.

I have been informed that over the past week there has been confusion within the DHHS and with the DHHS’s messaging. Official Government’s websites have simultaneously allowed singing and prohibited singing for religious ceremonies. The permission granted to my church for singing has not been overturned in writing. However it is my understanding that the DHHS will today confirm on their website that singing is not permitted for religious ceremonies. 

On the surface the DHHS reversal makes no rational sense. The day after Victoria is declared COVID free, the DHHS impose (or at the very least, confirm) a prohibition on singing in churches? 

The question is, what is the justification for reversing the decision on singing?

Several months ago, suggestions were made by some medical experts that singing could play a role in spreading the virus. We certainly want to listen carefully to the findings of research. I note that this information was available months ago and it do not prevent the DHHS from giving religious groups in Victoria the green light for singing. Let me stress, with this information widely available, the DHHS decided that singing was permissible. 

Since those early indications that singing causes COVID to spread, more recent research has found that singing is not more problematic than speaking.

The BBC reported in August, 

“Singing does not produce substantially more respiratory particles than speaking at a similar volume, a study suggests.”

“Dr Rupert Beale of the Francis Crick Institute, said: “This important research suggests there is no specific excess risk of transmission due to singing”

It is not for me to discern how COVID-19 spreads and whether singing is a worse offender or not. I believe in listening to the science. To my knowledge, no new evidence linking singing to the spread of COVID-19 has come to light in the last couple of weeks, the same time frame that has introduced this 180 degree change by the DHHS. Perhaps new scientific data has become available in the past week. If so, it is incumbent upon the DHHS to explain.

This policy reversal is even more bizarre given the fact that Victoria has recorded zero new cases of COVID-19 for 31 days. There has been an entire month with zero new cases, despite many 1000s of people being tested every single say. It’s not as though the health situation is growing more perilous. Indeed, on November 28th Victoria was declared COVID-19 free! 

The logic is quite strange – while there remained a few cases of COVID-19 in Victoria, Churches could sing. Now that there are no cases and Victoria is declared COVID safe, churches can no longer sing?

It is not asking too much for the DHHS to detail the precise reasons to the1000s of churches and 100,000s of religious Victorians who are finally beginning to meet again after almost nine months of severe restrictions

Government bureaucrats perhaps do not appreciate the importance people of faith place on meeting together for worship, and the key role singing plays in these services. For Christians, to sing is one of the great joys and imperatives. It is an essential aspect of Christian worship. 

In 3 week time there will be crowds of 25000 people shouting and singing and chanting at the MCG’s Boxing Day Test. I intend to among that crowd! Groups of noisy patrons are already filling our pubs, sharing spittle as they talk over tables and cheer across the room. While people are amassing in restaurants and pubs 2sq m apart, people in church must sit 4sq m apart. 

There is a moral obligation for the DHHS to demonstrate this ban is necessary, because, for 1000,000s of Victorians, singing is a necessary expression of the faith we hold. If the DHHS has genuine cause for introducing the ban, okay. We will respond appropriately, as we have done so throughout 2020.