Dear Friends in Christ:
Numbers. It feels like we have been tracking a lot of numbers lately. Polling numbers. Ballot counts. Attendance stats. Online views. Financial data. But of course, the numbers we’ve all been watching closely, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, are the infection transmission rates. And those numbers are the most worrying. Those numbers just keep going up.
Yesterday, as the College of Bishops was in the middle of our weekly Zoom meeting, I took a phone call from Toronto Mayor John Tory. He wanted to talk to me, as one of many faith leaders he called Thursday afternoon, about the numbers.
It was a good conversation. He was grateful for our Amber Stage protocols, and expressed just how impressed he and Public Heath have been with them. We talked about a beautiful number: zero. That is the number of documented outbreaks that have occurred in our churches, thanks to your continued vigilance in abiding by our guidelines and applying them so rigorously in your parishes.
But we talked about the trends we are seeing overall. The numbers in the City of Toronto are not good, and they are not going in the right direction. The same can be said of Peel Region. And even if the climb is not so dramatic in the other parts of our Diocese, the trajectory is still the same. As a society, we are not containing this disease. The numbers are troubling.
Mayor Tory expressed to me that he knows the importance of the faith communities – “increasingly so,” he said. And to be clear: neither he nor any other health official is – at this time, anyway – imposing a ban or lockdown on our churches. At the same time, both the City of Toronto and Peel Region have established maximum gathering limits in our churches of 30% worship space capacity, or 50 people, whichever is less, starting this weekend. Of course, we are abiding by that directive. For some of our parishes, this will be a big reduction in attendance – so thank you for your cooperation in meeting these new restrictions.
After my phone call with Mayor Tory, I returned to the College meeting. We talked about how our parishes have so wonderfully risen to the challenges of this anxious time. We talked about those individual churches – about a dozen of them – who have made the difficult but right decision for their context to re-close in light of the troubling numbers. We support them in this discernment.
Our primary concern as bishops is that every Anglican in the Diocese of Toronto is able to have their spiritual needs met, and that opportunities for worship are available to all: in-person, on-line, or both. We want to know that every parish is caring for its parishioners, however that looks for them. We learned quickly how to do things differently earlier this pandemic, and we continue to learn how to be Church in 2020. If your parish wants to voluntarily re-close, or voluntarily reduce gathering sizes to below the established limits, speak to your bishop. We will support you in making the best decision to ensure the safety and confidence of all.
Numbers. What we need to remember is that, in this situation, every number represents a human being. A beloved child of God. Our neighbour. As Christians, we have a responsibility to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” as we promised in our baptism, and that includes ensuring the health and safety of all people to the best of our ability.
This situation is fluid, and as the numbers change, our protocols may change too. But we promise you that we will try to be as faithful, as responsible, and as responsive as we can be in this unprecedented time. Thank you for your ongoing prayers.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto