For the Rev. Richard Webb, interim priest-in-charge at the Church of the Incarnation in Toronto, physical connection is integral to the life of the Church. But on March 13, he sought permission to cancel that week’s Sunday morning service.
“We had some concerns about whether we could conduct the service safely,” he says.
That same day, the Diocese of Toronto provided guidelines to suspend in-person worship at all its parishes in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though church buildings were closed, Mr. Webb wanted to keep parishioners connected to the church. Absent an obvious solution, he prayed for advice: “God, give me guidance to keep people focused on you.”
Then came a revelation. “I had this idea of drive-through blessings.”
On Palm Sunday – the first day that he offered drive-through prayers – 30 parishioners came to the church’s parking lot to receive blessings.
“I thought, ‘if we just have one person come out, then I’ll do it again,’” he says. “That day got us going.”
Since that first Sunday, he has been offering prayers and blessings in the parking lot of the church to about 20 parishioners every week. Now, his Sunday mornings consist of hosting a Bible study on Zoom from 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., and from 10 a.m. until noon he provides prayers to a lineup of physically distanced parishioners who can catch up and connect with each other.
“Parishioners have enjoyed seeing other parishioners when they come,” he says. “It’s given them a way to feel connected. It’s given them time to reflect on what they’ve missed and what they appreciate.”
Most often, they ask him to pray for protection from COVID-19, for their neighbours, for compassion, for frontline workers, for those suffering from the virus and for those who have lost a loved one during the pandemic. The response from parishioners shows that they are craving a worshipping community when they can’t gather in person, he says.
On top of offering drive-through blessings, he has been trying anything he can to create and maintain connected communities among parishioners during the pandemic. He has set up a YouTube channel to post pre-recorded sermons and sent packages to every parishioner containing small crosses and a reflection guide to remind them of the certainty of Christ in these uncertain times.
“I was game to experiment and adapt on the fly,” he says. “I’m up to try anything to get people thinking of one another and thinking of Jesus.”
When he came to the Church of the Incarnation less than a year ago, he couldn’t have imagined that he would be praying for parishioners from the parking lot, but he is grateful for the chance to keep people connected to the church even if they aren’t physically in the church.
“There was no sense that there was going to be a pandemic, but God doesn’t waste anything,” he says. “There have been many positives that have occurred already and many more that will come.”