February 4, 2021
Rev. Dr. Aaron Rock
Rev. Dr. Joseph Boot
c/o 2001 Spring Garden Rd.
Windsor, ON N9E 3P8
Hon. Premier Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
Dear Premier Ford:
We are grateful for the ongoing efforts of medical professionals caring for persons infected with COVID-19, and of course all the other illnesses they treat on a daily basis. Thankfully, we are all now aware that the vast majority of people who are hospitalized with this disease are the very elderly or possess other serious comorbidities. Whilst all lives are precious and we should mourn the loss of any life, this disease profile should inspire hope in our communities that those under 65 and the vast majority of all healthy people in all age groups are highly unlikely to suffer any significant effects should they contract this virus, meaning that our energies can be directed to focused protection of the most vulnerable.
As pastors, we are responsible for the holistic health of our congregations and are experts in what it means to care for the totality of a person and indeed families as a whole. We love our people far more than any well-intentioned bureaucrat and have taken all reasonable steps to mitigate viral transmission in our churches. As such, we are grateful to have witnessed zero deaths and no serious illness in the churches we serve. That being said, we are also responsible to minister to the spiritual, mental, emotional, social and financial needs of our people. The continued lockdown of churches makes this virtually impossible. Forcing people to watch a church ‘event’ on a screen reduces our ministry to lonely digital spectatorship (for those that even have this technology and know-how) and does not meaningfully meet the needs of our people or conform to any historical understanding of the meaning of the church and divine service. Lockdowns also blatantly violate the consciences of Christians who are obligated by God and holy scripture to meet physically (incarnationally rather than merely observationally) for worship, to celebrate the sacraments, anoint the sick, ordain leaders into office, practice church discipline, marry, counsel and bury our dead. Frankly, some of our people have fallen back into addictions, have contemplated suicide, are out of money, are mired in despair and have been admitted to psychiatric care centres due to the lockdown. As such, we are writing to express our gravest moral, spiritual, juridical and constitutionally grounded objection to the continued lockdown of churches in Ontario. Healthy church life increases the overall health of people and takes the strain from hospitals by ministering to the whole person. As your medical advisors will no doubt be aware, numerous studies have demonstrated that a devout and active faith-life increases overall health and life expectancy and has even been observed to speed recovery from illness.
The two of us as influential leaders in large Christian communities have previously provided leadership to several initiatives for the benefit of over 500 churches across the province including the Reopen Ontario Churches campaign last spring, the drafting of the Niagara 2020 Declaration and a new collaborative initiative composed of clergy, lawyers, small business owners and politicians known as the Liberty Coalition Canada. We have partnered with a broad array of churches and synagogues across the province and are in regular correspondence with Members of the Provincial Legislature, Federal MP’s and other officials who are supportive of the reopening of places of worship with reasonable guidelines. We believe that, in keeping with our national history, special allowances must be made for people to enter places of worship, regardless of war, plague or social unrest. When the current lockdown ends on February 9th we are asking, indeed we are insisting sir, that no further lockdown restrictions be placed on churches in any region. Our Christian communities are looking to you, as the person we helped ensure was elected to government, to ensure our religious freedoms are respected and upheld.
We believe it is in the best interest of your government to adopt the stances of countries in comparable jurisdictions like England and the Netherlands, as well as various US states, that have all recognized the necessity of houses of worship remaining open, upholding their constitutional freedoms and their essential nature for the health of their citizens. In England, under a current national lockdown, a country much harder hit by the virus than Ontario, churches are fully open with only social distancing mandates required.
Your government should be cognizant of the fact that a significant and growing number of Ontario church leaders are not prepared to accept further lockdown restrictions and are planning to resume worship one way or another on a date after February 9th, regardless of the consequences, fines or penalties imposed. While we respect and appreciate our government and have no desire to be defiant, church leaders are obligated by God to respond to the desperation of their congregations if they are to lead responsibly and with integrity. We are confident that the reopening of places of worship will only benefit the overall health of Ontario’s citizens.
As we did with your office last spring, we are again willing to meet with a delegation from your government to negotiate a safe reopening strategy that will mitigate against further distress and damage to tens of thousands of parishioners across the province.
Rev. Dr. Joseph Boot
Rev. Dr. Aaron Rock
cc: Lisa D.S. Bildy, JD, BA
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