Dear Friends in Christ,
Things are beginning to move again. Some restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted in most parts of the province. Yet, an outbreak in Kingston and another in two farming towns in southwestern Ontario remind us of the precarious nature of moving forward. The spate of cases on the farms also calls into question the appalling living conditions of migrant workers that undoubtedly contributed to the spread of the virus. Our prayers and concern rest with those whose lives have been forever changed by this tragedy.
In the rest of Ontario, many businesses, restaurant patios, swimming pools and beaches are gradually opening again at a reduced capacity. These important moves give us some hope that a return to a new “normal” may be possible. On the other hand, we are not naïve. While the number of confirmed cases continues to go down across Canada, other countries, including the United States, China and Korea, are experiencing a rise in infections.
This is not a time to be complacent in the reopening of our church buildings. It is a time to be prudent, cautious and careful. On June 17, the Provincial House of Bishops issued a document called Loving Our Neighbours: A Template for the Safe Reopening of Our Church Buildings. In concert with this provincial template, we now issue protocols for reopening in the Diocese of Toronto. This comprehensive checklist for parishes and ministries of the Diocese is the collective effort of the Bishops Office, the Executive Director and the directors of each department, in consultation with provincial guidelines, public health, the Regional Deans and faith communities across the country. In addition, we are grateful to the Rev. Canon Jo Davies and Ms. Angie Hocking for their part in writing portions of the procedures. The protocols checklist was received by the Executive Board and Trusts Committee on June 25, and we offer them to the whole Diocese today.
While some denominations and faith communities have elected to open now, the Anglican bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario have chosen to take a more cautious approach and reopen in September. This decision to delay was made in part to ensure that lay leaders and clergy find time for summer holidays. And we recognize that putting the protocols in place will take careful planning. It will take time for each parish to figure out how to ensure social distancing, stringent cleaning measures, office and worship guidelines, and Christian hospitality while restrictions apply. The checklist is comprehensive and it’s tempting to read through seventeen pages of best practices and feel overwhelmed. Remember, we have time to plan. The Diocese is here to help.
In the closing chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes…So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. While Paul was not writing to a community facing the ills of a pandemic, he was reminding the Church of its call to support and care for one another in mutual love. To practice what was preached!
May we too be inspired to continue to work for the good of all.
Yours in Christ
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto