“We’re all in this together.” How often have we heard that line, or maybe even said it, over the past two years? I’ve written before about how one blessing from this time of pandemic has been new or renewed partnerships – relationships of understanding and cooperation borne out of a shared experience. Despite the divisions, real or imagined, that traditionally keep us separated, people have been working together to care for each other and the world around them during this anxious season.
This is especially true of the Church. I’m not just speaking here of cooperation across our Diocese, of which there are countless examples. Today, in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I’m thinking of our ecumenical cooperation. In the epistle reading on Sunday (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), we will hear St. Paul’s image of the Church as a body with many members. He reminds us that God’s will is “that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.”
During the pandemic, I have been grateful to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto for its ecumenical leadership in coordinating efforts to bring the concerns of the Church to the attention of government and health leaders. It has used its influential voice to gather faith leaders and government authorities at the same (Zoom) table to remind the government that the Church is different from business, and more than recreation. The Church plays a unique role both in people’s lives individually and in society generally. We have a particular purpose and specific needs. I’m grateful to God that our collective efforts resulted in specific accommodations for faith communities in the COVID-19 restrictions. I will thank the Cardinal personally when I see him this weekend.
On Sunday I’ll be participating in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service from Holy Trinity Church in Scarborough, which belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church. (It’s called Holy Trinity in honour of the fact that our Diocese provided space at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square from 1930 to 1953 – a long and fruitful ecumenical relationship between us.) The service will include participants from a cross-section of the various Christian churches in Toronto, including Anglican, Armenian Orthodox, Baptist, Coptic Orthodox, Lutheran, Maronite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United. The service will be conducted mainly in English but will also have sung elements in Arabic, Aramaic and Greek. Please join us online this Sunday at 4 p.m. on Facebook or on YouTube.
The 2022 theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Matthew 2:2), was prepared by the Middle East Council of Churches based in Beirut, Lebanon. Just as the Magi came from different places and traditions to worship the Christ-child, so we too come together to pay homage to God Incarnate, the Saviour of the world. And in living out our life of faith and following in the sacrificial example of Jesus’ teachings and ministry, we too can be the Body of Christ, the family of the Church, as we seek both to anticipate and to build up in our present age the Reign of God – no matter the circumstances and challenges that beset us together. The Church of God will prevail.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto
P.S. The College of Bishops continues to track hospitalization rates and how the government and other organizations, including the wider Church, are responding to them. We will announce our plans for February later next week.