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Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew

Dear Friends in Christ,

Perhaps it is only me, but it feels like the days are starting to move faster now. Wasn’t it only yesterday that the Christmas decorations came down? Perhaps not, but I am amazed that we are already thinking ahead to Lent. Ash Wednesday is less than two weeks away; our days of feasting have ended, and now we look ahead to forty days of fasting.

During this long, seemingly interminable season of lock-down, we are hyper-conscious of the restrictions we are under and the many things we have had to give up over the past year, as we seek to keep ourselves and our neighbours safe. Although an ancient Christian practice for Lent, it may feel like we have been “fasting” many enjoyable things for a very long time, and we may not have much appetite to give up anything else this year!

But if there is one thing that the pandemic and the necessary restrictions that went with it have taught us, it is that when we are forced to lose something, we learn to re-evaluate it – we “re-value” it. In most cases, this has meant that we have learned to appreciate our blessings all the more. How we long for the simple pleasures of gathering, shaking hands and hugging, eating together, singing together, worshipping in our churches again. Soon, we pray!

But in some other cases, we have come to re-evaluate our relationship with activities and practices, unquestioned habits and norms, that also necessarily stopped or changed.  What things have we given up during the COVID-19 experience that we may not necessarily want to resume, even when we are permitted to do so?  I, for one, have completely re-evaluated my relationship with travel. While, like all of us, I suffer from Zoom fatigue, and I miss gathering with people in person, I also recognise the advantages of meeting online, both for the environment and for the management of my calendar. I also enjoy being at home in the presence of my wife Mary, even if we are both working at our respective laptops from different ends of the dining room table!

The Lenten Fast is about many things: it is a discipline, a personal sacrifice, a penitential act, a call to prayer. But I ask you to use it this year in a focussed exercise in re-valuing. What is the value of this thing, this activity, that you’ve fasted? In your life? In the world? How does it need to be re-evaluated? Does it need to be appreciated more? Can it be dismissed? Does it bring us closer into relationship with our Creator, or has it been drawing us away from God’s love?

This year the Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care has provided a resource entitled “A Fast for the Earth” that leads participants through seven different areas of focus from Ash Wednesday through Holy Week. Each week, prefaced by Scripture, highlights a fast that addresses a different aspect of creation care, from our eating and buying habits to systemic injustices and our ignorance of God’s creation and our impact upon it. For each area of focus, a range of alternative actions are suggested, including both basic steps and more challenging ones. Even if you are already doing some of these activities on a regular basis, there will be something in each week to help you take it a step further.  You may also choose to adopt one focus for the entire season of Lent.

The resource was put together by Sylvia Keesmaat, Co-chair of the Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care and a gifted educator. I encourage you to watch her short video as an introduction to the fast.

I invite you to observe a Holy Lent, with intentional thoughtful fasting, and a re-valuing of our relationship with God, God’s Creation, and the many blessings we enjoy.

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