Worship Shifts Online During Fifth Wave of Pandemic

In-person activities curtailed to protect those most vulnerable

Posted December 21, 2021

As Ontario faces the fifth wave of the pandemic, Bishop Susan Bell announced that worship and ministry activities will shift online ahead of the Christmas season.

"I have made the difficult decision to shutter our churches for public worship as a preventative measure against the unrestrained spread of the Omicron variant of concern which is circulating in our midst," wrote Bishop Bell in a pastoral letter released to the diocese.

According to new ministry guidelines, worship is to be conducted online and produced by liturgical teams of no more than 10 people, who are all double or triple vaccinated, except in rare and exceptional circumstances for funerals, weddings, or baptisms. 

Given the rapid and widespread transmission of this latest variant of concern, Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, urges "all Canadians to continue to reduce their contacts as much as possible.”

"We know now how to be the face and hands of Christ in ministry in this diocese through the peak of a pandemic wave," writes Bishop Bell. Social and emergency food services, as well as pastoral care appointments will continue in-person as necessary. 

"We are in the midst of something dangerous and seismic – and the prudent and loving thing to do is to strive to protect us all – from the youngest who are as yet still unvaccinated and vulnerable, to the most senior who are similarly at risk."

The decision comes as case numbers - driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of concern - have skyrocketed across the province and diocese. Churches are expected to remain closed for in-person worship and gatherings until at least the season of Lent. 

With hospitalizations rising at an "alarming" rate, Premier Doug Ford announced the province is moving to Step Two of its Roadmap to Reopen, as of January 5. As such new measures have been enacted to slow the spread of the virus; capacity limits will be reduced, social gatherings will be restricted to no more than 5 people indoors, and the re-opening of schools will be delayed. 

"We must lean into the core element of our faith – sacrificial love – and proactively become an online worshipping community once more, for a season," says Bishop Bell.

This article was updated on January 5 to reflect additional measures put in place by the Province.