Reflections on the new life of the Primate
A few years ago, “zoom-zoom” referred to a Mazda car commercial. Today people are more likely to think of an online screen filled with small squares of virtual people holding a meeting. In the Anglican Church of Canada, this is especially true for all of the bishops and the Primate!
Prior to the imposed isolation, my calendar was filled with travel to different parts of Canada to share in parish and diocesan celebrations, present the Award of Merit to last year’s recipients, and meet with diocesan leaders, clergy and parishioners to talk about their mission and ministry. Suddenly I was confined to home in London, Ont., with my cat, feeling disconnected and unsure what I could and should do now.
Over these past weeks a new rhythm of life and ministry has emerged—and with it, reflections on what the future might hold. First, many activities prior to COVID-19 have been transformed into virtual meeting opportunities. Church House staff meet regularly online to continue the work General Synod is called to fulfill. This even includes a weekly coffee break to stay in touch with one another in our relationships and share coping strategies. It is good to see and hear colleagues, though it can be mentally exhausting to engage online for hours every day. We are learning to pace meetings, provide breaks and even have online breakout groups for discussion. Our technological learning curve is steep, but new skills are being mastered!
I have had opportunities to share in live and recorded online worship. It is a new experience to speak or preach to a congregation you cannot see, and I do miss the cues that come from the community when we worship together. On other Sundays I have joined communities in different parts of Canada for worship, enjoying the creativity of the clergy and laity, though I do look forward to singing together when we are able to again.
We are all missing other aspects of our sacramental heritage. Sharing of the Eucharist, confirmations, weddings and even funerals have been postponed or, where permitted, celebrated with only with a few people. And now the consecrations of new bishops have been affected—either proceeding with only the canonically required three bishops present (and no one else) or being postponed to a time when gatherings are permitted. All of these are moments for community celebration that cannot find a home online.
I have discovered other ways to participate in the life of the church across the country. Through an invitation to the bishops, I offered to share in classes, clergy gatherings or worship in whatever way would be helpful. I was pleased to be invited to join several confirmation classes, a young-adult program and a youth interns’ meeting, and to preach in congregations during Sunday worship, including Easter at Christ’s Church Cathedral, diocese of Niagara. When possible, online questions and discussion are a particular delight as I listen to the remarkable journeys of faith revealed through the dialogue. More invitations always welcome!
Being at home daily has required new disciplines for self-care in isolation. I try to go for a daily walk to refresh my soul in the fresh air, hear the birds promising this winter really will end and breathe in the rhythms of creation. I have more time to sit quietly and pray. Music is always a key part of nurturing my soul, so more time to play piano or flute has been a gift, returning to my favourite composers—especially J.S. Bach. And I continue as staff to my cat, who is very contented that staff are available 24 hours a day and that meals appear on time in this new, consistent routine. I do worry about his reaction when the routine changes again! Cats have unique ways of expressing their displeasure (often unpleasant for the staff!).
I am also thinking about what happens when our isolation restrictions are lifted. I know we will value our relationships deeply. I expect we will not return to the way we functioned before COVID-19. Online meetings may well continue for some kinds of work. Working from home may be possible for more people than previously thought—or at least part of the time. Reducing our travel for the sake of the planet and the budget will need to be considered.
It is good to know that we have been able to adapt, that we are more flexible and creative in responding to this crisis than we might have expected! I know that everyone has had to change their habits, adjust to disruptions, endure unruly hair styles growing out, learn new skills online, be a neighbour in new ways and generally live with many uncertainties. We are building resilience—a quality that strengthens us for the future.
We are a people of hope in Christ. I discovered that I can adapt to a radically different way of connecting and working—and that I can see God at work in new ways. I hope and pray that you are discovering the same!