interior top image

COVID & Congregational Song – Update 8-12-2022

The CDC released updated guidelines yesterday (Thursday, August 11th, 2022). Below are the links to the newest information we’re aware of and our renewed recommendations concerning congregational singing.



CDC streamlines COVID-19 guidance – CDC is streamlining its COVID-19 guidance to help people better understand their risk, how to protect themselves and others, what actions to take if exposed to COVID-19, and what actions to take if they are sick or test positive for the virus.


Recommended Questions You Should Ask

The Hymn Society’s Underlying Principles & Assumptions

  • Our recommendations are designed for congregations within the United States with a specific focus on congregational singing. These recommendations do not directly relate to solo or choral singing.
  • We are a multi-national ecumenical organization with a relatively small staff. We cannot make recommendations specific to each local congregation within our reach or influence. Our recommendations must be made within a large context and should not replace the need for local committees or working groups to do what is right/best for their local community.
  • The science and therefore our recommendations are constantly shifting due to new available studies, updated data, and revised guidelines from the WHO, CDC, and other scientific entities. We do our best to review all updates and studies available to the public but have no “inside” access or knowledge other than what is publicly available.
  • As an organization founded on faith, our decision making and recommendations must incorporate theology along with the current science. This theology is based on the core biblical tenet that the command to “love your neighbor” is inseparable from the command to “love God.”
  • There are no “no-risk” situations when a congregation currently gathers. If your congregation is considering or already gathering (regardless of whether you’re singing together), you are assuming some risk. What our guidance is designed to do is to walk you through assessing your risk and risk-tolerance.


Questions to Ask:

The answers to the following questions for your congregation can be used as a guide for determining how much risk is involved in deciding to sing as a congregation:

What percentage of your congregation is fully vaccinated (“fully vaccinated” definition is here)?

  • Definitely 70% or higher = Lower Risk
  • Less than 70% = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

How much distance can you ensure between each congregation member (or pods such as a family unit)?

  • Six feet in all directions = Lower Risk
  • Less than six feet in all directions = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

What are the chances that someone unvaccinated will attend but also remain unmasked and un-distanced?

  • I know when there’s a visitor and we’re happy to ask them directly whether they are vaccinated = Lower Risk
  • There’s a good chance because I can’t control or monitor all our visitors = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

For those who should remain masked, are they using a proper mask that is well-fitted?

  • I’ve never seen someone in our congregation wearing their mask improperly = Lower Risk
  • We don’t or won’t monitor and correct congregants on proper mask usage = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

How many air exchanges (using outside and/or filtered air) per hour does the room you’ll be worshiping in have?

  • Three changes or more per hour = Lower Risk
  • Less than three changes per hour = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk

How long will you be in the room together?

  • 30 minutes or less = Lower Risk
  • 60 minutes or more = Higher Risk
  • I don’t know = Assume Higher Risk


If you and your congregation can answer the questions above all in the “Lower Risk” category, then you are assuming the smallest risk possible for COVID-19 spreading by way of your gathering. However, there is still risk.

With each question that you answer in the “Higher Risk” category, the chances of someone in your congregation spreading/contracting COVID-19 by way of your gathering increases.

So, after assessing your risk level, the question to be answered is: Is singing together worth _____ amount of risk for our congregation?


The Hymn Society’s Recommendation

With careful consideration of your community’s risk factors, we recommend that congregations resume singing (masking is still highly recommended).


  1. The CDC still indicates that for unvaccinated people gathering and singing together is a high risk activity.
  2. 103,000 new cases are still being reported daily in the U.S.
  3. Worship services are by their very nature public events which include a number of variables that, depending on how each variable plays out, can quickly change the risk-factors involved in a gathering.
  4. The CDC guidelines for Communities of Faith | CDC are being updated but are not complete as of today, August 12th, 2022.
  5. For any public group that does sing, wearing a mask will reduce the risk of spreading infection.



Author – Adam Perez is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at Duke Divinity School.


Pandemic and Grief

It goes without saying that the past year has had a lot to lament. The pandemic and personal grief attend to every congregation. Social isolation and financial burdens can be found near and far. And yet, Sunday morning worship around the world is marked by seemingly careless songs of praise that resound from tall steeples, mega-campuses, small storefronts, or on the livestream at home.

Is the music of our worship services numb to the cry of the needy? Or is there something else at work in why many congregations are deeply invested in the project of praise?

There is certainly something to be commended here. There’s a testimony to praising God’s faithfulness regardless of our circumstances. There’s a witness to offering ourselves and our lives and our world to God no. matter. what.


