Grace and peace to you.

I’m Todd Townshend, Bishop of Huron. I’d like to start with this:

We’re going to: oppose structural racism with all we’ve got, ask forgiveness for generations of sinful oppression and learn the ways of freedom for all. We have to learn the ways of justice and peace. Every person is entirely beloved in the eyes of God #Black Lives Matter

(Twitter Statement)

There is so much more than that to say, and do, about that but my next steps are to listen and learn, so, I will not make this the focus of the video today. More will come on that later.

I also won’t use time in this video to speak from the scripture directly, as I have been doing for the last number of weeks. That will continue through the summer, though. God willing, every Saturday by noon we will post something from me, like a homily, proclamation from the scriptures, with a focus on some of the trouble in our world and with an emphasis on God’s grace in the face of the trouble. About God overcoming that trouble, and healing that pain, forgiving and erasing that sin… Good news.

So, to those of you who preach – if you need a well-deserved break, feel free to use these feeble but heartfelt attempts by your bishop. Put them in your online worship, if you want to, put them in a link – whatever works for you.

The past few weeks have raised so many questions. It seems as though, collectively, we’re slowing shifting into a new “season” in this time of pandemic. We are people of liturgical seasons, though, and I’m glad to know that this understanding of time stays important to us. In this time of pandemic and shut down, we’ve gone through part of the season of Lent. Through Holy Week and the Great Three Days. We’ve celebrated Easter, and then the fifty-day season of Easter. Then the day and season of Ascension, and the Day of Pentecost.

This week we celebrate God as Trinity – which begins the season after Pentecost. In a time when I can’t always remember what day of the week it is, I’ve never been more grateful for the way that the church recognizes that time belongs to God, is a creature of God. And that time is sanctified by these living out of these seasons.

This is the time of the pandemic, but more, it’s Easter, the time of resurrection life and new creation. This is the time of protest and outrage and change, but more, it’s the season of the Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost to bring justice… and peace. This is a time of being separated from those we love, but more, it’s the time of being drawn up into the life of the Triune God in prayer and in service to others.

I loved that I recently heard several similar stories about the way that we mark time, almost subversive, defiant, resilient behaviour in the church! One such story came from a clergy person who took part in Easter Sunday morning from home for the first time ever, praying with family, and watching online worship. But in the afternoon of that Easter Sunday, this person had to go to the church building to pray. Sitting in a pew, reading the Easter story, praying for a while, and then looking up at the altar… and seeing that the while linens and hangings had been put out, prepared for the Easter liturgy. The most beautiful ones we’ve got. The Easter decorations, prepared for an assembly of people who could not gather there. For a diaspora, a scattering of the assembly, worshipping everywhere… It was still Easter Day, and someone slipped in before sunrise, and dressed the altar in white. God makes it Easter, in our presence, and in our absence. And we know this.

So, because it is a real pandemic, it is an unusual and difficult time. AND it’s a time of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost too. It’s still God’s time. In response, we lament, we give thanks, we ask God for resurrection life, we pray that God will open us to a deeper and deeper conversion into the fullness of life in Christ. Changing us by the work of the Holy Spirit and challenging us to commit to helping out with the work that God wants to DO, through all of this.

I was reminded this week that a bishop’s job involves “oversight”. Episcope. And it’s not merely “supervision”. It’s like, my role is to go up to the level of the birds of flight, and look out over our life together and tell you what I see. So I’ll finish this video with a few words about what I’m seeing. It’s not clear. But there are good things to see.

Huron clergy at the Black Lives Matter protest, Kitchener, Ontario, June 3, 2020

I see a church that is more agile and resilient than it thought it was. Agile and resilient. We’re going to need much, much more of that, but this is a good sign.

I also see a church that is real about real problems. Concerned, outraged, anxious, hurting. Ready to stop and listen. Ready to repent. Ready to do the work. Ready to ask others to show us a good way. We’re going to need much, much more of that, but it’s a good sign.

When it comes to navigating a global health pandemic, I see church leaders, even bishops, wise enough to follow the science… when science is the tool God has given us to see this particular problem accurately. There is still plenty of room for us to be guided by scripture, and theology, and liturgy, and faith. We use that, too.

Things are still shifting—for the scientists and medical people, too, because it takes a few iterations of response to figure out a virus so new, so we will keep listening.

In this, I see that there is no doubt that this virus will be with us for a long time. We will be living WITH it, for several years, maybe for ever. But eventually, there will be a level of population immunity that will make like so many other threats we understand, and can treat, and can prevent. We will learn, eventually, to live our lives with it.

So, for the next long while, when it comes to gathering together, “assembling”, as we do, I would expect that we will oscillate between a shut down like this, and a gradual loosening to small groups, maybe 10, then 30, then we should be ready for another sharp shutdown. Then, gradually up to 20, 50, maybe 200. Then back… and forth.

I’m imagining this, what it looks like, and thinking, “we can do that.” We will have to change some of our practices and habits and attitudes, but we can live our lives like that. Maybe not what we want. Certainly, much harder of some than others, but we will watch for that too, and try to serve them first.

Even within this, we can still live our lives, we can still be the church, and we can be an even more crucial part of the good news for the poor and most vulnerable. Let’s plan with this in mind.

One thing that may help is to remember, when it comes to our church life in Huron, that until June 30, we are still in a state of emergency Under the provincial order. Just as we have been for quite a while. The principle to remember is, we cannot “assemble” more than five people at a time. Especially in contained areas. Until June 30, please keep it to five or fewer, in our churches, in our church yards. etc. Please follow all the current protocols and restrictions for safety.

I appreciate this “3 c’s chart from Japan: (avoid the 3 c’s, Closed Spaces with poor ventilation, Crowded places with many people nearby, Close-contact situations such as close-range conversations)

After June 30, this could change and it will be legal to assemble with more than five people. But, as some of you read in a letter from the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province, including me, we’ve committed to NOT making any changes to how we gather in our buildings until after Labour Day, September 7.

There are two primary reasons for this. One is, it gives us time to plan. I hope it will reduce anxiety… about “being ready” to open. Anxiety some of feel about “getting ahead” of it…

We’ve created a full, detailed, staged plan for “re-opening” church buildings in Huron. But we can’t use it yet, and things may change. We’ll keep adjusting it and watching and learning. And pray that Ontario’s numbers go down.

The second reason for moving the yardsticks to September is that it will give us room to breathe. A summer of “sabbath”, whether that’s the right word for it or not, is partly to make sure that leaders take their vacation. It’s been an exhausting time, as everyone knows. We believe that God wants us to work, and to rest. We also take sabbath to say to ourselves and to the world that we trust God. God will provide. God will carry the burden. We can’t fix this. God will help us to see how, we can share the load with a neighbour -and get some rest. We will need it.

There are many other things that I could say but they can wait I’m looking forward to two conversations, one Monday and one Tuesday, when, by Zoom, I can meet with the clergy of the diocese to go into more detail about our way forward for the next three months. We will also continue communicating through letters, zoom calls, personal contact with any other leaders in our parishes. Please also watch the website for other updates and detail.

Until next week, peace be with you, all.

+ Todd