Last Sunday, for the first time in my life, I presided at a service in which there was no congregation. I stood on the chancel steps of St. James Cathedral and spoke to rows and rows of empty pews. It was an extraordinary moment, something I will never forget.
The service was being live streamed so that people could watch it from their homes or wherever they were at that moment. There were the usual technical difficulties at the beginning, but after a while the picture and the sound became clearer and the beautiful choral music and the gospel readings went out for all to hear. We had viewers from across Canada, the United States and overseas.
On that Sunday and in the days afterward, other churches across our diocese found ways to share the faith, even though they were closed. Some have used live streaming, while others have simply posted messages of hope on their websites and Facebook pages.
I have been moved beyond words by these efforts, and I have asked our Communications team to start sharing some of these stories on our website. They are truly inspiring.
If you have visited our website in the past week, you will see our statements as we have tried to stay ahead of events that seem to change by the hour. I urge you to keep visiting it. They contain important information for you and your parish.
I want you to know that your area bishops and I have heard and continue to hear your concerns – for your parishes, for co-workers and volunteers, for the people you care for and minister to, and for your families and for yourselves.
We have had questions about how churches can continue to provide pastoral care, even though we cannot meet for corporate worship. This is the time when we must be vigilant and creative in keeping in touch with each other, especially with the most vulnerable. At the same time honouring the need for health and safety. Phone calls, social media posts, notes or gifts left at the front door, prayer chains.
As many of you know, the Diocesan Centre is closed, and staff are working remotely while continuing to serve you. I am asking churches to do the same, to close their offices so that staff can work from home. Please meet via video conferencing or teleconference call to ensure social distancing – you will find resources on how to do this on the diocese’s website.
One area of concern expressed by some is parish finances. With our churches temporarily closed and our revenue diminished, it may become difficult to cover operating expenses. I have met with your area bishops, our chancellor and senior staff, to analyze our financial forecasts and to seek ways of offering help and guidance for parishes. We take this seriously and are proceeding in a prudent manner. I will be updating you on this very soon.
We have also heard concerns about human resources matters – primarily the care of our important and wonderful parish staff. As a result, I have asked senior staff at the Diocesan Centre to reach out to parish leaders with appropriate practices and protocols.
The cathedral will continue to share a service each Sunday morning, as will other churches across our diocese. I encourage you to watch them. A list of communities offering these online services is on the website. If you and your parish are providing on-line worship, please let us know so that we can include you in this list.
I’d like to leave you with two thoughts.
First, don’t be afraid. Our hope is in Christ Jesus. The Church is called to live into a moment such as this. We are summoned to be present with prayer, kindness and love for each other, our neighbour and stranger. Be present. God is with us.
Second, be creative. If my experience at the cathedral last Sunday taught me anything, it’s that God is doing a new thing. And inviting us to be a part of that. We will find a way to let light shine. With Christ as our guide, we can be a beacon to the world. We will overcome.
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