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From Our Bishops

Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew

Dear Friends in Christ:

On Monday, I wrote a letter to the Diocese regarding the interdependence of dinner table and Lord’s Table, referencing the ‘domestic church’. I encouraged families to review their dining practices and consider refreshing their devotional lives around their mealtime gatherings. It was not long after writing that letter that I heard back from some of you that I had inadvertently been hurtful. By failing to address those who live alone, those who are not able to break bread with others, I exacerbated feelings of isolation and loneliness at an already acutely difficult time. For that I sincerely apologize.

Statistics Canada tells us that more Canadians are living alone than ever before. A study released in 2019 reported that the number of Canadians living alone — nearly four million — has more than doubled since 1981. People living alone make up 28 per cent of households across the country. Some people live alone by choice and prefer it. But many people live alone due to circumstances beyond their control and as a result can suffer from loneliness, anxiety or depression.

Loneliness has been identified as modern-day scourge in our society. This month’s Maclean’s magazine has a five-page spread on “The Loneliness Economy”. In 2018, the UK appointed a Minister of Loneliness in response to a scathing report that identified nine million of the country’s 67 million people were suffering from some form of loneliness.

All of us during this time of pandemic, lockdown and gathering restrictions, know what it is to be prevented from seeing our friends and loved ones. The spiritual and emotional health ramifications of loneliness are real. And of course, loneliness is not just a problem for those who are actually alone; one can feel lonely in a roomful of people, too.

Yet, as our Metropolitan, Archbishop Anne Germond, wrote in Tuesday’s pastoral letter on behalf of the Provincial House of Bishops, “Our shared experience over the last year has been that in the midst of the darkness, uncertainty and fear, we were not alone.” Being a Christian, one who is “in Christ”, means never being truly alone, even when it may feel like it. Anglican theologian John Stott described it: “To be ‘in Christ’ does not mean to be inside Christ, as tools are in a box or our clothes in a closet, but to be organically united to Christ, as a limb is in the body or a branch is in the tree. It is this personal relationship with Christ that is the distinctive mark of his authentic followers.”

Solitude need not be equated with loneliness. Jesus himself would often take time away from others (or try to!) to be intentional in his life of prayer and contemplation. Our faith has a long tradition of saints, hermits and mystics who lived in solitude. All of us, with some regularity, should be scheduling “alone time with God”. This is true whether we can leave our homes to go on a formal retreat, or whether we just find a quiet corner by ourselves to pray. To those of you who live alone, you too can refresh your dining practices to be more intentional about table prayers and graces, reading scripture, and reflecting on the presence of Christ in your midst.

Yes, loneliness is real, and painful. But just as we are never left desolate by God, we are also sustained by the family of the Church. Just as we are grafted to Jesus in our baptism, so too we are linked to each other as members of the body of Christ. At baptism, all of us are “received into the household of God”, our Church family. And we who witness the baptismal vows of others promise to “do all in [our] power to support these persons in their life in Christ”. We promise to be companions on the journey.

I have been heartened during this pandemic to hear of people reaching out to each other, their siblings in Christ, with phone calls, deliveries, socially distanced visits and other offers of support. This has been especially important for those who otherwise live alone.

So I encourage everyone who is reading this letter today to pick up the telephone this weekend, and call someone who you know lives alone. Have a conversation, ask how the other is doing, and ask how you can pray for them. Here’s an idea: offer to pray with them!

As I said in Monday’s letter, technology has been a real lifeline during this pandemic, especially for those who live alone. We have certainly experienced the blessings of virtual gatherings on Sunday mornings; can we consider having Zoom meals around our different dining room tables also, gathering to eat, say grace, read scripture, and enjoy food together with those who might otherwise be alone?

May we all know the presence and love of Christ Jesus, and the community of the faithful, as we journey through Lent – and this pandemic – together.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto