As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually eased, I would like to visit with anyone who would like to, and is comfortable with an in-person visit, either inside or outside. I have never felt comfortable just dropping in on people, and now as I don’t know who wants a visit or who feels comfortable with a visit, I want to encourage those who would like a visit to contact me directly so we can arrange a mutually convenient time. I look forward hearing from you. Rev. Dana
October 21, 2021
Who are your community? Who are the people you turn to for support and encouragement when you need it? Who are the people you can be honest with, whom you can tell them anything, knowing you won’t be judged and it won’t be shared? Who are the people you can trust to give you honest feedback or advice, as opposed to those who will tell you what you want to hear, but not what you need to hear? Who are the people who challenge you, who push you to think deeper or to see things differently? We all need community, as God said in creation, “it is not good for the human to be alone?” (Genesis 2:18). Aside from our need for a relationship with God, God made us for relationship with each other. Community provides support and accountability.
Community has become one of my themes during the pandemic certainly, but the value I place on community goes back much further. As I think about my own life, I recognize the diverse communities that formed and continue to form me, to influence who I am and how I see the world. There are times in my life, when I have been particularly aware of that diversity. When I turned 19, aside from the small party with some of my peers, my mother threw a larger surprise party with my adult friends, from a variety of groups I belonged to, including the church, curling, and a support group. It was a realization that for a teenager, I had a lot of adult friends, perhaps because many of my interests tended to attract older people. As I think of all those adult friends, I recognize how they were influential in shaping who I became as an adult myself. The other celebration that comes to mind was our wedding, which although small, was a very eclectic group of people that represented our lives individually and as a couple, as I suspect many of your weddings did too. I find that celebrations at liminal moments – marriage and death particularly, tend to bring together circles of people who might not otherwise be associated with each other. The communities that we are part of, especially in our more formative years help to shape who we become and how we see the world.
One of the challenges I think in life is to continue to expose ourselves to diverse communities. It is easier and we naturally tend to associate with those who are like us – who look like us, who think like us, who hold similar political and/or religious positions, similar values, who come from similar backgrounds, or who work in our field. These communities can be a great source of support and encouragement, and they can be easier to connect with because we have a shared vocabulary in some cases that we don’t need explain to outsiders, which is particularly true of those we work with. These communities are important, but we also need to seek communities that will challenge us and our worldview, who will expose us to a different way of thinking and seeing the world, to different values and priorities. It doesn’t mean we have to completely step out of our comfort zone, although that can be helpful at times, but at least expose ourselves to a different perspective. This does require us to be open to learning from others and from their experience, to listen with an open mind and heart, to be prepared to be challenged in how we see and understand the world.
While the communities that formed us are important, the communities that continue to re-shape us, challenge us and help us to grow are essential and are part of being life-long learners. As an older friend once told me, we only stop growing and changing when we die. I hope that like her, I will never think I am too old or know enough, that I close my mind and heart to learning from others. So, let me phrase my opening question differently, how are you seeking to have and be in community that is diverse? Who will support you and who will challenge you?
October 14, 2021
This week I have been one of the clergy representatives for the Diocese of Toronto at the Provincial Synod of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario. Synods are the governing bodies in the Anglican Church, hearing and receiving reports of what has happened, and helping to set direction for the future, much like our parish vestry meetings. The Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario is comprised of the 7 dioceses in our province (some of which extend into Quebec as well) – Ottawa, Ontario, Toronto, Niagara, Huron, Algoma and Moosonee (This map shows the provinces and the diocese that make them up). Provincial Synod is focused on our shared ministry and relationships within our geographical area. Provincial Synod, like General Synod (the national equivalent), meet every three years. I had been looking forward to a road trip to Sault St. Marie, but due to COVID we met via Zoom. To gather with others, even virtually, is a wonderful reminder that we are part of a church that is so much larger than our parish or even our diocese. I am looking forward to and honoured to be continuing to be part of the leadership at this level, as the Diocese of Toronto clergy representative on the Provincial Council, and helping to shape priorities for the next three years.