Reconsidering History

But there’s also something to be reconsidered. We should recognize and remember the history of how we got here. It wasn’t by chance or by virtue alone that worship leaders have quietly adopted a lament-avoidance. The high pedestal of praise has a theological past to be remembered. It is part of the story of who contemporary/modern worship leaders are today and what they are expected to do. Answering the question in the title of this article requires a short jaunt into the recent history of contemporary praise and worship.

In the early 1950s, a theological revolution began that took Psalm 22:3 as a promise: God will be present when we praise God. It was the seed of a biblical theology of worship that is dominant today. Though its initial teacher, Reg Layzell, focused on simple spoken or shouts of praise, the primacy of praise came to be highly musical by the late 1970s. If your congregation wanted to experience God’s presence, it had to sing praise. Psalm 100:4 was a model for organizing the music of a service: thanksgiving, praise, and worship. King David is a chief “praise-er” and the Psalms are the primary source for praise songs. You can find the marks of this tradition all over worship services today, regardless of denomination. In some ways, this was embedded in the so-called worship wars just under the veneer of conflict over musical “style.”

This model for worship spread like wildfire through powerful events and eventually through recorded music. Perhaps you, like me, imbibed deeply of one source that helped spread the message of praise: Integrity’s Hosanna! Music tapes that were everywhere in the late 1980s through the 1990s. Or perhaps the growing influence of CCLI impacted your repertory choices because of the way it initially catalogued and made available praise and worship songs for congregational use.

While the progenitors of praise and worship were giving voice to the deep, personal involvement that God wants to have with humans in worship—not unlike what the Liturgical Renewal movement was aiming for in the 60s and 70s too—they overlooked the ministry of lament. Some even spurned it. When I watch videos of pastors and teachers speaking on praise and worship in the 80s and 90s, they highlight again and again how it “changes your perspective; how praise helps you overcome your personal and emotional challenges. Many talk about praise as the cure for seasons of depression and grief in their own lives—even to cure diseases that they argue are psychosomatic. Indeed, they recommend praise precisely because it can transform our grief and because it celebrates our victory over it. The closest they often get to acknowledging it as part of worship is through settings of Psalm 30:11: “You’ve turned my mourning into dancing” (for Easter, check out Ron Kenoly’s version on his 1992 album “Lift Him Up”).


The Suffering Christ

During this season of Lent the worship leader should also remember that “Christ walks with us in our grief” and that the presence of the Christ who suffered is with us in our suffering. Worship leaders can follow King David’s example by not only praising but also giving voice to lament, both personal and communal. The Psalms offer us the words for more than praise and congregational songwriters have been bringing them to life for millenia.

Sometimes it is hard—nearly impossible!—to see the water in which we swim as worship leaders. I worry it’s marked by an attention to praise that can be overly harsh. The culture of worship leading can be co-opted into an image of Church that doesn’t recognize the deep suffering of those who gather. Its repertoire can mute our awareness to the presence of a Christ who still abides in a minor key.

Let’s take a note from the pages of praise and worship history and from the model of the Psalms. The storm is not yet passed. On this Lenten journey—and in all of life–there’s still time for songs that grieve and gather up our suffering and offer it to God until Christ comes again in glory.


Recommending reading: Lovin’ on Jesus (Lester Ruth and Lim Swee Hong), The Worship Pastor (Zac Hicks), The Psalms as a Guide to Life (David Taylor).


This page will be updated regularly as a count-down to when singing together is safe again based on current recommendations from the CDC and other public health institutions.


Total US Population Vaccination Percentage


Safe Congregational Singing:

National Threshold = 70% to 85% of population fully vaccinated

Current National Vaccination Rate = 78.9% (as of August 12, 2022)

Most up-to-date national and local stats can be found here: CDC COVID Data Tracker

To utilize the CDC’s “Community Levels” tool to find information specific to your city/county, go here: CDC Community Levels



If your local community falls within the CDC’s “Low” Community Level, the Center for Congregational Song’s recommendation is that it is reasonable for your community to sing together. While the pandemic continues, there will still be risks during our public gatherings, especially for those who are immunocompromised or too young to get vaccinated. Continuing to maintain social distance and wearing masks/face-coverings helps reduce the risks to these populations.

