March 26 clarification after publishing: Ontario churches CAN stream worship from their buildings
On March 23 the Ontario government announced the closure of all but essential workplaces. Church buildings (other than some community services that may fall under the social services category) were not named as essential, and therefore Ontario church buildings need to be closed. We interpret this as not allowing even a small number of people in the church to provide virtual worship.
This does not stop creative ways of connecting with members and worshipping together. Online worship can still be offered from the homes of worship leaders using technology. Ministers and others in the faith community can also stay connected with one another through social media, telephone, and the variety of technological options available.
Buildings can still be entered by the custodian, other designated staff, or a volunteer to check heating, water, and so on, but no work can be done from the church. We know this is yet another abrupt swerve in this crisis, but clergy and staff have shown great imagination as they move online. On behalf of The United Church of Canada, thank you to all the employees and ministry personnel who continue to pastorally care for people.
This note relates specifically to the legal requirements now in place in Ontario. Churches in other provinces and territories should check their respective government websites on their status under emergency/essential service rules. We are advised that in at least one other jurisdiction, provincial leaders have likened worship leaders to teachers. Students are not to attend school, but teachers are allowed in the building to teach online. With this interpretation, it would be permissible for a small number of people to go into the church building to provide an online service.
It is important to keep up to date on the directives from your provincial and territorial governments and public health officials. Having said that, clearly it may be time for church leaders everywhere in Canada to look for options that do not involve even a small number of people coming together from different households to lead worship, even where social distancing is practised. It seems that week by week, and day by day, more is learned about the threat the coronavirus poses, and it is especially important that worship leaders care for their own health and that of their families.
A national webinar is coming soon for worship leaders to share ideas about online worship and other ways to stay connected.
We remember now, as always, that God is with us and we are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Nora Sanders, General Secretary
The United Church of Canada