Toronto reverses course on vaccine rules for churches

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“… At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores…”  – Luke 16:20-21

Dear Friends:

We read in Scripture, and particularly in the parables of Jesus, that God cares about how we extend the hand of welcome – regardless of other people’s circumstances or status. We believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of inclusion. “All are welcome,” we say, and we mean it.

How that looks in practice can be challenging in our current circumstances of a global heath crisis.

In September, the College of Bishops made the prayerful discernment that in order to be fully inclusive, to allow every person access to worship and to gather at the Table, we would NOT be requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for entry to our services. Instead, we continue with our safety precautions, including masking, distancing and refraining from singing, to allow everyone who wishes to attend church to do so. By not turning away people at the door, we demonstrate our belief that the corporate worship of Almighty God is a way and necessity of life for all, not an optional leisure activity like going to the movies or a restaurant.

But it has been pointed out to us that, due to our welcome of the unvaccinated, some other people have now been unintentionally excluded because they are immuno-compromised. These are individuals who cannot attend church or any public place where the unvaccinated may be present, as they are especially vulnerable, despite being themselves vaccinated. Their exclusion was never our intention.

To that end, we have heard the request from some parishes to offer services with a vaccine mandate, requiring proof of vaccination for entry.

After much discussion, consultation and prayer, the College of Bishops has consented to permit parishes to institute a new worship service – outside of their existing and continuing schedule of services – that requires proof of vaccination to attend. It is the College’s expectation that these restricted-entry services will be the exception to our worship offerings, and not the norm.

If your parish decides to offer such a service, there are clear guidelines from the Province on how to check vaccination status at the door. These must be strictly followed.

Restricted-entry services must be clearly publicized as such in advance, and your regular open-access options – existing Sunday and mid-week services, and any online offerings (if applicable) – advertised well. We want to minimize the number of people being refused entry. Those worshippers who cannot provide proof of vaccination and are refused access at restricted-entry services should be warmly encouraged to attend those regular services where they will be welcome.

While government regulations allow for full-capacity attendance when proof of vaccination is checked, we recommend that physical distancing continue to be maintained for restricted-entry services. Masks continue to be mandatory indoors regardless of service type. (The only exception is for an individual giving spoken liturgical leadership, at a 4m distance from others.) Please continue to use our Amber Stage Guidelines for all other protocols even if you are requiring proof of vaccination.

Every parish must continue its regular schedule of services and welcome all who wish to join them, regardless of their vaccination status. No parish is obliged to institute a restricted-entry service.

We commend and encourage all those parishes that are continuing to offer online worship in addition to in-person services, as these options offer the most flexibility to the whole community, allowing everyone to make informed personal choices for their participation in the worship life of the Church.