Check My Community Level


Last updated: August 12, 2022



There are currently research teams across the world working on identifying how COVID-19 spreads and how to best protect the population from contracting the virus. Two ongoing studies are particularly focusing on music-making, which is what we will reference in this summary article. Before continuing, a few important considerations:

  • The author of this article is a professional musician, not a scientist. However, all information posted here has been carefully researched to the best of his ability.
  • Because of the nature this virus and of risk-assessment in general, every situation is unique and you and your team of decision-makers must try to make the best decision for your community. What is the best decision for a group in Atlanta may not be the best decision for someone in Dallas. Think for yourselves and do your own research.



There have been two recent studies specific to music-making and COVID-19 that are being posted on social media, advertised by sponsoring organizations, and being mentioned by media outlets. One is based out of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich and the other based out of the University of Colorado. Below are summaries of those study results and the highlights that stood out to me. Finally, we’ll offer recommendations for moving forward as it concerns congregational singing.


Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich Study

Article Link*,aerosolebeimsingen100.html

*The article and the quotes from it found below were originally in German and translated to English via the automatic Google Translate function via the Chrome browser.

Lead Researcher – Prof. Matthias Echternach of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

Important Quotes/Hightlights:

  • “As far as the widths forward [of the aerosols], it was the case that the sung text had the largest width. Interestingly, here it is so that loud and quiet didn’t make that big a difference, loud only went on marginally – and that makes sense. Because singers still have to convey the text very well when they sing softly. That means that they showed a lot of text accuracy and the width of the radiation to the front probably has a lot to do with the consonant abundance.”
  • “Here we had an average value of around one meter. But you have to say in the risk assessment that there were also singers who got over it up to a meter and a half. This means that the classic distance, as we know it from everyday life, is too small towards the front when singing. This is the first main finding. The second is the spread to the side. Here we were able to demonstrate significantly smaller distances.”
  • “What we have examined needs to be narrowed down briefly. We have not investigated how much aerosol is formed or how it can accumulate in the room over the long term, other working groups do that. Instead, we examined the process of how the aerosol behaves when it is ejected from the mouth into the room. This means that the advice we give can only relate to this impulse. If we think about distance rules now, we can say: two to two and a half meters to the front should very likely be sufficient, to the side one and a half meters should be enough – provided the aerosols are repeatedly removed! And this removal is not a problem in the fresh air. But it could be a problem indoors. If you could get a continuous ventilation, then you could probably orientate yourself on the normal rehearsal times. If this cannot be guaranteed, I have to have regular intermittent ventilation, preferably after ten minutes.”


Our Summary

  • This study is not peer-reviewed yet nor has its results been duplicated by other studies. It, therefore, cannot be deemed as scientifically reliable. It can inform our decision-making but should not be upheld as scientifically “true” until it meets more rigorous standards.
  • There were singers whose projection of droplets exceeded 6 feet, which is the current standard recommendations for social distancing. This study is recommending 12 feet.
  • Singing loudly or softly didn’t make a significant difference in droplet projection
  • They did not study aerosol dispersion or used masked/unmasked variants in this study.



Study Link –

Lead Researchers – Dr. Shelly Miller of the University of Colorado and Dr. Jelena Srebric of the University of Maryland

Important Quotes/Highlights:

  • “These preliminary results are from our few weeks of exploratory testing. They will be further defined as the study continues. We are providing these preliminary results to assist in the safe return to classrooms. (Normally we do not release data until they have been quality assessed and peer reviewed).”
  • “This study did not use a live virus or infected participants and therefore cannot be used to determine specific infection rates.”
  • Mask Graphic from study PDF:



  • After talking about efficiency/effectiveness of masks in keeping people safe, they say:
  • “These numerical findings need to be compared to actual experimental data as numerical simulations cannot replace experiments when studying new transport phenomena, especially the ones that threaten human life.”
  • “Performing arts activities have been found to create aerosol that is less than coughing, but more than talking. The following considerations are effective for music, speech, theatre and debate activities.”
  • Airflow matters significantly in aerosol build-up


Our Summary

  • This study is not complete.
  • This study is not peer-reviewed yet nor has its results been duplicated by other studies. It, therefore, cannot be deemed as scientifically reliable. It can inform our decision-making but should not be upheld as scientifically “true” until it meets more rigorous standards.
  • Singing and playing wind instruments is seems to be riskier than speech, however it is not as risky as coughing.
  • Masks make a difference, but masks must be fitted and worn properly.



