Yesterday, facing a sharp increase in the number of active COVID-19 cases in the province and the prospect of overwhelmed ICUs, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced a sweeping set of new health restrictions. These include a form of a “vaccine passport” which limits access to “discretionary businesses” (like restaurants) to only vaccinated persons (on a voluntary basis), as well as extending mask and physical distancing mandates and limiting churches to 1/3 of fire code capacity.
Here is a modified version of a letter I wrote to my congregation today.
Dear brothers and sisters,
By now most of you are probably aware that the Alberta government has imposed a new round of health restrictions in response to rising COVID-19 cases and the critical state of hospital ICUs and critical care wards.
I know that this announcement has caused frustration and anger in our midst. I also know that the health situation that provoked the announcement has caused fear and anxiety in our midst.
My hope and prayer is that these trying times are yet another reminder to us, as “sojourners and exiles,” that our hope and our peace is not and cannot be in our earthly circumstances. Rather, we have peace in Christ, who reminds us that “in this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). As the Psalmist asked, rhetorically: “Why should I fear in times of trouble?….God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Ps. 49:5, 15). Like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, who were “seeking a homeland” and yet were “not thinking of that land from which they had gone out”, we as Christian believers, too, “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:14-16).
And so my pastoral exhortation to you all is that now, especially, in our fellowship together—as we worship together on Sundays, as we pray for one another throughout the week, as we continue to meet one-on-one or as families to encourage and exhort one another—let’s strive, by God’s grace, to give one another (and, God willing, give newcomers and visitors), in our own midst, a foretaste of the peaceful and loving life that will characterize that “better country” and that “city,” the “New Jerusalem” of the church (Rev. 21:2; cf. Eph. 5:29-32).
Let’s show our love for one another both before a fearful and chaotic watching world, and also before “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).
How will we do that, especially when there are different opinions about and responses to this new situation even in our own church family? By putting the self-sacrificial long-suffering that lies at the heart of the Gospel on display for the world to see: “walk[ing]…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:1-2). By “bear[ing] one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). By “rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). In short: by being the church.
Changes to Services
In light of the government’s announcement, here is how our services and activities are affected. We will continue to run our adult and children’s Sunday School, our 10:30 AM service, and the new 4 PM evening service. We will have to space out the chairs again and maintain physical distancing. And yes, we’re back to masks for the time being.
I’ll close with Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church, which is my pastoral prayer for you all:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.