As I write this in late April, the crisis created by the global COVID-19 pandemic has all of us adjusting to new realities. Many people are working from home, others are attempting to help their children continue their education from their living rooms and some are doing both. Frontline workers, from health-care staff to grocery store employees, find themselves adjusting to new practices and risks in their workplaces. Parish leaders are discovering new ways of connecting virtually with their communities, while churches and other agencies are establishing new processes for providing vital services to their communities.
We are all being impacted by this crisis; however, we are not all affected in the same way. The onset of this pandemic has laid bare some of the ways particular communities of people in Canada and around the world have been left especially vulnerable to the impacts of this disease and the economic and social upheavals that have come with it. These inequities are not simply tragic accidents, but rather are the result of years and indeed decades of policy decisions that have created systemic barriers that prevent some members of our communities from being as safe from the health, social and economic impacts of this pandemic as others are.
From the lack of clean water and sufficient health-care services in many Indigenous communities in Canada, to the housing and shelter crisis in municipalities across the country, to the dearth of protections for low-income seniors in long-term care and the vulnerabilities of incarcerated people, COVID-19 has provided a stark reminder of the many ways that the policies of our governments make life more precarious for so many. While much attention, rightly, has been focused on addressing the immediate impacts of this crisis (and many of our parishes have played a key role in this), we also need to begin to refocus on these systemic issues—which go well beyond those I have listed here—so that we can begin to improve policy in a way that will help to save lives, now and into the future.
The Fourth Mark of Mission calls us all to “seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” For decades advocates, including many Anglicans and other people of faith, have been working to change many of the policies which contribute to the suffering we are seeing now, but such changes require a real shift in the political will of everyone to prioritize the well-being of all the members of our communities.
Starting now, and continuing once we are able to return to some sense of normalcy, we need to clearly and consistently call our leaders to account for the decisions they make on our behalf and to remind ourselves that we can do better as a society. My hope is that, in coming out of this crisis, we might all focus our energy on building the world we want to see and be a part of, the world God calls us, over and over again in scripture, to create. Together we can build the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Ryan Weston is the Anglican Church of Canada’s lead animator for public witness for social and ecological justice.