Faith Leaders Meet with Alberta Government Officials on COVID-19

By Helen Reed, Chinook Winds Presiding Officer

On Tuesday, March 24, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Dr Deena Hinshaw invited leaders of religious communities to attend an online Town Hall meeting. There were approximately 380 individuals on this call. Executive Minister Treena Duncan and I took part in the conversation along with several Chinook Winds Ministry Personnel. The purpose of the call was to answer questions from the faith communities about how we are living and supporting people through this health crisis.

It is apparent to me that we continue to struggle, as our whole province does, with wanting to be together and wanting to care for each other. There were questions about providing worship, preparing meals to be delivered, acknowledging the balance of caring for our community and ourselves.

What we do is “Essential Services
While a full listing of “essential services” has not been compiled Dr. Hinshaw said that, personally, she would consider what we offer is essential although we may have to find different ways of doing what we do. This time of social distancing and isolation is not a short term issue. We may find ourselves living with restrictions to make our society safe for a further two months or more.

Social distancing not short-term
While worship gatherings have not been specifically closed it was noted that the general public is struggling with social distancing and that transmission of the COVID19 disease has been found in gatherings of less than 50 people. If we are to truly be caring for our folk, I believe that we must not gather in person, even in smaller groups. This Virus does not count how many people are together before it spreads.

Easter travel not recommended
We can carry that precautionary care and compassion to our families. While it was recognized that people like to travel to visit family at Easter, Dr Hinshaw asked that people not plan to travel to visit family. “We recommend that people stay at home as much as possible, she said. “We want to limit the number of people interacting with each other at any given time.”

Gratitude for Faith Communities
We heard appreciation and gratitude for our gifts of Spiritual, Active and Charitable supports to our communities. We heard that resources continue to be developed to support Health and Mental welfare. We heard that, even for church leaders, the restrictions around self-isolation after international travel must be observed, that 2-metre social distancing must be observed – even for funerals, that hand washing is a must. The value of the charitable work that religious communities provide including meal programs and food banks was recognized. “There is a balance of risk, but we recognize people will go hungry if those programs are closed,” said Dr Hinshaw. “The risk of these programs stopping is greater than the risk of them continuing.” We heard that the provision of food and supports to the homeless can continue—but how we deliver them must change: an example is not having sit down meals and, instead, pass out prepackaged food at the door so that folk can take it with them.

Leaders in offering Compassion & Care
Much of this is not new to us. We are new to it. I encourage us to continue to be innovative in providing hope to our communities. I encourage us to do more than the bare minimum to meet the restrictions in place. They are there for the health and welfare of our communities and we need to be leaders in offering compassion and care to this corner of our world.

Call your people, offer connections online and in different ways. Let us offer that fierce love that is named in our Song of Faith that is part of the role of God’s church in the world.

Loving our neighbours. All of them. This is what we are asked to do. Together, we can do this.

With hope and faith,

Helen Reed

Presider, Chinook Winds Region
(The above photo is Helen’s Office Window)