Dear ECD Official Workers,
As some of you may have already noticed, further guidelines for re-opening places of worship in Ontario that have been released and are more restrictive than expected. While this is challenging and disappointing, I encourage you to trust God’s leadership in all of this and to follow our New Ventures philosophy of looking at this with ‘curiosity, hope and wonder.’ What might God be dreaming in light of all of these challenges? Maybe there are some new, creative ways for us to worship him that we haven’t thought of yet! I don’t know, but I really believe that God’s will in all of this is good, pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:22). So let’s honour our government and health officials for their hard work in navigating these extraordinary circumstances and trust that God is not surprised the way we are!
Here is the latest information available regarding what the government says needs to be done to re-open safely:
- Last week, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer released province-wide guidance on re-opening Religious Services, Rites or Ceremonies. These are important to read and are different from the workplace health and safety guidelines released the week before.
- The legal basis for re-opening places of worship at 30% capacity is Reg. 52/20. This appears to REQUIRE all churches to follow the Chief Medical Officer’s and the Public Health Unit’s advice above: “The persons conducting the wedding, funeral, service, rite or ceremony must ensure that it is conducted in compliance with the advice, recommendations and instructions of public health officials”
- Most regional public health units have released/updated detailed guidelines that churches are required to follow (e.g. Toronto, York Region, Haliburton/Kawartha, Kingston, Ottawa, Eastern Ontario).
- New Brunswick and Nova Scotia plans are also available.
What does this mean?
It appears that if our churches wish to re-open right now, in addition to physical distancing and other common guidelines, churches are not allowed to have indoor singing of any kind, offer communion, or offer any programming for those under the age of 18.
If that sounds very stringent, I agree. It is difficult to imagine a worship service without congregational singing (or even a worship leader singing at the front), without in-person kids or youth programming, social gatherings before or after, or any form of communion.
What does this mean for your church?
I would encourage you to continue to discern the right time to reopen, recognizing the great variation in our district. The district has some churches waiting until the fall at the earliest to gather in person and others moving to gather right away. In case it is helpful, my team has put together a discussion guide for you and your local leaders as you plan out your reopening.
If you do sense God leading you to re-open under these conditions, I would encourage you to connect with your local public health unit to confirm that the details of your plan are acceptable in your region. It’s important to recognize that the advice of your local public health unit may have changed (e.g. Toronto’s guidelines changed on Saturday), so it’s important to keep monitoring the evolving recommendations. Your local public health unit is responsible for the enforcement of all recommendations, so if they deem you to have violated these guidelines, they would be the ones to issue a fine and close the church. As such, it would be wise to make sure you are compliant with their requirements and have their approval to move ahead. If you have any questions about how this affects you in your particular situation, feel free to contact Malcolm Billing (firstname.lastname@example.org), and he would be happy to assist you.
May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
Rev. Curtis Peters