My Dear Friends,
It seems that life has picked up a lot of speed since I last wrote to you. As soon as we were ready to proceed with our phase two plans there has been a change. With the further re-launching of the community here in Alberta we now find ourselves in Phase 3 of the Diocesan Plan for Meeting Together Again. Fortunately, all the hard work you have been doing so far still applies and none of it is wasted, Thanks be to God. This document replaces the Phase 2 Meeting Together Again Plan. The checklists previous provided remain useful tools but are also superseded by this document.
The sector specific guidelines from the Alberta Government have been updated and will continue to be as the days go by. The most recent guidelines are also included in the appendix of this document. You will note that the primary focus of the guidelines is to allow places of worship to continue/resume activities associated with spiritual and pastoral care whilst at the same time doing all we can to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in our communities. Everything is not ‘back to normal’ and our sacramental ministry still looks very different. Be patient we will get there, but not yet.
I remind you that no priest or parish will be forced to resume in-person worship. You must be comfortable with the processes and the risk mitigation protocols in place. I had suggested that it would be Fall 2020 before restrictions drastically changed for places of worship, further easing of restrictions has come now in June of 2020.
The guidelines and answers that follow are still very detailed and many are not changed from our diocesan phase 2. I reiterate that we have all tried so hard to keep one another safe and we must not undo the good work that has been done in slowing the impact of the virus. There are still parts of the liturgy that look very different and yet we are seeing hope for a resumption of more usual styles of worship. Please commit to following the guidelines and to being patient. The fact that we have such detailed guidelines shows just how seriously we take our community safety and our worship.
Please continue to show grace to one another – to colleagues whose views on reopening differ from our own, and to parishioners who either want to move faster or slower in returning to a more normal life. This is not a competition of any kind to see who opens first or last.
Even as we enter the next phase of re opening here in Alberta COVID-19 is still with us and we are not in a risk free situation. I reiterate that until a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, if that is even possible, we can never be 100% sure that someone in the congregation has not contracted the virus. Quarantine and self-isolation after contact with an infected person is now part of our usual way of life. The new Alberta guidelines stress that people who have travelled internationally in the past 14 days and those who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days are forbidden from entering the church building. Each parish must advertise this information and ensure that people adhere to this direction.
Even with the lifting of so many restrictions you will note that 2 metre physical distancing is still the norm for worship, meetings and study groups. Similarly we continue to be asked to collect information of attendees purely for contact tracing should a case of COVID-19 be identified after worship. This information is to be kept for 14 days. I should also note that it is voluntary for people to provide the information.
Since there is still a possibility of contracting the virus and needing to return to quarantine or self- isolation, I continue to recommend that if you have more than one clergyperson in the parish, you are not in church for the same services so that there can continue to be provision of services or in person pastoral care.
The synod office will be re opening as of June 15, although some of the staff may choose to work remotely for some parts of the week. In person meetings with me as your bishop may now be resumed as you are comfortable – of course with 2 metre physical distancing and you’ll have to bring your own coffee.
Brothers and sisters, please be kind to yourselves as we begin to pick up the patterns of our pre COVID-19 lives. Be prepared for the process to be stressful. I know that for some of you the need and difficulties of balancing child care/schooling/work are very real and difficult. We phase back into ministry. If you need to continue to work from home for health or family reasons that is fine. Thank you so much for everything. Let Jen at Synod office know if you are taking study leave or vacation between now and September and let us know if you need help in finding cover. My in person parish visits may now resume but I ask that we postpone confirmations until the fall.
Still my heart so that I may know that you are God,
that I may know that you create and sustain my every breath, that you breathe
the whole universe into existence every second,
that everyone, myself no less than everyone else, is your beloved,
that you want our lives to flourish, that you desire our happiness,
that nothing falls outside your love and care,
and that everything and everybody is safe in your gentle, caring hands,
in this world and the next. Amen. (Ron Rolheiser O.M.I.)