The following is the letter from Archbishop Skelton that begins the document that was circulated to Priests-in-Charge; Regional Deans; Parish Officers; Parish Offices and Members of Diocesan Council on Wednesday, May 20. The document is titled "The Re-opening of Churches in the Diocese of New Westminster." Please feel free to share this information broadly. The documents are attached to this post and available for downloading. You will also find a set of posters from BCCCDC available for downloading as well.
Dear People of the Diocese of New Westminster
Greetings and peace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I think about our gradual return to worship in our church buildings, I’m reminded of the many stories in the Hebrew Scriptures about journey and return. Whether it’s the story of Abraham setting out from Haran, the story of the Israelites crossing the wilderness on their way to the promised land, or the story of Ruth and Naomi, the theme of journey is a central way that the Hebrew Scriptures show us what it means to be person of faith along the twists and turns of our lives.
When it comes to the theme of return, however, one story from the Hebrew Scriptures dominates---the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. While you and I have certainly not experienced what they did--a forced removal from their homeland, the destruction of the center of their religious identity and the suffering that comes in captivity--through this pandemic, you and I have surely experienced dislocation, loss and pain.
And so what can we learn from this story?
First, in that during their captivity, the exiles lost what they had come to rely on to make meaning of much in their lives, their return was not simple or easy. It happened in phases, with different groups returning at different times and with some never returning. Secondly, the exiles’ return meant coming to terms with disrupted expectations upon their return. Things were not going to go back to “normal” in that those returning were not able to rebuild their temple or their lives exactly as they had existed before. And, third, the return from exile meant that religious life, itself, would be different. For the Jewish people were changed by the losses they had suffered and resilience they had discovered in themselves.
As followers of Jesus, we know this story. This is not just because the stories from the Hebrew Scriptures are a part of our story. Through the life, death, resurrection of Jesus, we understand what it means to be a part of God’s story as enacted in Christ Jesus: a story in which we move and are moved from fear to trust, from isolation to community, from disorientation to reorientation and from death to new life. This is what we draw on as we take steps to gather together again after a time of confusion, fear and loss.
What you will find in this document is a phased approach to restarting in-person gatherings in our churches. It is an approach that aims to care for people, communities, and each other after a time of remaining in our homes for the sake of stemming the spread of COVID-19.
Our goals include:
All of what you will read here will be dependent on further and ongoing recommendations from the Provincial Health Officer and will typically reflect an abundance of caution in its approach given how many of our parishioners are vulnerable in the face of this pandemic. What this means is that the way forward will not be immediate and may not be linear.
Please read this document thoroughly as you work through what your parish may do at every phase of this plan and as you complete your application to re-open. Remember that your parish does not have to move to a particular phase on the same timing as other parishes do, but you may not move to the next phase until my office informs you that you may do so. Every parish, its buildings, its capacities and its leadership are different. Each parish, therefore, using this document must discern the appropriate actions and timing for itself in terms of when to reopen its building and what activities to offer. If you have any questions about this document or the process for re-opening, please contact your Regional Archdeacon.
You and all the parishes are in my prayers during this season of many decisions and many opportunities as we work through how best to support our parishes, our people and our communities in this unprecedented time.