By Bishop Todd Townshend
We are only part way through this challenging season of COVID-19 but I thought it may help to quickly summarize where we’ve been and what may be in store over the months to come.
The transmission of this potentially deadly virus is mostly determined by human behaviour and I am grateful to God for the leadership and example shown in the people of our churches. We have all the resources we need to practice Christian charity (love of neighbour) in this time. God has been good to us, even in the midst of trouble. Here are some of the “moments” that shaped our response as a diocese.
On March 13, in consultation with the bishops of our province and in order to help keep vulnerable people safe, I ordered the temporary suspension of all public worship services, effective Sunday, March 15. Remarkably, with such short notice, clergy and lay leaders responded with alternatives and resources to support worship in our homes, and loving mutual care increased exponentially, and in new ways, over the weeks to come. The hope at the time was that we could reassess this by April 8, with Easter approaching.
The next day, video messages from the bishop began and continued weekly.
On March 24, we extended the suspension of gatherings for worship through the season of Easter. Here, we were encouraged to “feast on the Word” of God in our homes and resources for Holy Week and Easter were provided both electronically and by mail/delivery. A wonderful diocesan-wide Easter liturgy was created by people from around Huron for viewing on Easter Sunday morning.
Throughout this time as many as three communications per week came from the diocesan Church House staff with support and guidance for clergy, wardens, lay delegates, treasurers and others.
On May 2, I summarized the current situation by noting that, “we’re staying at home for a while longer. Your diocesan leaders and team are working away co-ordinating spiritual, physical, and financial helps for congregations, and a plan for ‘meeting together again’ that will be linked to the phased approach that the government of Ontario has sketched out. So, we are sketching it out too, and giving detail to several potential options. However, it looks like we’re not ready to wade into those waters yet, in Ontario.”
Through this time, I have felt the extraordinary love and support of those who serve with me and of those who are “at a distance”. You have a new bishop and, as usual, the Holy Spirit has surrounded the episcopal ministry with many people who competently lead it and share it—people with long experience, well-honed expertise, and deep wisdom. I am very grateful.
This is extra important because Synod will not be able to meet in May (we are planning for a day in September, it is hoped) and Diocesan Council is also too numerous to gather in person. (Thankfully, the sub-committee of Diocesan Council has been able to meet electronically for some business.) Therefore, I wanted to communicate with you about the adaptations for governance and leadership that have been temporarily made and to summarize some of the actions and strategies that are being used.
Day to day diocesan work is overseen by the bishop with a small executive staff consisting of the Dean of Huron (Paul+ Millward), the Archdeacon of Huron (Tanya+ Phibbs) and the Secretary-Treasurer (Canon Paul Rathbone). The staff of Church House has quickly and ably moved their work to their homes and virtually all of the services remain intact. I thank them all.
Our diocese is blessed with eight “territorial” archdeacons (and two non-territorial archdeacons) who brilliantly carry out leadership in each region on top of their service in a parish or congregation. These are the people who really know how people are doing and they are in direct contact with each community through regional deans, Incumbents, and lay parish leaders. Regular meetings with archdeacons (as a group and one-on-one with me) has been invaluable two-way communication.
It has also been invaluable for me to have a few conversations each day with regional deans and lay co-chairs, clergy, diocesan chancellors, and many other wise and able leaders and servants across the diocese.
The effect of this pandemic will continue for a long time. The strategy for mutual support in our diocese is different from some of our neighbouring dioceses but I am convinced that it’s the right one for us. Basically, we are investing in one another on a case by case basis for the sake of the long-term health of our Anglican network in southwestern Ontario. Especially when it comes to financial support, this means that the resources of the diocese of Huron will be made available to the greatest extent possible over the next six to eighteen months. Some dioceses have decided to give immediate support in a large measure over the short term (ie. two months) in order to relieve strain and worry.
While Huron is healthy financially, we are not rich, so our plan is to help people and communities as the need arises. Some congregations will be suffering now, and we will help them now. Some congregations may start to feel it later in the fall or early next year, and we will be able help those communities then. This strategy, and other responses, continue to be open for discussion—especially as our formal decision-making bodies are allowed to gather.
We don’t know much about the what the immediate future will hold but it seems like this pandemic will hurt many vulnerable people and it will accelerate change—for good and for ill. In communion with God and the rest of the Anglicans across the province, country, and world, we will get through this together! May the peace of Christ be with you.