As of today, we continue to err on the side of caution, not because we are fearful but because we are faithful. We believe that the health and lives of congregations across the U.S. are more important than any single act of music-making. God calls us to love and care for our neighbors. There will be a time we can sing together in our churches again, but the two studies referenced above do not provide scientific evidence that it is safe for a congregation to do so right now. They should give us hope, but they should not give us permission. The scientists leading the studies have said as much. So please reference these studies and continue to look for updates. But do not be fooled or allow yourselves to read those studies as scientific proof that there are risk-free ways of singing together.


For more resources and updates concerning COVID-19 and Singing, please go to:


Blogger Brian Hehn is the Director of

The Center for Congregational Song.



Guest blogger David Schaap is the president of Selah Publishing Co., Inc. based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.



Questions about Streaming Copyright

There have been many questions on social media about copyright for streaming or posting on YouTube your church services and other church events where music is performed, and hopefully this will give you some answers with regards to what’s required and available.

I have been a publisher of congregational song with Selah Publishing Co. for over 30 years, and church musicians are now quite aware of the legal need to ask permission for reprinting copyrighted hymn tunes and texts in bulletins and service leaflets, which used not to be the case. But current circumstances have thrown many of us into a new world of podcasts/Facebook live/YouTube channels and church website videos that we haven’t had to deal with before.

You’re aware of the reprinting permission required by copyright law, but there are other separate forms of copyright held by composers, authors, or publishers. You might be familiar with mechanical rights, where you get permission to produce a CD for a certain fee per disk. That’s a separate right granted to copyright holders from reprint rights.


US Copyright Law UnPacked

The U.S. copyright law requires permission for “synchronization” to allow you to broadcast copyrighted music with video, whether it’s Facebook Live, posted on your website, or on a YouTube channel (or even if it appears in a commercial, public service announcement, or feature film). According to the law, you must request permission before broadcasting it in any form. You can do this by contacting each publisher and requesting a synchronization license. The law doesn’t specify a mandatory fee, so it’s up to the publisher to decide what they charge to cover the cost of issuing a license and making a small profit. Many publishers have a minimum fee; for example, Selah’s is a minimum of $15. This could clearly become a nightmare of administrative work, even though we all enjoy that aspect of our work so much.

Or, you can subscribe to a service that allows you to do synchronization. The most comprehensive is Christian Copyright Solutions ( which works with ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC to license their artists’ works for streaming. Nearly all (but not all) composers and authors and publishers are members of one of these agencies. The lowest fee is $500/year and goes up to $5,500/year. A disadvantage aside from the expense is that much of these fees don’t make it back to the composers because of their wide variety of clients.



Many of you already have licenses with CCLI or or both, and know that they cover what you are using in worship. Both agencies fortunately offer a reasonably priced podcast/streaming license which you can easily add to your subscription. Or sign up now for your new foray into music videos!

The Podcast/Streaming license covers your Facebook Live broadcasts, archived Facebook videos from previous services, your YouTube channel, and broadcasting video on your church’s website. This covers copyrighted hymn text and tunes from their member publishers AND the performance of any of the member publisher’s organ/choral/instrumental copyrights. If you use them for permission to reprint copyrighted hymns or service music or other congregational music in service leaflets you can add the Podcast/Streaming license with a simple email or phone call to them. The fees begin at $67/year and go up to $655/year (for those churches with weekly attendance up to 30,000). You would need to do this as an add-on if you were providing a PDF of your bulletin with the copyrighted hymn texts or tunes, or if you are scrolling the lyrics during the video.

If you never reprint copyrighted congregational hymns for use, OneLicense has a new “Limited Podcast/Streaming License.” The title is misleading: it’s not limited in what you can use from their member publishers, it’s limited to only licensing for Facebook Live, YouTube channel, and website videos. And that license is the same price as the add-on, $67/year up to $655 a year.

OneLicense has also said they can make arrangements with churches if you would never stream a service and now are for the time being, but you’re not printing any bulletins or providing a PDF with copyrighted hymns at the moment, they can toggle you back and forth between one or the other option. And if you stop streaming at some point mid-license, they can remove that and prorate the fee.

Publishers from covered under both congregational reprints AND Podcast/Streaming include Augsburg Fortress, Church Publishing, Celebration, Concordia Publishing, ECS Publishing, Fred Bock (including Hinshaw), GIA (including Iona Community, Taizé, RSCM), Hope Publishing, Kjos, MorningStar, OCP, Oxford University Press, Paraclete Press, Selah Publishing, and hundreds more. So if you would be performing copyrighted hymns, choral music, organ or keyboard music, or instrumental music from one of these publishers, you would be covered with this Podcast/Streaming license.

