“The pandemic is ending.”
There, on Monday, buried in a tweet from Canadian epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman, were the four words we have all been waiting for since March 2020, when the COVID-19 virus first hit our province in force and our society, and our churches, started to shut down. Twenty-seven months later, “the pandemic is ending.” It is hard to describe the emotions that this phrase evokes.
Let me be clear: Dr. Fisman’s message is still cautionary. COVID-19 will be with us forever, and variants continue to develop. New diseases will emerge that threaten our health and safety. But we have reached a place where the lifting of our COVID-19 restrictions and protocols is reasonable. On Sunday, as the Diocese of Toronto moves to “Green Stage” – the complete removal of all COVID-19-related restrictions (with the exception of the vaccine mandate for all clergy, staff and volunteers) – we give thanks and all glory to God, who inspired and sustained this Church over the past two years.
This Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost, when the Church celebrates the moment when, gathered together, the community of the faithful received the gift of the Holy Spirit and burst forth from its seclusion, isolation and fear – anointed by wind and flame – to preach in new and exciting ways the Good News of Christ Jesus. We too are ready to be infused by the power of the Holy Spirit, to come out of our buildings and invite people into a relationship with the Risen Lord.
We have learned so much about ourselves, the foundation of what it means to be Church, our strengths and abilities, our interconnectedness and loyalty to each other, and also where our frailties and vulnerabilities lie. It will take some time to synthesize all that we’ve discovered during the pandemic. Yet crisis illustrates character. I believe the Church in the Diocese of Toronto has exhibited our love of God through love of neighbour in countless selfless ways.
I am so grateful to those who have shepherded this Diocese through the past two years. One person in particular deserves a special shout-out today: the Rev. Canon Joanne Davies, chair of the Bishop’s Committee on Healing Ministries and our chaplain at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where the first Canadian case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in January 2020. Canon Jo has been a God-given gift to our Diocese: in regularly advising the College of Bishops, in following the science and synthesizing and interpreting it for us, in helping to craft our COVID-19 guidelines at every stage, in patiently answering questions from clergy and lay leaders, and in being a faithful priest, pastor and health-care advocate and guide throughout. I thank God for you, Jo.
So, dear friends, whether your parish chooses to remove all of its COVID-19 restrictions this Sunday, or if you choose to move more slowly over the coming weeks and months ahead, I thank you. I thank you for your trust and compliance in following our guidelines along the way. I know there were times when you disagreed with them. (I heard about it!) There were undoubtedly times when we got things wrong. But I appreciate your solidarity and loyalty with the wider Church, your belief in the leadership, and your willingness to show care and compassion for the least among us.
Dr. Fisman also tweeted something else that is irrefutable. About eight months into this pandemic, he wrote: “The Anglicans have been amazing.” Yes, you have been. I am so proud and grateful.
All blessings for a Spirit-filled Pentecost.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto