Dear Friends in Christ:
To state the obvious: I love to preach.
I love everything about it: I love to crack open the scriptures and mine them for God’s call to our community in this time. I love to pray through the prescribed lections of the day for direction, inspiration, comfort, challenge, and truth. I love to synthesize my thoughts into what I hope will be a compelling and persuasive message, aligning my words – as best as I am humanly able – to reflect God’s Word. I love to utilize poetry and lyrics, prose and stories, in writing my homily. I love to illustrate my points with colourful anecdotes and vivid examples, referencing both current events and historic tales. I need the time to pore over the words and learn them by heart, so that I can speak them from the heart. I am grateful for the honour of breaking open the Word: it is soul-communication. Yet, it is not an easy craft. It takes time, practice and discipline.
Preaching during the pandemic has been particularly difficult, especially when donning a mask. It’s hard to be heard. It’s hard to keep a steady flow with word and breath. It’s difficult to keep eye contact and express oneself easily. Something has been missing.
This week we are starting to slowly and carefully expand our practices. Our policy on choral singing was released yesterday, and now vaccinated, masked and physically distanced designated vocalists can again raise their voices together in worship. I hope it will be a welcome re-introduction of choirs to our in-person services.
As a next step, as of today I am permitting worship leaders (preachers, readers, and intercessors) to remove their masks indoors for liturgical speaking. Only one person may unmask at a time, and the unmasked speaker must be stationary and physically distanced from others by a minimum of 4 metres. Presiders at the altar, whether speaking or singing, must remain masked when the elements of bread and wine are before them, and during the distribution of holy communion. The congregation and all singers, including clergy if singing the liturgy, must always remain masked. This new policy should be explained to the congregation. We also recognize that if circumstances change and health protocols are tightened, then the mask will need to be worn once again. We take one step at a time.
Communication is so much more than just words. I, for one, am looking forward to preaching again using the full range of expression God has given me, including my smile, in order to share the power of God’s love and hope for this world, as we move slowly towards an end to this pandemic.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto