“God is calling through the whisper of the Spirit’s deepest sighs.” —Mary Louise Bringle

We’ve all done it.

Whispering in worship, that is.  Maybe it was speaking to a squirming child or perhaps it was a comment to our pew-partner that simply couldn’t wait until lunch.

But when at some future time we gather together in our churches, I wonder if it will feel like all of worship is experienced as a whisper.

On May 5, 2020 the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, Barbershop Harmony Society, and Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA) sponsored a webinar titled, “A Conversation: What Do Science and Data Say About the Near-Term Future of Singing.”

The presenters were:
Dr. Donald Milton, a leading researcher whose work focuses on the interrelated areas of infectious bioaerosols, exhaled breath analysis, and development and application of innovative methods for respiratory epidemiology. Dr. Milton is Professor of Environmental Health, University of Maryland School of Public Health, with a secondary appointment in the School of Medicine, and;

Otolaryngologist Dr. Lucinda Halstead, founder and medical director of the Evelyn Trammell Institute for Voice and Swallowing at the Medical University of South Carolina. She is also President Elect of the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA).

For more information, you can listen to the entire webinar.

Church, community choir, children’s, middle school, high school and collegiate choral directors were stunned by the warnings about singing together in groups and the high risk of transmitting COVID-19 presented in this webinar.  Choirs of all types were warned: It is dangerous to sing in groups!  And of course, this included congregational singing, a spiritual practice that transcends Christian denominations and worship styles.

Ministers of Music have felt a keen sense of loss as we have had to pause for a time leading rehearsals and choirs and congregational singing.  Even while we acknowledge the sadness we feel that we cannot sing together, there is a new spirit in the air as musicians ask, what can we do?  How can we continue to lead in worship well? How can we use hymn texts in worship to pray and praise (without giving voice to melody)? How can piano, organ, hand bells, string instruments and strummed instruments and others aid us to “praise God in the sanctuary”?

Indeed, church musicians are finding ways to lead in worship in ways that are creative and innovative and safe. Here are only two examples:

Carey Cannon at South Main Baptist Church in Houston pivoted very quickly to adapt to the reality that there would be no public worship service on Easter and that the South Main choir would not be able to sing their annual rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah from Messiah.  Carey worked with a former student who is a videographer and professional musician in New York to produce a virtual choir recording of “Hallelujah.”

Watch this video of Cory to learn more about how this was happened and their process.

While many church staffs are live streaming worship services on Sunday morning or leading worship via Facebook Live, others like Wilshire Baptist in Dallas are prerecording the service on a weekday and then launching the service with YouTube Premiere. 

At Wilshire we have reclaimed the practice of testimony and invited members to share their stories in brief video clips recorded from their home.  Through the month of May we focused on a different group of persons each Sunday affected by the pandemic: healthcare workers, mothers, business owners as well as those who had been furloughed, and educators.  We crafted a guiding question, enlisted volunteers, requested the testimony be about two minutes and emailed a set of instructions to assist with the video process at home.

Here is a testimony by a doctor who told how her faith is sustaining her through these difficult times:

Pentecost Sunday is May 31.  The coming of the Spirit on the church and our remembrance of this day typically evokes dynamic worship: the waving of banners and bells, full-throated singing and powerful preaching.  And the time will come when we will gather again and sing our loud hosannas.

But when our churches reopen, something different will be required – at least for a while.  Worship may be more measured, perhaps only at the level of a whisper.

Today I want to give thanks for my colleagues, church musicians who are women and men in churches large and small. With courage and creativity they are leading us to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.

Doug Haney
Doug Haney has served as Minister of Music at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas TX since 2004. He previously served at Providence Baptist in Charlotte NC and churches in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. At Wilshire, he directs the choral program and supervises the church-wide music ministry, with major responsibilities for worship. Wilshire’s 90-voice Sanctuary Choir and 60-voice Youth Choir are renowned for their quality and innovative approach to traditional worship.

Haney coordinates a new service from CHC for churches seeking to infuse vitality, quality and vision into their worship and music ministry. The work will allow congregations to assess their current ministry and envision ways to enhance quality and foster innovation and relevance.