Dear friends in the synod, today I have witnessed much confusion and concern about whether or not to cancel church tomorrow or in the coming weeks. I am aware of a number of congregations who have already cancelled and a few who are having worship tomorrow but not the two Sundays following. It seems like the majority are planning to continue.
In our polity, it is difficult to find one person who can make this decision, I can’t make it either, however, I would like to offer a few thoughts.
1. The Anglican Bishop of the diocese of Toronto has cancelled worship.
2. Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer for the province of Ontario is discouraging gatherings of more than 250 and is asking those responsible for gatherings of less than 250 to take into consideration the location of the meeting and the makeup and vulnerability of the participants.
3. I have asked my mother to stop attending church.
4. If we err, let us err on the side of caution.
If you do decide to continue with worship tomorrow can I strongly suggest you do the following:
1. Put offering plates at the entrances (don’t process the offering forward, rather let the counters wear gloves to count)
2. Encourage people to spread themselves around the sanctuary (2 metres apart except for household groups)
3. Cancel Sunday School and nursery and have children to remain with their parents
4. Do not pass the peace
5. Do not celebrate communion
6. Don’t shake hands at the back though you can greet people there
7. Cancel Coffee hour
As we consider a longer term response to this, a few more thoughts
1. As soon as possible create a way to quickly contact your entire congregation (including those without email) to advise them of decisions as well as to ensure that all are healthy and to determine if deliveries of food or medicine are required.
2. A number of congregations have talked about streaming worship online. While this can be helpful it this also promotes needless interaction. Instead, provide some devotional material by email or encourage people to avail themselves of resources already on the internet.
3. Cancel all other weekly events, Bible Study, fellowship events etc.
4. Do not visit hospitals or seniors and use the phone instead
5. Recognize that many of our congregations are made up of those most vulnerable to this virus and, while our faith is important, meeting every Sunday during a health emergency isn’t.
6. As I look at social media, we seem to be as caught up in this echo chamber as everyone else. Trust the voices of public health officials and consider your own role in creating or lessening anxiety.
This pandemic will require an extra measure of leadership from ministers and elders. Not everyone will agree with every decision you make, but they must be made decisively and with the best interests of the whole church in mind. Finally, having taken all precautions, let us pray for our leaders, our health care professionals and each other as we face this most unusual challenge.
John-Peter & Tori Smit, Synod of CNOB regional staff