There were a few things that stood out for me from this time. First, each diocese presented a short “Missional Moment” highlighting some of the ways we are taking the Church beyond the doors, seeking and serving Christ in all people. A sign of hope in a time when there can be a temptation focus on the challenges and even demise of the church. These were reminders of how God is at work through the Church to make a difference in the communities around us. Second, the way that diocesan leaders, from bishop(s), to the executive officer, to other senior leaders in each diocese, have come together with their colleagues across dioceses to collaborate. While this collaboration had been a goal before, the pandemic made it essential. The collaboration and sharing of resources will be one of the lasting benefits of the pandemic. Third, and probably the most inspiring for me, was worship on Thursday morning led by National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald, using the Gospel Based Discipleship Book. This resource comes from the National Indigenous Church, as a response to a grassroots desire for continuing discipleship resources. The goal is to place the gospel at the centre of the circle of life and community – of everything we do from worship, to meetings, to work and to play. The idea is centred in reading the gospel of the day, 3 times, each time from a different translation, and then reflection on 3 questions; 1. What catches my attention? What God is saying to us, and, 3. What God is calling us to. I have downloaded the Gospel Based Discipleship Book to use as we too seek to place God’s word at the center of who we are and what we do, and in seeking God’s will and direction for us individually and together. You can learn more about this or access the Gospel Based Discipleship Book and the gospel readings here. It can be good for personal reflection, but it is best in a group setting as we hear what God is saying to us through what others hear and think.
Governance meetings can be seen as boring, dealing with the business side of church, but this was a hope-filled and inspiring meeting. I am grateful to have had this experience and look forward to continuing to serve for the next three years.
October 7, 2021
As Thanksgiving approaches this weekend, I hope that everyone has had a chance to read my Thanksgiving letter. In a time when it would be so easy to focus on all that is wrong in the world, all the things that have changed, on what we have missed out on over the last year and half, we are called instead to focus on the many blessings that we have and continue to experience. I wrote about some of those in my Thanksgiving letter, from the medical innovations and the vaccine that has allowed many of us to resume more activities, and reconnect physically with loved ones and friends, to ways we have been challenged and have grown in our appreciation and respect for all people, to the way we have learned to connect and value those who are truly important to us. There really is so much to be thankful for.
Being thankful and living thankfully is a choice, one that can have a life-changing effect on our lives. A number of years ago when I was being treated for depressive-anxiety, one of the things my therapist had me do was write a gratitude list every day – 3 things I was grateful for that day. It could be as small as completing another page of my honours thesis or a conversation with a friend or something I saw on my walk. The point was to begin to change my mindset from thinking about all the things that were wrong or that I was concerned about going wrong, to the positives and all that was going well. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude was a phrase I heard, and began to use particularly at that time. We have choice in how we view our lives and our circumstances. We can choose to see all that is wrong with the world and our lives, or we can choose to see the good, to appreciate the small blessings. Where and what we choose to focus on has a direct impact on what we will see. The more we focus on the bad, on all that is wrong, the more we will see the bad and the wrong, and more seems to go wrong. On the other hand, when we focus on the good, to seek to see the blessings, the more we see them and the more we experience the joy and hope that comes with them.
One of the authors I discovered at that time was Sarah Ban Breathnach and her philosophy of “Simple Abundance”. It is not really unique to her, but her devotional “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” and “The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude” were extremely helpful to me. The journal had a list of 150 often overlooked blessings that reminded me of my own small blessings. This philosophy challenges the message we often receive from society, that accumulating things is a sign of success, which often leaves to wanting more, and never being satisfied. When our focus becomes giving thanks for what we have, we discover a joy and peace that fills us in a way that nothing else can. Jesus says that where your treasure is, there will be your heart also (Matthew 6:21). When we learn to treasure the people in our lives, our relationships with God and others, and the experiences that bring true happiness, we discover our abundance. We discover how much we really have, our simple abundance.
As Thanksgiving approaches this year, I thank God for the people of Trinity, for your words of encouragement and appreciation, for your willingness to learn and grow along with me as we explore new ways of being connected, for your patience and graciousness when things go a little askew (like the sideways video at the beginning of morning prayer this week), for your care and concern for me and for each other and your generosity through our various outreach projects. May the joy, peace and hope that comes with living thankfully, with an attitude of gratitude be yours now and always.
