Shortly before Christmas, Bishop Susan Bell suspended all permissions previously granted for parishes to re-open for in-person worship in accordance with the Amber Stage of the ecclesiastical province’s pandemic re-opening framework, in advance of a province-wide lockdown which took effect on Boxing Day.
The decision was made in the midst of dire provincial COVID-19 modelling data. Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate chief medical officer of health, noted that the province is facing “a challenging and precarious situation.” Dr. Yaffe added that the earlier work starts to reduce the number of people interacting, the lower the number of cases, ICU admissions, and ultimately deaths.
“I share your pain in moving to a lockdown position yet again,” wrote Archdeacon Bill Mous, diocesan executive officer, in an email message to clergy and lay leaders announcing the decision. “Our sacrifice, however, is made for the common good and in keeping with the God-centred vision of our diocese, that in all things we are called to life and compelled to love.”
By January, all public health units within the diocese were reporting more than 100 weekly cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people. As the number of cases grow, the health care system is under increasing strain – as evidenced by a field hospital unit which has been activated at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington to serve the region.
The new lockdown ministry guidelines issued by Bishop Susan Bell include:
- church buildings being closed to the public, except for the operation of licensed day care centres, where permitted by the Ministry of Education;
- occasional and time-limited access to church buildings being permitted only in limited and essential circumstances;
- pastoral care being provided primarily by remote means for all but essential visits and/or emergency care;
- in-person worship not being permitted, except for the purposes of producing online worship services; and
- all weddings, funerals, and baptisms being postponed, except in rare and exceptional circumstances, by permission of the regional archdeacon.
The new measures will be in effect for the foreseeable future, until such time as local case numbers recede, and new guidelines are issued by the bishop.
The province’s chief medical officer of health advises Ontarians to “stay home to the fullest extent possible.” Trips outside of the home during lockdown should be limited to the community in which one resides and only for essential purposes such as accessing health care and medication, grocery shopping, or supporting vulnerable people.
Parishioners are invited to visit the diocesan Facebook Page (facebook.com/niagaraanglican) or YouTube channel (youtube.com/niagaraanglican) for online worship with Bishop Susan Bell on Sundays, if online parish services are not available.