Wesley to Allow Singing and Modify Mask Policies
The Church Council has approved two changes proposed by the Reentry Team to allow singing in worship and modify mask guidance outside of worship.
- Wesley will allow singing with masks during worship on a phased schedule. Singing by soloists in will begin in July and congregational singing will start August 1. Worship services will continue to require everyone to wear masks and maintain distancing in the sanctuary.
- Wesley will follow CDC guidance for masks at post-worship social gatherings beginning July 18 and for building uses other than worship services effective immediately.
Though Sunday morning worship will continue to require masks and distancing in the sanctuary to allow singing, Wesley will follow CDC mask guidance in other contexts. Currently, fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing and unvaccinated people should wear a mask indoors in public places. Choosing Safer Activities compares the CDC guidance for unvaccinated and fully vaccinated people.
These changes follow Wesley’s transition phase in June and survey of the congregation that received 67 responses. The survey indicated wide support for singing during worship, and a large majority of people were comfortable with less restrictive options including post-worship fellowship with food and drink following CDC mask guidance in Brewer Hall.
Singing at Worship. The Summer Survey indicated strong agreement and high levels of comfort with singing. Support for singing by soloists was among the highest in the survey (77% to 82% agreeing or comfortable). About two-thirds were comfortable with hymn singing by the congregation with masks.
The Reentry Team and Church Council also reviewed William Ness’s summary of singing guidelines and studies showing that singing with masks and distancing mitigated the risks of COVID-19 among unvaccinated singers in music classes to a 1.9 million chance. William compared these contexts to singing in church and noted that with mask wearing, distancing and vaccinations, limited singing can be achieved for short periods of time. Our service spreads the opening hymn, praise songs and closing hymn in a non-continuous order that reduces risk.
The Reentry Team endorsed William’s suggestion for singing no more than 10 minutes in a worship service for the next two months. Soloists or groups of vaccinated singers will begin singing in worship from the chancel area without masks starting in July. Congregational singing with masks will begin in August and we will see how that goes. We may learn more about whether to continue singing with masks or change to singing without masks if appropriate in September. Those attending who are uncomfortable with singing could ask to sit in a more remote position in the sanctuary such as pews near the back of the main floor or in the rear balcony.
CDC mask guidance after worship and for other building uses. The survey indicated people are comfortable with less restrictive options than our current policies and prefer post-worship fellowship with food and drink following CDC mask guidance in Brewer Hall. About 70% of people are comfortable with and likely to attend post-worship fellowship or a meeting in Brewer Hall, with coffee and donuts and CDC guidance on masks and distancing. Parents were asked about several options and expressed their highest levels of comfort with post-worship fellowship in Brewer Hall, with coffee and donuts, following CDC mask guidance.
In addition, outside groups want to know our mask policy and are more likely to pay to use our space if we follow CDC mask guidance since that has become the standard everywhere else. Restrictions on food with mandatory masks also limited opportunities for fellowship, hospitality, and events as well as mission and outreach to the community.
Vaccinations. The Summer Survey indicated that some people would come to a mobile vaccination clinic at Wesley, and plans are underway to schedule one. The survey did not ask for vaccination status, though responses to this question could provide an estimate as high as 77% for Wesley. Even with a lower estimate, vaccination rates in the congregation are likely representative of the broader community. The percent fully vaccinated in Worcester County is 54% of all residents, 62% of those age 12+, 64% age 18+, and 79% age 65+.
Public health conditions in Worcester and Massachusetts continue to improve. The current average daily cases for Worcester County or the City of Worcester are between 1 and 1.6 cases per 100,000 population. The daily cases, infection rates, positive test rates, and percent vaccinated all indicate low levels of risk for unvaccinated as well as vaccinated people in Worcester. These can be monitored on dashboards at Mass.gov, the New York Times, and CovidActNow.
With favorable public health conditions and strong support from the congregation in the Summer Survey, the Reentry Team is confident that Wesley can allow singing with masks in worship and follow CDC mask guidance in other contexts to continue our phased approach to reopening. If the CDC or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts change their guidance, Wesley could reimpose or loosen restrictions as needed, based on local conditions.
CDC mask guidance is now the standard precaution in public spaces which will open doors to more opportunities for mission in the community. During worship, singing with masks represents a way to mitigate risks for unvaccinated as well as vaccinated people. This step will provide time to learn more about how vaccinations mitigate the risks of singing. A mobile clinic can contribute in a small but meaningful way to making vaccinations more accessible. These steps will enhance our worship, offer hospitality to one another and the community, and enable Wesley to broaden our ministry and mission.
— Peter Hansen on behalf of the Reentry Team