Dear Friends in Christ,
This is my last written letter to you in 2020. Next week, I look forward to sharing my annual Christmas video message with you. And the following Friday I will be preaching to you over the livestream from St. James Cathedral on New Year’s Day, the first day of 2021 and one hopes, a better year for us all. I started this practice of writing weekly back on March 20th, when the crisis was just starting to unfold. At the time I wrote “I will be sending you an email each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, containing the latest updates about how our Diocese is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Well, as the health emergency evolved into a “new normal”, the frequency of the communication lessened, and the topics started to expand beyond Covid-related issues. I have come to enjoy having this regular communication with you, and I hope you haven’t minded receiving it. I think – like so many other innovations during Covid – it may be one of the things that “stick” after the health crisis is over.
So, today’s letter is my last for the year – and what a year it has been. I want to say primarily what I said to the Diocesan Staff at our virtual Christmas Party on Wednesday, what I said to our College of Bishops yesterday, and what I said to Diocesan Council last evening: I am so proud of this Diocese, of this Church.
One year ago, we could not have predicted what 2020 would bring. Yet when crisis struck, the Church prevailed. Despite plague and anxiety, sickness and grief, the Church in this Diocese of Toronto was faithful and hopeful, creative and innovative. We committed to providing worship of Almighty God in newly accessible ways, and in offering loving acts of service to all our neighbours. We worked harder than ever, we learned new skills, we tried new things. We were careful yet courageous, responsive yet responsible. We proved that our generosity is stronger than our fear. Our faith is greater than our fatigue. Our love is larger than any loss. We celebrated the triumph of our Risen Christ at Easter despite our empty churches and a Eucharistic Fast. And we will welcome the newborn King this Christmas even if we are prevented from gathering around His creche.
I received an email a few weeks ago from a family physician who serves as medical advisor for Ontario Health and at the major hospital where he works. He implored me to use this last letter before Christmas to ask all Anglicans to socialize only with their own immediate households over the holidays. I am happy to do so, even though I know that you are already aware of the caring and responsible way to celebrate. Like you, our dining room table will have a few empty chairs this Christmas, and I will miss the laughter, warmth, hugs and presence of so many people who are precious to me. I look forward to exchanging greetings with them over the phone or on zoom. But I am making this sacrificial gift of safe distance from those that I love in order to ensure that we can all re-gather next year. The email from this Jewish correspondent shared a lovely anecdote, which I share with his permission: “At Passover in April, my family changed the traditional blessing at the conclusion of the Passover Seder from “Next Year, in Jerusalem” to “Next Year, Together.” May we all be blessed to celebrate many more years of holidays and festivals together in good health and peace.”
Next Year, Together.
This Christmas, as we worship a self-limiting Incarnate God in the baby Jesus, we engage in our own self-limiting acts of love and care. Yet we are reminded of what unites us: our membership in the Body of Christ. Some of us will be able to gather for worship at Christmas, while some will gather online. Some may want to participate in the ringing of bells at noon on Christmas Day as our Primate has invited us to do, so we can make a joyful noise together.
However you celebrate the birth of the Messiah, I wish you and your whole family – near or far – a very safe, healthy, happy and holy Christmas. May God bless us all as this year draws to a close.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto