The Most Reverend Melissa Skelton
Slideshow image

Dear People of the Diocese of New Westminster 

First, please know how very much I miss seeing all of you in-person during this time when we are all are socially distant from one another. I continue to be amazed by all of you— clergy, lay leaders and the people of this diocese—who in the midst of this unprecedented period in history show a remarkable resilience and deep commitment to our churches, to our communities and to one another. Thank you.

My hope is to send out a weekly update on all matters related to COVID-19 in our diocese. Some of the information below has already been shared with the clergy of the diocese.

Cancellations/Postponements

The 2020 Clergy Conference and Mission Conference are CANCELLED. The clergy conference venue cancelled and in view of COVID-19, and in discussion with Bishop Cottrell we felt it was best to cancel his trip to the diocese. We hope to invite him to visit in the future.  

THE ACW Annual General meeting has been POSTPONED. ACW leadership will work on a future date and/or format for their meeting.

The Chrism Mass and Renewal of Vows on April 7 is CANCELLED

Cathedral Holy Week and Easter Liturgies as an offering to all: The Cathedral staff, Randy Murray and I are in the process of working on ways for people at the Cathedral as well as others to pray their way through Holy Week and Easter via a mixture of at-home worship, filmed sermons and filmed services of Holy Eucharist on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. As soon as our plans become final on this, we will send out links to any materials and worship as well as post these on the Cathedral's website and the diocesan website. This is meant for the Cathedral community as well as for any in the broader diocese who may want to participate.

The Spring Retired Clergy Lunch is cancelledThe Retired Clergy and Spouses Lunch scheduled for May is in the process of being tentatively scheduled for December. We will update retired clergy once we have a date.

 Prayer and Solidarity

Solidarity with EDNP in prayer at noon each day: Our partner diocese is also under governmental directives about no in-person gatherings. Bishop Alawas has requested that all in their diocese stop every day at noon and say a simple prayer together. Let’s do the same as a way of standing in solidarity with them. Here’s the prayer in WORD  

Ringing Bells on Easter: We have all been asked by the Primate that, wherever possible (and safe!), that we ring our church bells at 9am on Easter morning. If you are unable to do this from church, we might ring bells at home. No pressure. An idea from the Primate.

The Question of “Spiritual Communion”: Our understanding of Holy Eucharist is centred in a community physically gathered in prayer. What this means is that we do not understand the actions of a priest in consecrating the elements of communion to be somehow transmitted out virtually to bread and wine in the home. Here’s what I would suggest that you do to participate in any virtual Eucharist: that you make the responses that you would normally make in the Eucharist; that, where hymns are included in the liturgy, that you sing them and that at the administration of communion, you pray that the presence of Christ be in you, your mind and your actions. We are all hungering to be together again and hungering for the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Until that day comes, we do our best to feed on the Word, feed on prayer and feed on the ways we can be together though we are apart.

Information (noted where not updated, updated or new information)

Food Banks (Updated): Those parishes running foodbanks should be in touch with their municipal authorities or their health authorities (the latter is an update) to get their guidance about whether the foodbank in your parish should be continuing to operate and, if allowed to operate, the specific guidelines they must follow. If you have any questions about this, be in touch with your Regional Archdeacon.

AA Groups (No Update): The meeting of AA groups on church property should cease per my earlier communication (AA groups falling under the rules related to User Groups). For your information, the National AA organization does not see its role as issuing directives related to the health of those participating in AA or NA groups. Rather, it has posted guidelines on what 12-step groups are doing to modify how they gather, to include virtual gatherings.

Finances and Human Resources Concerns (Updated): I and other diocesan leaders are very aware that parish/personal finances and human resources questions are very much on your minds at this time. Diocesan Council made a bold decision last week to make a financial assistance package for parishes. We’re currently working hard to clarify a number of issues related to government assistance and Human Resources. We will get this information to you individually and collectively as soon as we can. I know we would all rather have answers right now about this. While on this topic, here is a link to the Diocesan PAD information and application brochure.

Property Insurance: (No Update) Our insurer, Ecclesiastical, has notified us that they are working on a list of guidelines to be followed around the requirements for care and protection of buildings during the suspension of in-person worship and parish activities. Please find linked here the guidelines around the care and protection of vacant/unoccupied buildings. As we await the new document please download and consider the instructions in this document that are currently appropriate to your circumstances. The new document will be circulated when it becomes available.

Order of the Diocese of New Westminster (New Information): The deadline for parish nominations for the Order of the Diocese of New Westminster has been extended by Diocesan Council. It will now be May 29. The process for submitting nominations will also be changed. Full details are linked here and also posted on the diocesan website. In the meantime, please do not gather signatures on the nomination form, as this will not be required in the new process. Citations and Biographies will still be required, but please do the research for them by phone or email and not in-person, once completed they should be submitted electronically in a WORD document. Questions should be directed to Bill Siksay.

Interim leadership at Christ Church Cathedral: It was announced this morning, Tuesday, March 31, that I will become Priest-in-Charge of Christ Church Cathedral Parish effective tomorrow, April 1 through to the arrival of the new rector, Archdeacon Chris Pappas on June 1, 2020.

My deepest gratitude goes to Canon Richard Lesueur who completes his term as priest-in-charge today, March 31, 2020. I look forward to this new phase of shared ministry with the clergy, laity and staff of our cathedral church.

Resources

Making Use of Regional Archdeacons and the Synod Office: The Archdeacons and our Synod Office Leadership Team will be meeting more frequently during this time in order to support the Archdeacons as they work with parishes and as a way for us in the Synod Office to benefit from Archdeacons’ knowledge of what’s going on in the Archdeaconries. For this reason, it is even more important that you are in regular contact with your Regional Archdeacon.

Guidelines for Weddings and Funerals: As I'd mentioned earlier in the week, FOR NOW I am allowing priests to officiate at weddings and funerals. Let me emphasize that if at all possible, officiants should seek to postpone these important pastoral liturgies. If the need, for some reason, is urgent, officiants should limit the participation to 10 people not including the officiant (less is actually better) and should observe all the social distancing, sanitization, no-touching practices that are already in place. For weddings, you might limit to five people (officiant, couple and two witnesses). For funerals, you might limit participation to an officiant and a very small group of family members. No celebrations of the Eucharist should be held at these events and no social gatherings of any kind with food should accompany them. Washington State has just prohibited all weddings and funerals, so please know this might also be in our future here in BC.

Release template for tenants: Please find a template for the release that parishes should be asking tenants to sign should they choose to continue their operations in your space. Thank you, Vice Chancellor Kevin Smith for helping draft this. For clarification, tenants are those who have a signed formal lease/tenancy agreement with the parish. Here is the template in WORD and PDF

Zoom Bombing: Zoom Bombing has become a problem in this new age of virtual gathering. At least one of our parishes has been victimized. Please find linked here a detailed resource on how to avoid these intrusions.

With love and respect for you all, especially during this time,

+Melissa