This past Sunday, on September 26, Trinity Anglican Church hosted Jacqui Getfield as our first Anti-Racism speaker and discussion. Thank you to all who participated, whether as part of worship and listening to the speaker, or by joining the conversation afterwards. It was an insightful and challenging talk and conversation. Jacqui asked a number of questions and made some scripture references throughout her talk, as part of the invitation to us for reflection and action. As I suspect that most of you, like me, did not have a chance to write these down, so I wanted share with you her definitions, the questions and scripture references that went along with them, and the next step that we talked about at the end of the follow-up conversation. I have tried to write them the way Jacqui posed them to us, but where appropriate I have synthesized them. I encourage you to re-watch the video as well, Jacqui’s talk begins about the 18-minute mark of the video (Video Link)
Race: Not skin colour, but the social construct around the word “race” that denotes a group of people, who have been identified by society and historically mistreated, disregarded and discriminated against.
Racialized: Those placed at the margins of society, typically non-white, recent immigrants, black descendants of those from Africa or Caribbean.
Racism: The treatment of people prejudicially based on their appearance, and treatment that results in discriminatory disadvantage.
Questions and Scripture References:
- What does it mean to be an ally? Is being an ally the same as being a friend? An accomplice, congregant in arms, activist or co-conspirator? What other terms would you use to describe being an ally [in anti-racism]?
- Are you sure you want to be an ally with the context of anti-racism?
- How deep do you wish to go? Meaning do want to dapple in it, dipping your big toe, your foot, up to your knee, the whole leg, up to your neck or do you want to fully submerge?
- Invitation to consider the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) using these three questions
- Would you describe the Good Samaritan as an ally; a friend, accomplice, co-conspirator or activist?
- How would you describe the Good Samaritan within the geo-political context of his time?
- When the Good Samaritan saw the injured man, how do you suppose he summed up the situation? Why did he decide to help? How did he help?
- Why now, why do you want to engage in anti-racism work now?
- Is it riding the wave of global indignation after the death of George Floyd?
- A Commitment to do something, but you don’t know or are not sure what do to do?
- Why were you triggered after the death of George Floyd and the international uproar when there have been many before him?
- Am I a racist or an ant-racist? (Jacqui would suggest that you cannot be both just as you are either pregnant or not)
- How will you teach your children/grandchildren about those with your skin colour and those with different skin colour? What will be your legacy to them?
- What will you invest in this work of anti-racism? Money, time – letter writing, protests, marches, policy development, talking to friends and family, mobilizing others? Are you willing to take up that cross and the cost involved? Jacqui referred a number of times when Jesus talked about the cost and particularly division that will come in following him – Matthew 10:16 forward, particularly 10:34-39; Mark 8, particularly 8:34-38; John 15:18-16:4
- How will you do this work? Out and about in public, talking about? Or are you a closet anti-racist?
- What are the stereotypes and biases you seem to hold onto?
- As a parish, how will you do this work? Reflecting on your history, what groups have triumphed and which have suffered? How will you engage a diverse group, inviting diverse voices into leadership and to inform anti-racism work?
I hope that I have captured Jacqui’s words, intentions and questions. We touched on some of these in the discussion afterwards and as was pointed out then, we have to do this work for ourselves individually before we can truly engage in this work as a community. With this in mind, we decided to have another conversation on Sunday October 24 at 1 pm again on Zoom. This will give us some to think and reflect, so that we can respond. Please plan to join us as we continue to consider what it means to be allies and how we want to engage in the work of anti-racism within ourselves, our church and our community.
September 23, 2021
Looking at my calendar for the next week, I realized it will be a week of reflecting on topics that are sensitive, fraught with emotion as we seek to understand the impact of systemic racism. First, on Sunday we have our Anti-Racism speaker Jacqui Getfield from Black Anglicans of Canada, with a discussion to follow and then next Thursday is Orange Shirt Day, which will also be the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. These are both important events and topics, but ones that will be difficult for many of us, as they call us to honest self-examination, which requires vulnerability and openness. As challenging as these topics will be, I encourage you to consider participating in some way.
