For most churches, seating and space issues are the most pressing concern. In Elk Grove, California, Laguna Chinese Baptist Church is planning to group chairs in the sanctuary into pods, with households seated together and separated from other households by at least eight feet. “The family that shelters together, worships together,” pastor Jonathan Szeto said. Before the pandemic, the church held services in English and Mandarin simultaneously in different parts of the building, with a Cantonese service a few hours later. Now, Szeto is figuring out a schedule that would allow the three services to take place consecutively, with time for a complete cleaning in between each one. He’s also working to develop livestream capabilities—as opposed to posting a delayed recording—to make sure no one who wants to stay home feels they are missing out on experiencing the service. “We have a long road back,” he said. He is tentatively aiming to reopen the building in July.
Singing is another major worry. Congregational singing, whether of historic hymns or contemporary worship music, is a core element of almost every church service around the world. But the act of singing also expels breath with significantly more force than normal speech, according to public health experts. Many churches are still grappling with whether to give it up entirely, or find some way to modify the beloved practice. The Archdiocese of Baltimore, for example, is suspending congregational singing until further notice, citing guidance from groups including the American Choral Directors Association and the Performing Arts Medical Association. The Humanitarian Disaster Institute’s guide classifies singing as “high risk,” and recommends against choir singing in particular indefinitely. Instead, the report suggests, music could be performed by a soloist who adheres to physical distancing guidelines.