Andrea Bocelli giving a solo concert in front of Milan Cathedral on Easter Sunday
Here in Quebec, we are starting to hear about the possibility of schools reopening soon, and perhaps the loosening of some of the other restrictions that have been in effect since mid-March. This leads us to wonder when we might be able to emerge from our exile as a congregation and begin to gather for worship again.
When we first went into lockdown, it was sudden and immediate, and we envisioned coming out of lockdown being similar. Now, however, we are realizing that that will not be the case. Emerging from isolation will be slow and gradual, and we may go back and forth for a period of time between greater and lesser degrees of distancing. I am beginning to gather information from colleagues and other churches around North America, to start to visualize how this might work.
We have heard nothing as yet from the Diocese about returning to worship in person, and of course we will not do so until both the government and the Diocese permit it. It is overwhelmingly likely that there will be a period of weeks or months in which there are significant restrictions on how we can worship and who can participate, including limits on overall numbers, on the ages of people allowed to be present, on how close together we can sit, and on whether we can share communion. Our worship may have to look and feel very different, even after we can see each other in person again.
In particular, we are learning that singing in groups is one of the most effective ways to spread COVID-19. This is a profoundly distressing thing to contemplate for a congregation that loves to sing as much as we do, and yet, if we need to refrain from singing in order to protect each other, we will do so, and God will be worshiped and praised nevertheless.
One great gain from this difficult time has been the increase in our ability to be connected through virtual means. As I described it in conversation with Trevor about Zoom church this morning, “I like it much better than no church at all; I don’t like it at all in comparison with church in person.” But for those who cannot leave their homes most of the time even under normal circumstances, we will continue streaming our services even as we reopen and gradually return to worshiping together in the church building.
At our last in-person service on March 15, I promised the parish that “when this is over, we’ll have a huge, festive Easter service no matter the time of year”. I will hold to that promise, but the huge festive Easter service will not be the very first time we go back to worshiping in the church. It will be whenever we can once again sing out, share communion, and welcome all without worrying about age or state of health – once we have fast, universal testing, sufficient treatment options, and/or a vaccine against the virus.
I long once again to look out from the chancel and into all your faces in real life instead of on a screen. But I will not sacrifice anyone’s health or safety to do so. And however long it takes to defeat the coronavirus, we know that Jesus has defeated death, now and forever, and nothing can separate us from God’s love.
In God’s peace,