Eastern dioceses roll out COVID-19 telephone care lines

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Canon Leo Martin, priest in the diocese of Fredericton, reaches out to people who have requested a call through the diocese's Listening Ear & Prayer Line program. Photo: Contributed

As the COVID-19 pandemic leaves Canadians increasingly anxious and uncertain, new telephone-based care lines are helping Anglican clergy offer prayers and a listening ear.

On March 25, the Care & Prayer Line for the diocese of Fredericton went live. Now billed as A Listening Ear & Prayer Line, the service allows anyone in the diocese to fill out an online request form on the diocesan website. That person will then receive a phone call from an Anglican cleric who will listen to their concerns and offer spiritual guidance or prayer if requested.

There are currently 13 Anglican clergy in the diocese who have each volunteered an hour of their time, making the ministry available daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The Ven. Cathy Laskey, episcopal archdeacon, says the idea for the care line emerged in part from the recognition by the diocese that crisis phone lines and other organizations were likely seeing a rise in the volume of calls—a trend they expect to continue amid the enforced period of quarantine and self-isolation.

“Isolation is a difficult thing for many people…. If we can fill a gap and help in some way, that’s what our goal is,” Laskey says.

“People are already full of fear. I even hear people full of hope too, in seeing where opportunities are in this situation and how we can learn from this situation. And people are asking the spiritual questions…trying to make sense and wondering from a spiritual aspect, what does this current situation mean? How do we navigate through it?”

The Listening Ear & Prayer Line is designed to help anyone in need, she adds.

“It is meant for beyond the Anglican community, because it’s realized that there are many people that don’t have a faith connection,” Laskey says. “If they can talk to somebody, then all the better.”

The Rev. Jasmine Chandra listens on the diocese of Fredericton’s care line. Photo: Contributed

With the care line in its early stages, there is still plenty of room for the concept to evolve. The online request form became necessary in the diocese of Fredericton because its phone system is currently being upgraded; Laskey acknowledges that the online form is not ideal for those without easy Internet access, but is hopeful that requests will be phone-based in the future.

The idea of the care line has already started to catch on in other dioceses.

In the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, parish vitality coordinator Lisa Vaughan expressed interest after hearing about the care line. The diocese of Fredericton responded by sending her all of their organizational documents showing step-by-step how they created the Listening Ear & Prayer Line.

At the time of writing, Vaughan was discussing the possibility of a similar effort in the diocese of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. with Archbishop Ron Cutler.

“This could be a really great missional model for us to connect with people pastorally…. There’s certainly lots of need,” Vaughan says.

“There may be folks who are struggling with depression…. This may be something that triggers some trauma, some memories and brings up a lot of fear. They may be really looking for someone with an unbiased perspective who can talk with them.”

The diocese of Quebec is currently rolling out its own COVID-19 Care Line, basing it largely off the diocese of Fredericton “template.” It too includes an online request form on the diocesan website, followed by a call from an Anglican cleric.

Bishop Bruce Myers notes that Anglicans in the ecclesiastical province of Canada had been in regular contact since the start of the pandemic, with the provincial house of bishops holding two video conferences in the last two weeks.

The care lines, Myers says, are “an example of how we’re able to learn from each other…. Part of what’s happening just organically is we’re each sharing best practices—or if we’re not intentionally sharing them, we’re at least putting them out there so that people can see what we’re each trying to do in our own particular context…and to try and adapt them to our own situations.”

Since the vast majority of people in Quebec are francophones, Myers is hoping that the diocese will be able to offer the COVID-19 Care Line in both English and French. Ideally, clerics would be able to respond to requests within a day or two.

“We’re trying to be clear: this is for anybody,” Myers says.

“You don’t need to be an Anglican. You don’t need to be a Christian. You don’t need to have any religious affiliation whatsoever, because as we all know, this pandemic is transcending every line of division. It’s not discriminatory at all, and so in that same spirit, we want to be available to whoever might benefit from just somebody on the other end of a phone for a few minutes, or a text message exchange, or something similar.”

“It’s a small gesture,” he adds. “I’m hoping it’s a meaningful gesture…. If it helps just one or two people get through a difficult moment, a difficult day, a difficult week in the midst of this incredibly challenging and trying time—then it will certainly have been worth the effort.”

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Matt Gardner
Matt Gardner is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Gardner worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Gardner has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He will continue to support corporate communications efforts during his time at the Journal.

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