Our speaker and discussion this Sunday are part of the Social Justice and Advocacy Motion that was discussed and passed at our annual vestry meeting this year. Over the course of the last year, we have become acutely aware of racism and the systemic racism that underlies so much our society. It has been eye-opening to say the least. Like others, I have sought to better understand racism and have read books that challenged me to look more deeply at my own bias, many of which are unconscious or part of larger systems. The diocese has made a commitment to anti-bias/anti-racism training first for all clergy and which will be extending to parishes in the new year. I suspect that this will be challenging, but hopefully can lead to greater understanding and changes where necessary. I want to encourage you to join us on Sunday whether in person or online, to listen to Jacqui, to come with an open mind to hearing a perspective that may be new to you, and then to continue the conversation with her and each other at 1 pm on Zoom.
This year was also marked by the discovery of unmarked children’s graves at many Residential Schools and the knowledge there are many more still to be found. These discoveries have been re-traumatizing for survivors of the schools, and have raised many questions about our historical identity as a country. This has contributed to added significance for this year’s Orange Shirt Day and now National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th. Orange Shirt Day began in 2013, arising from the personal story of Residential School Survivor Phyllis (Jack) Webstad (you can read her story here). It is a day of remembrance and solidarity with residential school survivors and their families and a day of advocacy for all Indigenous People in Canada. The phrase “Every Child Matters,” which has become one of the catch phrases of the year, comes from Orange Shirt Day. There are a number of ways you can take part: wear an Orange Shirt, make a donation to one of the charities supporting survivors, learn more about the residential schools and subsequent removal of indigenous children from their families (see the announcements below for a September 29th event hosted by Toronto Urban Native Ministry) or participate in an Orange Shirt Day event (there is one on the lawn of the BWG library September 30, 6:30-8 pm). You can also be part of a larger show of solidarity by submitting “selfies” in your Orange Shirt and/or holding signs of solidarity. The pictures will be featured on the Toronto Urban Native Ministry Facebook page and possibly in The Anglican. You can email your photos to diocesan Right Relations Coordinator Leigh Kern (email@example.com). These are just a few examples of how you can participate.
The coming week will be emotional and challenging as we address these important issues, but I think both of these events are important for us as Christians because they reflect our calling to seek and serve Christ in all persons. As we recognize how some of those who are made in God’s image have been and continue to be discriminated again, it challenges self-examination and change for ourselves and our community, and to be advocates for systemic changes that seek to honour God’s image in all persons.
September 16, 2021
As part of my sermon preparation, I often listen to a lectionary podcast on the readings. One of the comments that caught my attention, but didn’t find its way into the sermon, was how the pandemic has changed the way we engage in our practice of discipleship. For many of us our discipleship pre-COVID was heavily linked to physical buildings, to physical gatherings and to serving people face-to-face. The church building was central, whether that was attending worship and/or another group, or serving in the Shop, as were other locations such as serving at the Community Meal, or a shelter. For most of the last year and half, those opportunities to be physically together and to serve physically have been few and far between. Only now are some of these opportunities starting to resume, but with significant differences from before. We are more aware of the risks involved when we gather, and especially when we serve in other settings, to take the necessary precautions. What we took for granted before, we are much more keenly aware of now.
When it comes to our discipleship, this has meant adjusting to new ways of engaging, in ways that may require more initiative from us in many cases. While there is some level of commitment required to show up to church on Sunday morning, it takes a different kind of commitment to engage in virtual worship. For example, once we walk through the doors of the church, there are routines, and the space itself draws us into a worshipful spirit, that sets this time apart. On the other hand, when we attend virtual worship, those physical cues and routines are not there and there can be additional distractions that pull our attention away from worship or make it harder to enter into that same worshipful spirit. There are also elements of virtual worship like commenting during the feed – that can either engage us more deeply, or distract us. As the one who is typically leading worship, I am aware that it was much easier for me in many ways to see the reactions of those physically present, because I do not see the comments during the online service, until after the service. The times when I have been on the other side of virtual worship, as the participant rather than leader, I admit I had trouble staying focused at times. Hearing from others, there was a variety of pluses and minuses to virtual worship. The good news is that there is now a choice for those who do feel comfortable returning to the building, but it is different and it may never be the same as it was before, so that also requires some adjustment. For others virtual worship has opened up more opportunities to engage in worship, whether that is parents who found it easier than getting the children to church or worrying about how others might be disturbed by their children, or people who were out of town and could still be part of the worship and community. It has also brought new people into our community, albeit in a very different way. This time though has challenged us about how we engage in worship and put more of the onus for engaging on the individual.
