“My Lords, regardless of matters of hindsight, does the Minister agree that prolonging the restrictions might be justified for certain reasons?” asked the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev’d Nick Baines, in the House of Lords on Tuesday. “I do not demur from that, but the prolonging of inconsistencies is a serious impediment to public adherence to the rules,” he ventured, as a prelude to highlighting the most glaring of inconsistencies.
“You do not have to look very far to see where the discipline broke down a long time ago. For example, this is not special pleading; it is just at the forefront of my mind. You can sing in a pub but not in a church. This is what brings the rules into disrepute, and therefore people do not agree with them.”
Lord Bethell responded on behalf of the Government, saying: “I hear loud and clear the frustration of many noble Lords on the question of singing in churches; it is enormously frustrating to those who have a passion for singing.”
“But I would be pretending to be other than I am if I did not level with the Right Reverend Prelate and say that this is an airborne, aerosol disease. It is breathed into buildings at huge risk to those inside, and there is a direct correlation between infection rates, that aerosol and that kind of singing.”
This was a curious PMQs-type of deflective evasion, which is (frankly) unworthy of the House of Lords, for surely, as the Bishop might politely have pointed out, a disease which is airborne and aerosol in a church is also airborne and aerosol in a pub, and with the relative amounts of alcohol consumed in a church and a pub, the former is likely to be a whole lot safer to sing in than the latter to watch football in.
“The decision has been made with huge regret and not without a huge amount of scientific analysis,” Lord Bethell insisted, “and those who have made their case have been heard loud and clear, but we have to fight this virus and prevent people getting sick.”
Why is hymn-singing in church more likely to make people sick than drinking 10 pints and chanting ‘Inger-land, Inger-land, Inger-land’ in a crowded pub? May we see the scientific analysis?
Why is this permitted during the continuing Covid lockdown?
But socially-distanced hymn-singing in this cavernous space not?
Why may 100 people tuck into seafood pasta in a packed restaurant, but not sing ‘Amazing Grace’ in church? Why may people cram into steel tube and fly to Ibiza sharing the same stale air for two-and-half hours, but not spend four minutes quietly singing ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ in the echoing vastness of Canterbury Cathedral?
Why may a professional choir sing in a cathedral with no limit on numbers, but an amateur choir must be restricted to just six? Do amateurs emit more flecks of spittle than professionals? Are they less capable of measuring or standing at two-metre distances from one another?
The Tartan Army is apparently free to sing ‘Yes Sir, I can boogie’ with gusto while flying from Aberdeen to London yesterday:
Hymn-singing isn’t therapy; it is intrinsic to the essential act of worship: ‘..be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord..’ (Eph 5:18f). So perhaps the Bishop of Leeds might ask Her Majesty’s Government if Christians may hire a plane and sing ‘Thine be the glory’.