Church ministers are unhappy with the easing of restrictions regarding singing in churches, claiming they don’t go far enough.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Wednesday that, starting from midnight Friday, the number of performers singing indoors will increase from five to 30, subject to physical distancing requirements.
Singing by congregants will be allowed in places of worship if masks are worn and they observe the rule of one person per four square metres.
Currently, no congregant singing is allowed in places of worship, with one person per two square metres.
“With the rollout of the vaccine now underway, and no new locally acquired cases in NSW, we are able to make further changes towards a new ‘COVID normal’,” Ms Berejiklian said in a statement.
“It’s like they’re giving us one step forward and, if I can make a joke of it, 1.5 metres socially distancing back.” – Mark Powell, Associate Pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church
Step in the Wrong Direction
Mark Powell, Associate Pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church, said these changes are a step in the wrong direction.
“It’s like they’re giving us one step forward and, if I can make a joke of it, 1.5 metres socially distancing back. So, they give with one hand and they take with the other,” he told Hope 103.2.
Dominic Steele, Minister at Village Church Annandale, an Anglican church, agrees that the loosening of restrictions do not go far enough.
“Given that there’s been no community transmission in NSW for 38 days, if there’s no virus in the community, then there’s no risk of passing on the virus when we sing in church,” he told Hope 103.2.
Mr Steele believes these changes are putting pressure on congregational leaders and making things more difficult for churches across the state.
“We’re totally fine with making sacrifices if there is a genuine risk,” he said.
“But if there’s no risk to the community, and 38 days without transmission, we really are straining at gnats to say there’s a genuine risk in Sydney at the moment.”
The guidelines should realistically reflect the threat of the virus in the community, according to Mr Steele.
“What we’re arguing for is more nuanced guidelines that would allow the caps to be lifted higher, depending on any risk rate in the community,” he said.
A spokesperson for NSW Health said there is great risk involved with singing in groups.
“Group singing is considered a high-risk activity due to the increased chance of spreading COVID-19 when a singer projects their voice,” they told Hope 103.2.
“There have been outbreaks associated with religious gatherings and with group singing.”
“If there’s no virus in the community, then there’s no risk of passing on the virus when we sing in church.” – Dominic Steele, Minister at Village Church Annandale
Not an Essential Service
Mr Steele believes the government could be viewing churches the same way as casual pub singing.
“What’s happening in churches is you have recognised and accountable groups who are well organised, operating under clear Covid-safe plans, and they shouldn’t be treated in the same category as casual pub singing,” he said.
Mr Powell goes further to say that the government is not seeing church as an essential service, and is frustrated that crowds at sporting events are given different treatment.
“A sporting event like the Big Bash at the SCG, they’re an essential service because we’ll allow them to have maxed out capacity and chant and yell and barrack for hours and hours without masks,” he said.
“But for churches, we’ll continue to give you the most restrictive guidelines in all of society.”
Importance of Singing
Mr Steele said that singing is an important way for Christians to express their praises to God.
“As Christian people, we’re encouraged in the Bible to sing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God and to each other,” he said.
“It’s part of Christian worship. It’s the thing that I’m hearing most members in churches say they’re missing and have been missing for a year.”
Mr Powell has been saddened to see what he refers to as a trend in Christians being characterised more by fear than faith.
The restrictions by the government are guidelines and not law, he said, and there will come a point when Christians will need to engage in civil disobedience.
“Are we truly as Christians trying to love and honour God? God commands us to sing in the Scriptures,” he said.
“In Colossians, He tells us to speak to one another with hymns, psalms and spiritual songs, are we obeying that order? Is that a guideline? Is that a recommendation or is that a command from the Lord?”
“[Singing is] the thing that I’m hearing most members in churches say they’re missing and have been missing for a year.”- Dominic Steele, Minister at Village Church Annandale
Mr Powell also believes that Christians should rethink the way they view death.
“We have the words of eternal life, we have a message that our saviour has defeated death, but we are the most fearful in society of getting sick,” he said.
“What I think is the more powerful message that we’re saying to our community is we don’t really believe we have the answer to death.”
Comment has been sought from churches of other denominations, including the Catholic church, Baptist church and Hillsong.