Bishop Andrew Asbil explains the diocesan Jubilee – a time of forgiveness and generosity – and answers a few questions from clergy and parishes about what it means for them.
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’
In the face of trying to feed a crowd of 5,000, Matthew tells us that the disciples offered what little they had: five loaves and two fish. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
Living through this pandemic is like living in a deserted place. We have all been learning to exist apart, at a distance, to self isolate in order to protect one another and to slow the spread of the virus. It’s crucial for us to comply with this way of being. And yet it comes at a cost. Closing our doors has not only disrupted our worship life, community gatherings and service, but also upset our rhythm of financial stewardship.
Over the past two weeks, the College of Bishops, senior staff and our Chancellor have been working hard to address the financial strain that our parishes are under. We have heard your concerns about paying your monthly allotment to the Diocese and covering clergy remuneration costs. At a time such as this, the Church does not say…Fend for yourselves! Rather, this is the time when we hear Jesus call…You give them something. This is the time when we bring what offering we can so that it may be blessed, broken and offered. In our case the gift given, our 5 loaves and 2 fish, is about $3.6 million dollars.
Diocesan Council has approved a financial plan that allows our Diocese to proclaim a Jubilee – a time of forgiveness and generosity. For the months of April and May, our parishes will not be required to pay their allotment to the Diocese or to pay the costs of clergy remuneration – stipend, housing and associated benefits. It is my hope that this Jubilee will alleviate the financial pressure that our parishes are under, freeing them up to continue their important ministry and to prepare for the day when our doors will open again.
This Jubilee does not come without a cost. Forgiving parish allotment and clergy remuneration expenses for April and May will cost us all about $3.6 million. To raise the necessary funds, Council has approved our Diocese to take the following steps: First, we will be seeking to extend our line of credit with the bank. Secondly, we will be seeking loans of $2 million each from the York Rectors Fund and the Ministry Allocation Fund. We will also be seeking a loan of $46,000 from the Etobicoke Glebe Fund. These are all funds of the Diocese. As security for these loans, we will be using vacant land that is owned by the Diocese in Ajax and Peterborough. Offering this Jubilee blessing today may mean that we have to part with these two properties. And yet we believe that this offering will provide blessing upon blessing in return, perhaps twelve baskets full.
Since we announced the Jubilee last Friday, the response that we have received from clergy, wardens and lay leaders has simply been…Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And we have also received some practical questions that we would like to try and answer now.
Q: We have an interim priest (or priest in charge) that we pay directly rather than through the centralized Diocesan payroll. Will those costs be covered by the Jubilee?
A: Yes. That would only be fair and consistent with clergy paid through the centralized payroll.
Q: We receive a grant (either MAF or FaithWorks) for our clergy. Are we also eligible for Jubilee on the costs of that priest?
A: The Jubilee approved by Diocesan Council is intended to relieve parishes of the costs of allotment and clergy costs for April and May. It is not intended that churches would be compensated twice for the same clergy costs. Any credit will be reduced by the amount of a grant received that is directly attributable to clergy costs on the parish invoice.
Q: Can parishes enforce payment from licensees and lessors?
A: Each parish with a license or lease agreement has a legal right to payment under the terms of the agreement. One needs to weigh the long-term benefits of a reliable income source and good relationship versus a strictly legal agreement. Parishes can look at a number of options that range from demanding payment to full forgiveness. The in-between is a deferral of some or all of the rent due. Whatever you do, make sure that any agreement is done on paper, signed by both parties. I would recommend going month by month. For example, if the parish chooses to forgive the monthly rent for a daycare for the month of April, they should do so in writing so that when May comes there is no assumption that the April arrangement will continue.
Q: If we are locked out of our churches and cannot check regularly on the church property, will our insurance still cover us?
A: There is no occupancy condition in the Diocese of Toronto insurance policy. Vacancy is permitted up to a period of 120 days at any one time. Ecclesiastical has confirmed to Aon in writing that our churches are not considered vacant and will not be treated as such based solely on COVID-19. Ecclesiastical has also advised they will be putting out a COVID-19 communication and coverage clarification bulletin out shortly.
I hope these questions and answers have been helpful.
It is my deepest hope that parishes will use this time of Jubilee to be as creative as possible – and in turn be as generous as possible with each other. Let us all remember those in our midst who need our patience and our help to get back on their feet: our staff, our tenants, and those who look to us for assistance. All of us are affected by this pandemic, and the Church is called to witness to God’s goodness in times of need.
I’d like to conclude by saying how deeply grateful I am, beyond words, for all of you – for our bishops, clergy, deacons, staff and lay members. Your efforts over the past two weeks to provide care and comfort to an anxious world have been remarkable. The love you have shown to each other, to our communities and especially to the most vulnerable in our society has truly been the Body of Christ in this broken world.