Worship is just one example of the way that discipleship has shifted during this time, as other groups either went online, which not everyone felt as engaged by, or met in some alternative format like garden knitting and ladies coffee break, which became dependant on the weather. At the same time other opportunities have arisen that invite us to think more deeply about our faith, and to seek to reach out in Jesus’ name. I have heard back from some people that these weekly reflections have been food for thought for them as they seek to deepen their faith and understanding. I was surprised by the number of participants in the midweek service that typically draws upwards of 10 people live, and others who watch later, far more than would come to a weekly midweek service at the church. Others have talked to me about how this time has been a time of reading their bible more, or a deepening of their prayer life. When it comes to serving, we have focused more on collecting items of need, on financial gifts and finding other ways of supporting those on the front lines of serving when we cannot be. All of these are examples of how the pandemic has affected our spiritual discipleship. There has been a renewal of the home as the center of our spiritual lives, supported by the Church through the various virtual offerings and other resources that have been made available. I leave you with a question: how has the pandemic changed your discipleship?
September 9, 2021
I have commented at recent baptisms that children can teach us much about faith because they see the world with fresh eyes, which in turn can bring a fresh perspective to our own understanding of faith and our relationship with God. This week I had such a lesson from my 11-year-old nephew. He loves baseball and especially playing baseball. He was very excited to be able to play this year and especially to try pitching. He proudly told us about how well he was doing and it was obvious how much he is enjoying learning this new aspect of the game. On Tuesday morning I was messaging with him after his playoff game on Monday. I knew from his father that the team had lost 2-1, but that he had pitched well when it was his turn, and had also gotten a triple late in the game that he might have been able to get home on, but the coach had held him at third base. Knowing he was disappointed with the loss, I offered him some encouragement, reminding of the positives, how well he had done personally, both pitching and hitting. I also reminded him that he won’t win every game but if he tried his best, that was what was really important. During my morning walk afterwards, it struck me that we all need to hear a similar reminder from time to time, that we will not succeed at everything we do, rather it is giving our best effort, knowing that we tried, that is really important.
At times when things do not go as we had hoped or planned, it is easy to get into the should have, would have, could have, guessing game. To wonder if we could have changed the outcome if we had done something differently. My nephew was questioning what could have happened if he had gone home instead of stopping at third base as instructed by his coach. On the one hand, he might have been safe and they would have tied or even won the game, but on the other hand, he might have been out and he would not have had the possibility of coming home on someone else’s at bat. There is no way of knowing what the outcome would have been if he had tried to go home. Now he has to learn the tough life lesson to let it go and focus on the next game, which is often hard. You have probably faced similar situations when you wondered if you could have changed the outcome if you had done something differently, had you made a different decision. We do that with relationships, with career decisions, and the one that is often the toughest, is with medical or health decisions. It is easy to look back and wonder, but none of us can go back and change the past. Like my nephew we all need to learn to accept that we did the best we could at the time, given the circumstances, and try to let go and focus on what comes next and the making the most of the present and future. If our lives are filled with regrets about what could have been, or beating ourselves up for the past, we will miss what is right in front of us, the moments that God gives today.
One of my friends has a wonderful saying, “Was it good? Was it enough? Then it was good enough.” While it would be wonderful if everything that we do is a resounding success, sometimes “Good Enough” is our best. It all comes back to doing your best, giving your all in the moment. Also, there are times in life, when our best effort is not the same as at other times because of different circumstances, but it is all we can do in that moment and that is good enough. We also cannot compare ourselves to others, what they can do and their successes, because we are not the same people with the same gifts and talents. We cannot be anyone other than ourselves, and we can only do what we are capable of. Each of us have different gifts and abilities, which lead to different accomplishments. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), each servant was given differing amounts, which produced differing results. Both of those who did their best with what they received were commended, it was only the one who hid his talent, who did not even try, that was criticized. We are called to do the best we can with what we have been given, and trust that we did enough.
