The lockdown began in the third week of March. That week resonates strongly for many of us, as it brought in a period of unprecedented change. Since then, we have become accustomed to physical distancing, copious amounts of hand sanitizer, social bubbles, working and schooling from home, and, of course, face masks. The lockdown has changed how we gather, communicate, shop and use our leisure time. For some, it has resulted in increased anxiety, debt and loneliness.
Collectively, we have moved from fear and disillusionment to rebirth in a very short period of time. The latter is still a work in progress, but we are reconstructing what it means to be Church. It is as if God is making things new again and again and again.
The way we practice our faith has changed markedly. Corporate worship has been suspended and we have relied on virtual gatherings on Zoom and Facebook to meet for morning prayer, Bible studies or coffee hour. For many of us, it is not the preferred way of doing worship, but there is no doubt that these online platforms are effective tools for evangelism.
Most of us long to return to face-toface worship, even with allowances for music and communion. But for some, this will be the new and only way they will inter-face with the Church. We cannot neglect this. Imagine the possibility of a church plant where a congregation meets and celebrates exclusively through virtual means?
Doing stewardship has also changed. In April, I was given a wonderful opportunity to meet, via Zoom, with clergy and lay leaders from across the diocese to address this important topic. In the span of three weeks, I presented my observations and suggestions to more than 400 people. That is an astonishing number. Never in my nearly 17 years with the Diocese of Toronto have I had such a captive audience. I was able to share my knowledge about Pre-Authorized Remittance and e-giving, the importance of staying connected and communicating with members of the congregation, establishing an online presence and encouraging generosity, and re-imagining how we might hold a special fundraiser.
COVID-19 may have imposed a lockdown, but it did not deter the Church from transforming itself. We adapted to the new reality better than most businesses and charities. On the first Sunday after the government announced the lockdown, dozens of churches had online worship available to the faithful and curious alike. Within a few weeks, we began to “pass the plate” virtually, with viewers encouraged to make online donations and e-transfers. Those with envelopes were invited to drop them off at their church during the week and receive a blessing from the parish priest.
Online giving to FaithWorks reached unprecedented levels. In April alone, more people gave to FaithWorks than in the whole of last year. That generosity has continued, as we achieved a $100,000 matching challenge by a generous donor in record time. Many not-for-profit organizations have found the current environment to be especially challenging to connect with donors and secure support. Despite this, Anglicans across our diocese have demonstrated generosity and a passion for outreach that is heart-warming. Despite the obstacles, charity abounds.
The pandemic has also changed the way we host special fundraisers. The need for physical distancing has forced us to transform the Bishop’s Company Dinner into a diocesan-wide cabaret. The annual dinner – which would have been our 59th – is a focal point on the diocesan calendar, an opportunity to socialize, network and raise funds.
We have adapted to our reality, reimagining this year’s dinner as a pre-taped virtual cabaret that will be held on the evening of Oct. 16. Through the power of Zoom technology, we can enjoy amazing talent from across our diocese, including a presentation by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Our hope for the cabaret is to highlight the diversity of our worship communities, through music, dance, song, theatre, and poetry. There will be something for everyone – young and not so young alike. Admittance to the event can be secured by making a freewill offering of any amount to the Bishop’s Company; details will be made available through Facebook and the diocesan webpage in September. Who knows, the cabaret may become the new way we raise funds for clergy in need?
This period of change has brought uncertainty to all of us. I am grateful that despite the lockdown, Anglicans have been and are faithful in their generosity. The pandemic has meant doing Church differently but still doing Church. The beauty of faith is that “despite the hardship or distress, nothing separates us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39).