Earlier this week, the Government of Ontario returned to its colour-coded COVID-19 response framework, lifting the “stay-at-home” order for several health regions in the Province.
The Diocese of Toronto covers all or part of seven provincial health regions. Today it was announced that two of them – Peel and Toronto – remain under lock-down and the “stay-at-home” order until March 8. Parishes in these health regions continue under our Red Stage Guidelines. Gatherings for worship must be in groups of ten or fewer, primarily for the purposes of livestreaming. All protocols around distancing, mask-wearing, singing and the distribution of communion are to be followed. Apart from worship, there are to be no other in-person gatherings at this time.
The five other health regions in our Diocese have returned to the Provincial colour-coded system: York (as of February 22), Simcoe-Muskoka and Durham Regions in the provincial Red (Control) level, Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge at Orange (Restrict) level, and Peterborough in the Yellow (Protect) level. We rejoice with these Regions that their numbers of COVID-19 infections have been decreasing to a degree that they can enjoy some lifting of restrictions.
Despite that positive sign, the new, more contagious variants of the COVID-19 viruses are concerning, and predictions of a “third wave” are sobering. When it comes to re-opening our churches to larger gatherings, the question should not be what is permissible, but what is advisable. One of the hallmarks of the pandemic response in this Diocese has been the careful decision-making of parishes to act in the best interests of their communities. The College of Bishops continues to exhort parishes to exercise extreme caution in assessing their capacity to re-open for larger worship gatherings and other events.
Having said that, the Bishops have authorized that those parishes in the colour-coded health regions may return to the Amber Stage Guidelines if the parish leadership agrees that it is the right decision for their community. This allows for those parishes to gather for worship at a 30% capacity of the space, with physical distancing. Other gatherings are permitted, again with physical distancing and the wearing of masks indoors, to the limits allowed by the various government-imposed colour levels. Everyone is responsible for being aware of the restrictions of their health region’s colour level (See “Gatherings and Close Contact” under each Colour.)
Parishes that wish to re-open under the Amber Stage Guidelines are to consult with their Regional Dean and/or Area Bishop before doing so.
We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the initial wave and first lockdown. The Bishops are conscious of the deep fatigue that has affected us all. As we enter this Season of Lent, a time of intentional reflection and dedicated prayer, let us channel that tiredness into our devotions, laying all of our griefs and anxieties on a Saviour who knew all too well the pain and sorrow of human suffering. May Christ, the Great Physician, lead us towards all healing and wholeness.