Pastoral Letter from Archbishop Anne
March 17th, 2020
Dear friends in Algoma,
May you know and feel the presence and peace of Christ with you on St. Patrick’s Day wherever you are and however you are spending it. Many people are working from home now and are spending good quality time with their children who are on an extended March break. With the closure of universities and colleges, students are also returning home early. Others of you are away on long winter vacations and will be in my prayers as you follow directives to return home to Canada as soon as possible and self isolate on your return. Many people are feeling some anxiety about everything that is happening around them – it isn’t business as usual in any corner of the world.
Remember that only the building is closed- our lives as ‘church’ continue. Social distancing is to be encouraged but not faith distancing. It is not lost on me that Jesus spent 40 days in isolation in the wilderness – a season we now call Lent. He drew closer to his Father during that time of solitude and I pray that we will use, what feels to many like a desert time, well following Jesus’ example by praying, fasting, and continuing with our almsgiving.
I am hoping that by the late spring things are starting to return to normal in terms of containment of COVID-19, I am also aware that its after effects will be long lasting, which is why I have cancelled most diocesan events between now and mid to late May. In the last day, I have received several emails from you notifying me of events planned for March and April within your congregations and deaneries that are also cancelled – and I thank you for doing this.
Last evening the Ontario House of Bishops met to discuss the various measures which we are putting into place within our dioceses with respect to the closure of our churches. It is an honour to work with such a wonderful house of bishops who continue to be of one mind and purpose in doing all we can as a House to ‘flatten the curve’ and spread of COVID-19. We wish to keep the lines of communication open by sending regular updates, but we are also aware that everyone is on information overload right now and being bombarded with ‘communiques’. After today I will restrict mine to every four days unless something urgent needs to be relayed.
All churches are now closed – there will be no further meetings or gatherings of any kind, except for the clergy and wardens checking the physical plant and email/telephone messages. Many AA groups who use our churches are cancelling their meetings, even though this will be tremendously difficult for them. Zoom is a terrific video platform for meetings and I encourage you to sign up for it and have your regular board/parish council meetings this way.
The House of Bishops discussed a number of aspects related to the ongoing response to this pandemic. We discussed pastoral issues and how we will care for the people of the diocese, encouraging them to continue meeting for ‘virtual’ worship and online bible studies, and staying connected in various ways by a buddy system (the person with internet access delivers communications to those who do not). The individual conducting the “virtual service” is permitted to do so from the church represented. We are compiling a list of virtual service times for posting and request that, if your church is providing such a service, you get in touch with Liz so she may add the information to our website.
I will be offering, as virtual services, early Morning Prayer daily from the Lady Chapel at Bishophurst and Evening Prayer on Sundays. We will also be posting the times for these services shortly.
The House of Bishops also began a conversation about the long term financial effects that this might have on our congregations as they face reduced income and reduced cashflow. This is a serious issue for every diocese as we are all on a central payroll system.
I want to assure you that our clergy and other staff will continue to be paid during this time but I ask that you help your local congregation by your ongoing regular donation to the parish. This evening I am meeting with the Archdeacons to check in with them and address any immediate concerns which have arisen. Tomorrow I will be meeting with our diocesan Executive Committee and, by next week, will be planning teleconference calls with deanery officials, clergy, wardens, and treasurers. Liz will send out the dates and times of those meetings and I ask you to ensure that there is representation from your congregation on those calls. If you are unable to join the call for your own deanery you may join the call for another deanery.
In the remainder of this letter I wish to address the question of baptisms, funerals, and weddings which is a serious pastoral concern for many of our clergy who wish to walk alongside their parishioners through all the seasons of their lives.
On Sunday, March 15th, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Teresa Tam said that “COVID-19 is a serious public threat” and, in order to prevent its spread, “we all need to act now”.
In accord with this plea I offer the following pastoral advice-
Pastoral visits to homes and hospitals
Please use all the protocols which hospitals, nursing homes, and other long term care facilities have instituted. Remember handwashing for 20 seconds in hot soapy water and not touching your face with your hands is good protection against the virus.
Check whether these facilities are open for visitors as they are changing their regulations daily. My understanding is that restrictions will be lifted when an individual is in ICU or is palliative. Clergy are asked to place anointing oil onto a cotton ball and to anoint by dipping their finger onto the ball and making the sign of the cross on the forehead of the sick person. Please discard the cotton ball after each use.
Baptisms and weddings
Some of you may have services of baptisms planned for the Easter season. Please reach out to the families and let them know that these services might need to be delayed until further into the spring. Baptisms take place within the context of our communal worship as we welcome new members into the body of Christ in the life of the church. Private baptisms should not take place at this time, but emergency baptisms may happen at any time.
I want assure those of you who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death with family or loved ones that the church will be as pastoral as it can be within the limitations we are working under at this time. I acknowledge the need for families to gather for prayer and to commend their loved one to The Lord’s gracious keeping and recognise the need for those who want to be buried that this should happen in a timely way.
The following are the recommendations that the House of Bishops in Ontario will be following:
* Public funerals should not be held at this time.
* If any gathering is to take place it should be restricted to immediate members of the family of the deceased, and the service should be a Liturgy of The Word and not a celebration of The Eucharist. There will be no exceptions to this rule.
* A public service giving opportunity for extended family and the wider community to honour the life of the deceased could be planned and held at a later date when the protective measures to prevent the spread of the corona virus are lifted.
I hope this advice enables the exercise of empathy and good pastoral care for those who are mourning the loss of a loved one while at the same time honouring the protective measures mandated by way of concerted effort to curb the spread of the corona virus and to preserve the public health of the community at large.
If you have weddings planned for the next little while, you should also be connecting with the couples to let them know that the same measures which are in place for funerals are in place for those who are planning to be married in our churches at this time. I suspect that many banquet halls and restaurants will be closing their facilities, so delaying a wedding ceremony may be the best course of action at this point.
In a letter to the Diocese of Moosonee regarding funerals, Archbishop Fred wrote these words to close and I commend them to you:
We recognize how difficult a time this is. There is a lot of anxiety. We feel it personally and publicly. There is considerable uncertainty with respect to how long the world will be on edge in the face of this pandemic. It is a time for us to stand together for the sake of the health of our common humanity. It is a time for us to pray without ceasing for all who are sick and those who are terrified, those who are on the front line of caring for them, and for all officials entrusted with responsibilities for public health and safety. Know that in your praying we are united with you and trusting in the mercies of God.
May God give you for every storm a rainbow
For every tear a smile
For every care a promise and a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends a faithful friend to share,
For every sigh a sweet song and an answer to every prayer.
Irish Blessings today!