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Bishop’s Office releases new singing guidelines

“Those who sing, pray twice” is a saying attributed to St Augustine of Hippo. Christians have been singing throughout our history, praising God with glorious music, lifting our hearts and voices with psalms and spiritual songs. For Anglican Christians, music has been particularly important – in our liturgies, choral music and hymnody.

One of the great griefs of the COVID-19 pandemic has been our inability to sing together. For those of us who are used to worshipping corporately with music, we are pining to once again lift our voices together in song.

The time has come to start expanding our practices. We have learned so much about how the COVID-19 virus is spread, and how to prevent its spread. Vaccines have been administered to over 80% of the eligible population, and we hope more people will make the caring and responsible decision to be vaccinated if they haven’t already done so. The “fourth wave” seems to have crested, at least in Ontario, and transmission numbers are now moving in the right direction. Signs of hope are around us.

At the same time, we continue to be cautious. We are aware that the Delta variant is more than twice as contagious as earlier variants of COVID-19. Earlier this week, a high school in Toronto had to close because of an outbreak. These weeks following Thanksgiving, as the temperature starts to fall and more activities move indoors, will be key. Covid is still among us and active, and we are obliged to be careful. There will be unvaccinated children and some adults in our midst during our services. Additionally, many health authorities, including City of Toronto Public Health, have directed faith groups to “Limit the number of performers or vocalists. Avoid group or congregational singing.”

Bearing all of this in mind, and after due consideration and consultation, we are commencing a gradual expansion of our practices around singing. Effective immediately, we are permitting choral singing by fully vaccinated choristers, masked and distanced 2–3 metres from each other, and a minimum of four metres from the congregation.

Our policy around choral music follows:

  • In accordance with our diocesan vaccination policy, all musicians and choristers, whether paid or volunteer, must be fully vaccinated to participate in music ministry during worship services. Proof of vaccination must be provided.
  • All singers must be masked.
  • All singers must be distanced from each other by a minimum of 2 meters (3 meters recommended). The choir must be distanced from the congregation by a minimum of 4 metres. The number of choristers is limited to the available space with this physical distancing.
  • Choir practices also require masks and physical distancing. Choir practices must be held in a well-ventilated space and not exceed 90 minutes in length. Self-screening and attendance must be taken for contact tracing purposes.
  • These policies also apply to lease agreement holders (eg., community choirs) in our buildings.
  • There continues to be no congregational singing for the time being. Clergy and worship leaders should regularly remind worshippers that only designated musicians may sing at this time.

We hope to move towards full congregational singing – with masks and physical-distancing – in the coming months. Please be patient as we take this initial step and continue to monitor the situation. We will advise when we have decided to proceed with congregational singing.

No parish or congregation should feel obliged to re-start choral music programs if they are uncomfortable or feel unable to do so safely.

The psalmist wrote: “Your love, O Lord, for ever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.” We give thanks to God for the opportunity to once again worship with the sound of happy voices and look forward in time to having more voices join the chorus of praise as we move through this pandemic.

-The Bishop’s Office