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Is It Safe to Sing at Church Yet?

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(RNS) — On Pentecost Sunday, some members of Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, sang hymns without masks for the first time in more than a year.

They vocalized “Multilingual Grace” in four languages after music director Denise Makinson taught them how to express thanks in Spanish, Arabic, Swahili and Korean.

“I do have to say it was quite emotional yesterday to hear the congregation singing all the hymns,” Makinson said in an interview on Monday (May 24). “It was definitely something I missed.”

Pentecost is often celebrated as the “birthday” of the Christian church. It frequently includes a reading from the New Testament Book of Acts about the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus’ followers, who then begin to speak and understand languages they had not known.

“I think they were also emotional about it, to hear people’s voices,” Makinson said of Southwood’s congregants.

Some people sang with masks on, others with them off — a mix that is likely to continue across the country for a while as congregations navigate the “new normal” of the continuing pandemic when not everyone is vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent announcement that fully vaccinated people could generally resume pre-pandemic activities has played a part in new decisions by congregations. But the CDC’s guidance was about individuals; its advice for “communities of faith” has not been updated since Feb. 19 and currently does not mention singing.

The Hymn Society’s Center for Congregational Song has declared in its own latest guidance: “We do not currently recommend that congregations sing.”