I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ!
I write to clarify the Diocese’s COVID policy as we come to the beginning of Advent. This is the season of hopeful anticipation. Liturgically, we are waiting for and preparing for Christmas, the birth of the Saviour in time. Spiritually, we are waiting and preparing for the coming of the fulness of the Kingdom of God and God’s great mission to restore and heal all of creation.
Advent is a rich and beautiful season of themes to meditate on and to live out. The Advent candles speak to us of hope, peace, love and joy. And of course, we are doing all of this in a time of COVID. None of us want to have to observe Christmas under the COVID restrictions.
But as we pray through this time, it is worth reflecting on what our spiritual tradition teaches us. When there are events and life circumstances we cannot change such as COVID, it is important to “listen” deeply. What I mean is that we pay close attention to the events, conversations and encounters happening to us and around us, and we pay close attention to the emotions of our hearts. Do we find ourselves frustrated, angry, anxious, tired, impatient, and so on? We don’t start by judging the emotions as good or bad. That is discerned later. First, we need to ask what they are teaching us. It is important to have someone you can talk to about this. Please talk to your priest, or a spiritual director, or a trusted mature friend. Pray with them. Getting through this time of COVID is hard. We need to support one another. Second, we ask Christ what opportunities are here for us to live out the Gospel. The Gospel is a way of life that will grow and bring some form of blessing in any and all circumstances. COVID may frustrate some parts of our Gospel life, but it opens opportunities in other ways. We need to be attentive to where Christ is calling us in the messiness of this time of COVID.
Because of our commitment to love our neighbours as ourselves, our Diocese is committed to creating safe worship spaces by following the governmental guidelines. Let me make three points:
1) The Diocesan guidelines that we issued on September 16th of this year are still in effect:
- Capacity limited to 1/3 fire code occupancy.
- Masks are mandatory.
- 2 metres of physical distancing between households, or 2 close contacts for those living alone.
- All provincial guidelines for funerals and weddings must be followed.
- Working from home, for all clergy and staff, unless there is a need to be in the office/church.
- Coffee hours and social food events must be suspended until further notice.
- Children’s ministry must be carefully thought through. Masks and social distancing are required. Please remember that children under 12 are only now being vaccinated, and children under 5 are still ineligible.
- Communion will continue in one-kind. With the advice we have received and our gained knowledge of the virus, you may continue to distribute wafers directly into the hands of communicants, stopping to sanitize your hands as necessary.
2) The government Restrictions Exemption Program in which people can provide proof of vaccination does not apply to our worship services or coffee hours connected to worship. Worship in a church is considered “out of scope.” However, churches have the discretion to use this program in other areas of church life such as meetings, fundraising events, and so on. The use of this program eliminates the requirement for distancing. It also allows for more people at a wedding or funeral as well as the possibility for a seated meal as long as all protocols are followed. If a parish does choose to use this program for a non-worship event, they must announce that it will be used, and the diligence to check proof of vaccination and ID is required. You can find the allowed proof of vaccination on the Alberta Government website: alberta.ca
3) We are not providing Religious Exemptions for vaccines in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. The chancellor has made a ruling on this. He writes: "There is neither legal nor doctrinal authority within the Anglican Church of Canada or any of its ministers to issue the requested religious vaccination exemption."
I pray that you have a blessed Advent, and I want to say thank you for your perseverance and resilience during this difficult time. You are a blessing to your communities in which you pray and serve.
Bishop Stephen London