This week I want to invite you to offer up to God the disappointments, the what ifs, and the regrets. May we forgive ourselves when things do not turn out the way we hoped, knowing that God has already forgiven us. May you know that you are enough, and when you have done your best may you sense God saying to you, “well done good and faithful servant.”
September 2, 2021
September 1st was World Day of Prayer for Creation, which kicked off the Season of Creation, which continues until October 4, the Feast of St. Francis. The Season of Creation is not a liturgical or church season like Advent or Lent, but a time of prayer, education and action celebrating God’s gift of creation and our commitment to its care as stewards of that gift. The first day of prayer was declared by the Orthodox Church in 1989 and through the World Council of Churches the Season was extended to its current dates. Some Anglican Church of Canada congregations have been observing it over the years, but in 2019 at General Synod (our National Governance Meeting) a resolution passed adopting the Season of Creation and encouraging dioceses and parishes to participate. While I have been aware of it, and heard mention of it in conversations with colleagues, it was not something I paid much attention to. In part because it happens at the same time with the fall start-up of programs and groups, which seems to take centerstage, pushing other things to the margins. In September 2019 I did participate and write about the Climate Change March that coincided with visit of Greta Thunberg to North America and her speech at the United Nations. That experience was a powerful one, as I shared at that time. Unfortunately, the pandemic soon took over most of our focus, once again pushing environmental concerns to the back burner. Recent Facebook posts and emails though have caught my attention, and inspired me to write about it this month, and to share some resources you might find helpful.
Creation and creation care have been an emerging issue for well over 30 years, with increasing attention as we become more aware of climate change and its devastating effects on not just the earth, but also on human life. There has been a growing awareness that we as humans, have not been good stewards of creation. There are times in our history that we have exploited the resources given to us by God, believing they were endless, and without thought to the damage we were doing to the earth from the extraction of natural resources, to the long-term effects of industrial revolution and urbanization, to the pollution and the disposable society mentality. Scientists have warned us that some of this damage is likely irreversible, and we have long heard warnings that we need to change our ways if there is any hope of saving the planet. As we see and experience the effects of climate change, including droughts, fires, and rising ocean waters that are slowly enveloping some island nations, there is no denying something is wrong and things need to change.
Change has been happening, from the reduce, reuse, recycle campaigns, the changes to factories, cars and other sources of pollution, and the conversion to more renewable sources for electricity like solar and wind, to name but a few. But we also know that positive change is happening slower than the negative changes and consequently, that we are losing the battle. As humans we know we need to change, and even more, Christian faith calls us to be good stewards of creation. We know and believe that creation is a gift from God, a gift we need to honour, cherish and care for. In recognition of this, in 2010 there was a movement within the Anglican Church of Canada to incorporate an additional question into the baptismal covenant, and in 2013 “Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?” was officially added to our baptism service. We have also seen this commitment to environment reflected in the 2019 Social Justice and Advocacy Motion in the Diocese of Toronto, which led to our parish commitment to a solar light, a new tree and a waste audit. While the pandemic slowed the course, we have completed the first two and working toward the third as part of re-opening plans. We know this is just a start, and we have far more to do as a congregation, and individually.
As for the Season of Creation this year, how can each of us take this time as an opportunity to pray, learn and act when it comes to creation care? First, we can incorporate prayers for creation into our daily prayers. Throughout this season, the Morning Prayer from the Rectory on Wednesday mornings will include different prayers with a focus on creation care. These services are live and available afterwards for one week. Second, we can seek to learn more about environmental issues, such as climate change. One resource that may be helpful is the Love of Creation, faith conversations guides, that while intended for groups have information and guided questions you can reflect on whether you are new to this conversation or have been involved in it for years. Finally, we can act, seeking to change our behaviour and to be advocates for creation. As the letter of James says, faith without deeds, that is without some tangible action, is dead. For each of us, the changes we make will be different as they reflect our own lives and situations. Being in the midst of a federal election, this is a good time to ask candidates about their party’s commitment to environmental issues. Below are links to other resources you may find informative and helpful. May we pray for God’s creation, learn more about what we can do, and take action as faithful stewards of this precious gift we have been given.
