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Dear Friends,

I am writing to update you to our continuing response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Bishops of the Province will be meeting by video call tonight and I will issue a further update on Tuesday. We will be working in concert as a House of Bishops so that consistent decisions, actions and messaging goes out, having been made aware of the best advice from local and provincial health authorities.

I want to extend my thanks and deep appreciation for the timely, creative and faithful ways many have responded to the need to pause our services of worship over this time. I have watched a number of them and you have certainly risen to the challenge! I would encourage you to continue to reach out through the various modes of communication available to us.

The Chief Medical Officer for Canada, Dr Theresa Tam, stated that: “Our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow. We all need to act now. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat." Given this information, I am directing that all face to face group meetings throughout the diocese be suspended until further notice.

The upcoming ordination of Georgina Stewart scheduled for March 29th at St. George’s Cathedral will be postponed to a later date. I would ask that you keep Georgina in your prayers as she continues to prepare for this time of joy and celebration as she responds to the call of the Spirit to the office of priest.

Diocesan staff are available to make it possible for local parish meetings such as PAC to go ahead through our diocesan platforms should a parish not have access to this technology. We have also established a diocesan email address to which all of your questions and requests can be directed.

Many of you are involved in study groups on an ongoing basis and I would encourage you to continue this through electronic means. We can also provide a diocesan platform that will enable you to continue your study programs with the added benefit of inviting others across the diocese to join in. This platform can be set up to be interactive or you can make it a one way teaching session. This will also enable those who are self isolating, especially the elderly and most vulnerable, to continue to benefit from these study and worship opportunities. Such studies can be watched in real time or later via recording and those without technology can also participate by telephone.

It is critically important that we continue to reach out to our folks through phone contact to check in and offer pastoral support. It is a time of deep concern for many people and I am confident that our parish leadership and pastoral care committees will be keenly attentive to these concerns.

Regarding funerals, the direction of my previous email is amended as follows:

  • Public funerals in the Church will be postponed at this time.
  • Should it be pastorally imperative, funerals in the Church may be held as private services for immediate family only adherent to provincial directions re “social distancing.”
  • Clergy may conduct funerals in local funeral homes as per the funeral home’s direction which they have received from their association and the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.
  • The celebration will be a service of the word and not include the Eucharist.
  • There is to be no reception at the church.
  • Please encourage the possibility of a public gathering at a later date when the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

I know that this direction can raise difficulties. I would like to share with you what our former Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz has written further to similar direction given to the people of Moosonee as the Assisting Bishop to our Metropolitan, Anne Germond:

We hope our 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 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.

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 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.

I would heartily commend the words of Archbishop Hiltz to the people of the Diocese of Ontario as well.

The Bishops Advisory Committee will convene by video conference on Tuesday at 1pm to discuss our response to COVID-19 as well as share any comments or concerns that have been made to them.

I am requiring the active clergy of the diocese to join in a conference call on Wednesday at 10am so that together we can discuss the pastoral concerns arising out of our pandemic response. Information on how to access the call will be sent out by separate email.

Our Diocesan Executive Officer, Alex Pierson and our Archdeacon of Ministry and Program, Wayne Varley, will organize a meeting of wardens and treasurers by “Go to Meeting” on Wednesday at 2pm to discuss a number of administrative matters that have been or will be affected as we respond to directions from public officials.

Specifically, related to the call with wardens and treasurers we will need to pay close attention and develop strategies to ensure that our financial stewardship continues to be maintained. We have the means to continue the flow of giving for the work of the Church through Preauthorized Giving or Canada Helps, and their meeting will help answer questions and offer direction. Other topics for discussion will include the effect on lay employees and insurance considerations.

I am reflecting on the words of the late Bishop Barbara Harris of New Hampshire, the first female bishop consecrated in the United States who died last week at the age of 89. She is quoted as saying: “The problems in front of you are nothing when compared to the God who stands behind you.” In the midst of uncertain times, followers of Jesus Christ lean into the truth of that statement and draw deeply from the well of Living Water that Christ provides to sustain us for the journey of life. May that hope continue to attend you all.

Yours in the Faith of Christ,

Bishop Michael