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Bishop’s Pastoral Letter to Vestries, 2021

To our Clergy, Churchwardens and Parishioners

Beloved in Christ, peace and grace be with you.

Grow! You may remember that in my letter to you last year, I invited each community to embrace the essence of our diocesan strategic plan, Growing in Christ. The invitation was simple…grow! Well, none of us could have imagined the scope with which we would have to adjust, change, turn, accommodate, and innovate in 2020. Almost every aspect of how we do Church would need to be transformed: from worship to administration, from pastoral care to sacramental ministry, from finance to stewarding buildings and property. On Sunday, March 15th we closed the doors of our buildings and we were jettisoned into another way of gathering and being the Church.

Parishes small and large, rural and urban turned to online worship, telephone ministry, driveway conversations, pre-recording and livestreaming. We thought we would be back in our buildings by Easter. My, how we were wrong about that. Maybe by Pentecost things would be normal again, we thought. Summer turned into fall. A partial opening under strict guidelines would give way to a second wave that would carry us through Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and now into Lent. Through it all we have learned to live outside our comfort zone and grow. Like being tossed into the deep end of the pool we are learning to swim.

The Jubilee offered by the Diocese in 2020 helped to shore up a faltering financial confidence. Many parishes report that online worship and programming is reaching a wider audience. Some parishes tell us that financial support and donations are holding steady. Clergy tell me that there is a growing trust, cooperation, and companionship with colleagues. Many parishes speak of collaborating with neighbouring communities. We have also been wrestling with how to serve those who are falling through the cracks of our social structures and safety nets, particularly those who live in precarious housing, grapple with food insecurity, mental health issues and domestic violence.

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 thrust us into the depths of confronting anti- black and systemic racism. Each year at vestry we ask you to consider supporting a social justice initiative. In 2021, we invite you to support the motion on Committing Ourselves to Anti-Racism. The initiatives that are outlined give all of us the opportunity to be agents of dismantling racism in all of its forms. We are called to change. Throughout this time of pandemic, we are doing more than just treading water… we are growing. I believe we are growing in trust of one another, and deeper still, in trust that God has this whole situation in hand. And trust calls us to be faithful and to be prepared.

As you gather for your vestry meeting, likely online, I want to say two things. The first is to express my profound gratitude for your faithfulness, hard work, creativity, and innovative ways thus far in this pandemic. I am thankful for the tireless leadership of our clergy; bishops, priests, and deacons. I am moved beyond words by the ministry of our lay leaders who move mountains to keep the church moving. Thank you.

The second thing is, be prepared. We hear this summons often in scripture. In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, cries the prophet. I go to prepare a place for you, Jesus says to his disciples. Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season writes Paul to Timothy. As circumstances begin to change, as the vaccine begins to take a hold for the better, I hope that you will take as much time planning for a return as you did when our doors closed in March of last year. Coming back will take a special kind of care and effort. It will take time to allay fears, it will take energy to coax the community to move forward in new ways. It will take a vision steeped in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to lift the eyes and hearts of a weary people.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6.9-10

Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew J. Asbil
Bishop of Toronto