Anglican Church of Canada – Season of Creation
Ecumenical, International – Season of Creation
Canadian Ecumenical Movement (mentioned above) For the Love of Creation
August 26, 2021
In recent weeks I have heard in the news and in conversations with colleagues, the issue of the intersection of individual rights and collective responsibility— where should the one end and the other begin. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we hope, there has a been a lot of talk about where individual rights end and our collective responsibility begins, especially when it comes to recommended and required health measures like wearing masks, vaccines and even proof of vaccination. How can our Christian faith influence our perspective and behaviour?
I have a number of colleagues in the United States who are dealing with controversy around masks in public spaces from children in school, to worship attendance to entertainment venues. It is shocking to me the hostile responses that friends are encountering, as there is huge backlash against requiring masks. I am relieved that for the most part this has not been as controversial here in Canada. For me, many of the public health regulations and recommendations are about erring on the side of caution, because we don’t know who could be a carrier even if they are double vaccinated and who could possibly be infected, and the consequences for them if they are. While I suspect that few of us enjoy wearing a mask, especially on these hot and humid days, many of us recognize that it is a part of the bigger health and safety strategy. It is not about living in fear, but for me a healthy dose of precaution, when there are still so many unknowns about this virus and particularly variants.
In our context, both nationally and provincially, the hot button issue has been vaccinations and vaccination policies. We have seen our vaccination rates plateau, as the majority of those who are eligible and wish to be vaccinated have at least had their first shot and many are fully vaccinated. Now the challenge becomes reaching the other 20% or so who are eligible, who are also at the highest risk of being infected according to statistics for new infections and hospitalization. In recent weeks there have been announcements of vaccination policies for many of the public sector jobs like healthcare, education, and transportation, among others. As well, more and more venues, including sports stadiums and performance venues are requiring proof of vaccination for entry. We know that vaccines are primarily defensive, protecting us from others who could be carriers, but they are also about protecting the most vulnerable and those who cannot be vaccinated either because they are not yet eligible or because of a medical or health condition. As we begin to see rising infection rates and now hospital admissions, it is also about avoiding overwhelming the healthcare system as we have seen in previous waves and reducing disruptions to other hospital services that are already faced with long backlogs.
As we contemplate the intersection of personal rights and communal responsibility, some of the questions we are wrestling with are: Is there a point where the public good outweighs the right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated? For those not vaccinated, should there be added restrictions? Given the confidential status of health information, who has the right to ask or know about medical information such as vaccination status or the reason for a medical exemption? Should tax dollars be spent treating those who choose not be vaccinated if they are infected? Similarly, should or could insurance benefits or disability insurance claims be denied, if people choose to not be vaccinated? These are just a few of the questions I have heard posed in recent weeks. They are not easy questions, but ones that are being talked about as we try to balance personal rights and freedoms, with our collective responsibility when it comes to health and safety in this ongoing pandemic.
As Christians I believe the scales tilt toward our collective responsibility. As those made in the image God and called to seek and serve Christ in others, we are called to consider how our actions impact those around us. We know that we do not live in isolation but are part of much larger and more complex system, much like the human body. I appreciate the analogy that Paul uses of the body for the human family and the call to unity and care for each other. In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he reminds us that all parts of the body are necessary and cannot say to another for example “I don’t need you.” (1 Cor. 12:21) In fact Paul calls us to added care and attention to the “lesser” parts of the body, the ones often overlooked or seen as less honourable. In the same way, through vaccines, through adherence to public health requirement and recommendations, we are caring for each other.
As we wrestle with the issues of the day around personal freedoms and rights, and our community or collective responsibility, let us seek to honour and protect one another, loving our neighbour as ourself. Wear a mask, respect distancing, wash your hands and get vaccinated!