An Update Note from the Bishop of Exeter, Chair of the Church of England Liturgical Commission

Hugh Morris,  RSCM’s Director, has been involved with the meetings mentioned below;  and we are pleased to be able to share this note from The Right Reverend Robert Atwell.

‘O sing to the Lord a new song,’ says the Psalmist. Except, of course, singing is the one thing we can’t do at the moment, at least not congregationally. However beautiful the voice, a lone cantor is no substitute for a congregation singing, ‘Guide me O thou great Redeemer’ at full pelt. As so often in life, it is only when you can’t do something that you realise just how important it is!

Music and singing play a key part in Christian worship and particularly so in the Church of England. I treasure our rich choral tradition and the immense contribution that musicians of all traditions make to the worship offered in our churches and cathedrals. Let me assure all church musicians: you are not forgotten!

During the last few months, it has been my privilege to chair round-table meetings (by Zoom) with cathedral musicians and organists in my capacity as Chair of the Liturgical Commission. In our meetings we have been assisted by Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Medical Ethics, Health and Social Policy Adviser for the Church of England, and the Reverend Professor Gina Radford, who until last year was Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England. They have provided us with a public health perspective on the current situation as we discover the shape of the ‘new normal’ post lockdown.

Current government advice allows professional singers to rehearse and record indoors for broadcasts without an audience being present. Although it is anticipated that live performances indoors will be able to be resumed after 1st August (subject to certain conditions), we still do not know what this will mean for places of worship. We are awaiting further government guidance. Throughout the pandemic, the Church of England has been concerned to follow government advice to ensure safe public worship and, as we go forward, I would urge choirs and musicians to continue to do so.

Singing may or may not spread the virus through droplets or aerosol transmission. We hope that results from research currently being carried out in this country and in Germany will be forthcoming very soon and bring some clarity to the situation. We then hope that the government will be able to issue guidance on what is permitted. The Church of England is closely linked in with this research and is contributing to policy-making in this area. You can be confident that those leading the work are aware of the urgency of the situation and of the concerns that are being expressed.

We all look forward to the time when singing in all its glory will once again be permitted in our churches and cathedrals. In the meantime, thank you for your patience and for the enrichment you bring to our worship.

The Right Reverend Robert Atwell Bishop of Exeter and Chair of the Liturgical Commission