CCLI has a similar arrangement at similar costs you can add if you already use their services. There are many publishers that are members of both (including Selah), but the majority of what they represent tends towards the more evangelical/Pentecostal repertoire, just as OneLicense tends toward the more liturgical traditions. They cover Word/Hillsong/Keith Getty and many more of the Praise & Worship resources out there, from over 3,000 artists and labels.

A caveat: to keep your videos online or available through YouTube or Facebook or on your website, you need to pay for the annual license, and if you don’t renew, you must take them down.



A really important part of this licensing is reporting your usage. You do not just sign up and are then fine forever, you have to tell the licensing agencies what you are using. This provides income to the composers, authors, and publishers, and is the fair and right thing to do. You should also indicate on your website or in posts that you are legally presenting the music under the license, and include your unique license number in the form they require under the license indicating those who created the work, the copyright notice, and the legal permission (i.e. Music by COMPOSER NAME, © 2020 PUBLISHER NAME, used with permission under CCLI/ XX-XXXX).

Note, these licenses DO NOT cover the broadcast of pre-recorded music by other artists. You can’t take your favorite organ music or choral music CD and play a track for a prelude on your Facebook Live broadcast with any blanket license: this can only be arranged by contacting directly the copyright holder of the recording (usually a label).

Sure, this is an additional cost for the church, but I don’t think we are going back to normal worship right away, nor that this might not happen again in the future. And it’s a small price compared to even what my church has been putting out for tripods, Bluetooth lavalier microphones, camera memory cards, lighting stands, routers, and cable to make live-streaming viable.

If you’re streaming or posting copyrighted music online, subscribe to a service, report the music you’re using on a regular basis, and indicate online that you’re doing it legally. We need to do what’s right and just in our work, and these agencies help you do just that.

David Schaap


Author Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Hampton, VA


God Moves in a Mysterious Way: Doing Music Ministry During a Pandemic

How does one do music ministry from home, when the church is closed and choirs cannot gather?

The answer is, you spend the first week or two scrambling to put together online worship. But, mostly, you spend those first two weeks grieving the losses.

The new musical setting for my church’s Lenten Wednesday worship was going so well; the cantors, choir, and instrumentalists had worked so hard and worship was lifting us to new heights. Gone! The handbell choir was really taking off and was excited about three pieces for Lent and three for Easter Sunday. Cancelled! The adult choir had just gotten their new Easter anthem, which would have combined organ, handbells, and trumpet. Not happening!

But then, like all things we grieve, we emerge at some point and face reality. And usually, that is when we are given opportunities to greet God face to face. 

For one thing, I sense God’s presence more now when I talk to my co-workers. I see them only online, and much less often, but, having had to talk through some very hard things, I also feel closer to them. That is God at work.

Additionally, I had initially rejected the idea of having any kind of online meeting for our musical groups, but I changed my mind and gave it a try. Technology is an amazingly sophisticated thing, but it has not figured out how to allow people in different locations to make music together online in real time. With some hesitation, I decided to start Zoom meetings for the adult choir. Would it be awkward? Would people be distracted by the disorder of my makeshift home office, with the sounds of small children screaming in the background? But, you know what? It felt so good to see each other’s faces. After catching up a bit, we watched a video together through Zoom’s “screen share” function and, with our individual voices muted, sang along with the choir in the video. It was possible to see each other’s faces as we were singing (see photo below) and it gave us a taste of what we’d been missing: that feeling of being with other people to praise God through the beauty of music. 

Before doing this, I was convinced that such profound moments of faith and community were impossible to do through the internet. Granted, it’s not the same as being in person, and I do look forward to when we can be together again. But I think part of what struck me was the surprise at just what God is capable of doing. God reached us in a way we didn’t expect, which is exactly the way God works. We work hard, but mostly we show up and wait in expectant faith. God does the rest. Even in the midst of a pandemic– isolation, anxiety, fear, and even death– God is there.

Perhaps you have had some similar experiences participating in online worship services or choir rehearsals, in other online opportunities, or even just chatting with neighbors from six feet away. In what ways has God taken your grief, skepticism, bitterness, fear, or anxiety, and turned them into ways to grow in your relationship with God?

Much love and peace to you all during this time. When we are together again, in the flesh with our worshipping communities and choirs, it will be quite a celebration.



A few members of the Adult Choir at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Hampton, VA, join in Zoom choir rehearsal.

“God moves in a mysterious way” is the title line from William Cowper’s famous 1774 hymn.