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Advice for the fall: Stay nimble, think local

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By on September 1, 2021

Sept. 12 is a Back to Church Sunday like no other. And after the long hard trudge through the pandemic and so much time confined to home, going back to gathering is a change that has many people feeling both joy and some anxiety. 

Fortunately, the Diocese has the advice of the Rev. Michael Garner, the associate incumbent of St. Thomas the Apostle Church as well as an epidemiologist, who worked as an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada for 13 years. He answered a few COVID-related questions for Crosstalk in late July: 

The Rev. Michael Garner
The Rev. Michael Garner cautions against vaccine passports within the church.

I think the challenge is assessing where people are at. There is what is safe versus what people are sort of ready to tolerate and the perception of risk that will be the challenging thing in the fall, plus the Delta variant and how that emerges in Canada. … It likely will, so what I said to the Bishop was we can move to yellow, but we still need to be ready to move back to amber, hopefully not, but it’s this nimbleness we need to continue to have.

People are going to be able to start singing in yellow, which I think is really great…It is very context dependent. We’ve put in [a requirement] that 75% of the choir needs to be vaccinated. Well, some choirs may decide that 90% or 100% is where they are at and that’s okay…. Understand[ing] your local situation and what’s going to work best there has been part of the approach that we have had. We will tell you the minimum, but you can do more and be more cautious and that’s okay.

Could parishes ask people about their vaccinations, for example, before communion?

I’m pretty adamant that we can’t do a vaccine passport or that sort of thing within the church. I am pro all of the ways that the government and businesses may push vaccination levels as high as possible…The challenge for church as a slightly unique entity is that people who are of more challenged circumstances, say people who just don’t have access yet to the vaccine because of their work schedule, and certainly we see an income disparity, people who are wealthier have better access to the vaccine, so we wouldn’t want to exclude someone who legitimately hasn’t been able to access it yet. 

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