Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week, Archbishop Anne Germond issued a Pastoral Letter to the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, regarding the closure of our churches until September and the need for a Sabbath Rest. We heard back from some people, especially clergy, with many questions, and some confusion and hurt. Some didn’t understand why we wouldn’t want to return to our churches as soon as possible. Some felt that the House of Bishops did not understand how hard they had been working during this time of COVID-19.
You’ll recall that last month I wrote to the clergy of the Diocese, encouraging them to take their summer holidays. In part, I said: “I am tired, and I know you are too. I have found engaging in ministry without the advantages of physically gathering to be both logistically demanding and emotionally and spiritually draining. Some of us are working harder than we ever have before. Learning and using new tools require deep reserves of energy, and we do not know when this experience of isolation will end. And looking ahead, we will all need to be at our best for the re-engagement that we hope, God willing, is coming soon. So, yes, please do book a wonderful summer break. While we may or may not be able to actually travel – it’s kind of hard to plan! – please choose your weeks and inform your parish when you’ll be off. Plan to completely detach if you can. Turn off the screens and go outside to spend time in God’s creation. Our Canadian summers are so precious, and as we know, all too brief.”
When the House of Bishops issued their letter last week, part of the intent was to emphasize this very point. We acknowledge and appreciate all of the hard work and wonderful ministry taking place in creative new ways during this pandemic, and in light of that, encourage a time of rest over the summer. All of the bishops want our clergy and lay leaders to get a break – to take space and time for personal re-creation.
We are all pining to come together again in our sacred spaces for corporate worship. With the Ontario government now moving cautiously into “Phase Two” and lifting some restrictions, including allowing gatherings of up to 10 people and giving additional permission for places of worship to reopen at 30% capacity, it is tempting to reconsider this position of waiting until September for re-opening.
We believe, however, that the difficult but safest decision is to keep our church buildings closed until the fall. The bishops are asking clergy and lay leaders to “stay the course” of distanced ministry using technology with virtual and online worship – not because it is easier, more restful or preferable, but because we hope that the summer months will allow parishes to take the time to carefully plan for what re-opening safely will look like. We are working on guidelines (and waiting to see the Provincial Health Authority’s) to help you prepare. You will hear from Rob Saffrey later this week with guidelines regarding your tenants and licensees. Other guidelines regarding re-opening for worship and parish life will be shared with you by the end of June. Summer is a good time for leadership teams to consult about such things as cleaning, social distancing, space capacity and usage. Additionally, continuing in the way we have been operating now for many weeks will allow our leaders to take a break that they might otherwise have felt was impossible with re-opening.
There is no question that “pandemic fatigue” has set in among us. We are all tired of this. Yet the COVID-19 crisis is not finished, particularly in our part of the country, and we are very conscious that a good number of our faithful parishioners would be considered at high risk for infection. We believe that God is calling us to model for society how to re-engage safely and carefully. Thank you for continuing in the good, creative and intentional ministry that you are already doing. The bishops are impressed, moved and gratified by your outstanding efforts.
If you are feeling discouraged, please reach out. Speak to your Area Bishop or Regional Dean, especially if you are not sure how you will manage to arrange for a summer break; we want to help. The physical health and spiritual and emotional wellbeing of all of our people – clergy, lay leaders and parishioners – are of the utmost importance to us.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto