It is dark and dreary in West Michigan today. That’s fairly typical for January, but the winter of 2021 feels especially dark and especially dreary. We are now a full ten months into the pandemic and, as I write this, it’s been a little more than a week since the terrible events at the Capitol building in Washington, DC.
Our congregation has met in reduced numbers for indoor services lately but my husband and I are still worshiping from home using our church’s online service. What I most wanted to do this week (aside from hugging my grandchildren) was to sit in the sanctuary with my congregation—people I’ve gathered with for more than 30 years—to worship together and sing. I wanted a tangible reminder that God is still providing for us, and singing songs of faith together is a powerful way to feel that assurance deep inside. But singing, we have been told, can lead to greater spread of the coronavirus.
In the interest of not spreading COVID, some congregations read the words of a song aloud instead of singing. That’s not the same. One member of our congregation, ScottVandenBerg band and orchestra director at the local Christian high school and our church’s choir director, pointed out that reading “A Mighty Fortress Is our God” isn’t the same as singing it. He’s right. We miss something when we can’t sing together. So Scott began to look for other ways we could safely sing at church and in school.
He started as we all would; by talking to other music directors and searching the Internet. In the process, Scott discovered an aerosol study commissioned by an International Coalition of Performing Arts Organizations. This study looked at how particles (particularly the virus) are conveyed by playing wind instruments or singing. It gave good information about how these things could be done safely.
Even though he is a musician and not a scientist, Scott read the study carefully and contacted the county health department to find out what research they were using to make their decisions regarding what schools could do. They simply relied on the state health department’s recommendations. So Scott called the state health department. They were relying on some old information, but became intrigued when Scott talked about the research he had done. The person at the health department asked if Scott could forward the information to them.
But Scott wasn’t done. He realized that to sing safely in church we needed to look at how the air moved in our sanctuary. He knew he was really getting out of his area of expertise, so he called another member of our congregation, Ben Shank, who has experience with airflow dynamics. Together they discovered that the building committee had recently upgraded the church’s air filters. That was encouraging, but Scott and Ben really needed to know how air moved in our sanctuary. They began to perform smoke tests so they could actually see how air moved, both for the seats in the balcony and on the main floor.
With the information from the airflow study and a knowledge of airflow in our sanctuary, Scott and Ben were able to make a seating plan that they felt would make singing together safe. They held an online meeting for our congregation to explain the process they went through and their recommendations. The science was interesting and presented well. It is exciting to know that we might soon be able to sing together.
But for me it was more than that. I felt like I was seeing God in action. I saw first-hand an example of God’s provision for our church. We had people with the skills to do this work—people who also had the skills to explain it to the rest of us. God called us together on a Tuesday evening over Zoom to give us a light to see how we could worship together again and how we could sing.
I was able to see how God continues to work in our church. Years earlier, God called and equipped Scott and Ben in music and in physics as well as giving us the gift of their presence in our congregation and their willingness to do this work (“called and equipped” is one of the Building Blocks of Faith). They knew each other because they worshiped and talked together on Sunday mornings. The congregation also knew them and trusted them.
I’m also grateful that God prepared me to see his hand in all of this. That’s probably the part I needed most.