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Church could reopen without singing in Germany

by Cara Bentley

Services without sung worship are a possibility if churches are to start gathering again. 

Across Europe there are discussions and disagreements about when and how churches should join the rest of society in being allowed to open to the public again - with some erring on the side of caution and obedience, such as the Pope, and others frustrated that church is seen as far less urgent than the reopening of restaurants. 

There are expected to be changes made to the lockdown restrictions in Germany by Chancellor Angela Merkel this week, with churches among the locations set for a relaxation of the guidelines, as well as museums, zoos and botanical gardens.  

A date has not been set for their reopening but other limits were lifted a week ago for certain shops. 

Their conditions for allowing churches to reopen are expected to include social distancing and physical contact and potentially a ban on singing. There is a concern that communal singing, with all the extra inhaling and exhaling that it entails, is just as bad for passing on and catching the disease as coughing, as droplets and germs travel further. 

Matthias Kopp, Head of Communications at the German Catholic Bishops Conference, opposes this idea and told Premier it was the decision of each diocese and priest as to how they would bring back their own congregation but that quiet singing had been proposed. 

"Of course, first of all we have to protect people but the second point is that we do have a responsibility to look at what we can and can't do. So we've offered guidelines to our 27 dioceses about how they should behave and celebrate mass."

When they start services again there will be a distance of 1.5m kept, there will be a one-way system on aisles and face masks will be worn. 

Dr Noel Tredinnick, conductor and former director of music at All Souls Langham Place in London, told Premier he hoped the same ban would not come in in the UK: "Actually I think it's a very serious thing, I think it's something we're called to do and if a government chooses to say this is an unimportant ingredient in religious experience, Christian experience, then that to me seems to be the wrong thing."

He added that there is little evidence to suggest someone is more likely to pass on germs any more than when they are speaking: "I would caution this coming to the UK and I don't think it's necessary...unless you're going to ban people from speaking to each other."

He quoted Psalm 96 and the call to sing with other believers: "I think there is this injunction from God in the Bible to sing to people and actually to sing together...what we are deeply missing is singing together."

When asked if there were any particular hymns we should avoid when churches return because of their belting notes, Dr Tredinnick replied: "In 'Be Thou My Vision' you've got that line 'Naught be all else to me, save that thou art,' now you say that and try not to spit, but it's the same saying as singing."

For those missing music, Tredinnick recommended virtually attending (and dressing up for) All Souls' Prom Praise concert, which is normally a large event at the Royal Albert Hall. This year it will be broadcast as part of the Royal Albert Hall's digital series at 7:30pm on Saturday on the All Souls website and YouTube. It will feature music from The Kingdom Choir, Matt Redman and All Souls' new director of music, Michael Andrews.

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