Update on Guidance for Places of Worship-Letter from Curtis Peters

Dear ECD Official Workers,

As you continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape in which we find ourselves, I want you to know that as a District team we are here to support you in any way that we can.  This past week we have been working to gather as much information as possible to help you respond to the announcement that came out last week regarding the possibility of reopening our churches for worship services at 30% capacity.  It was not immediately clear which guidelines would apply to those who wanted to resume in-person worship gatherings.  The picture has become more clear over time, but we are still anticipating increased clarity over the coming days.

This is what we know for now:

  • There is NOT one uniform set of guidelines for all of Ontario regarding worship services.
  • Some public health regions have stated guidelines for their region, but most have not (see below example from York Region).
  • There are several general regulations that apply to all types of gatherings (physical distancing/seat separation, disinfection and sanitizing, hand washing, leader training, clear entry and exit processes, appropriate signage and avoiding shared items like Bibles).  These are mandatory, province-wide restrictions.
  • There are also several public health recommendations that are not mandatory but advised (eg. Encouraging the use of facemasks, special care for those at higher risk [70+ and immunocompromised], no food and beverage, etc…).
  • This is an evolving situation and so any of this is subject to change at any time; as such, we need to all be vigilant to stay up to date on the latest information available to us.

In light of these things, our District team would encourage the following:

  • Ask Jesus what he thinks you should do!  And ask the people in your congregation what they think.  This is an extremely complex situation, one that varies from region to region and church to church.  It is not immediately clear to any of us what we should do (nor are all the people in our congregations agreed on this).  What a great time to practice our ECD value of “Listening to Jesus and discerning with others creative and holistic solutions to the challenges we face.”
  • Contact your local Public Health Official to ensure that your plans and procedures are in line with local guidelines.  Please honour our health officials and bless them for their work in keeping all of us safe, especially those who are at highest risk.   This is a value we share as followers of Christ: caring for ‘the least of these.’
  • Don’t rush your reopening.  It is very important to ensure the safety and well-being of our people – and the community at large – so please make sure you take the time you need to get all of the logistics in place.
  • Start with the basic worship service, not full programming.  There are additional complexities to things like children’s and youth ministry (not the least of which is finding and training volunteers who are willing to put themselves at risk).  We are still waiting for further government guidelines in these areas and so we believe it would be wisest for your families with children to either worship from home or for the children to sit with their parents in the service.
  • Make sure you have an online option available for those who are unable (or feel uncomfortable with) coming to the in-person gathering.

We continue to work on compiling as much information as we can, and we will update you again early next week.  In the meantime, if you have any further questions about how this affects you in your particular situation, feel free to contact Malcolm Billing (malcolm@easterndistrict.ca), and he would be happy to assist you.

Let me conclude by encouraging you to remember that the goal in all of this is the mission of the church, not any particular method of doing church.  As we wrestle with HOW to do ministry in this unique season of history, let’s not forget that WHAT we are doing is joining Christ in his mission to multiply disciples everywhere.  I invite you to consider the following question as you consider your strategy for if, when and how to reopen: How can we be most effective in helping the greatest number of people to love Jesus in the greatest possible way?

Trusting the Lord together with you,