COVID-19 Response: Message from the Principal

Stephen Andrews
March 17th

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. Psalm 91: 5-6.

I am writing to you at an extraordinary time at the College. The coronavirus is making its exponential assault around the globe as governments implement ever more stringent policies in order to retard the spread of the disease.

And so, here on 5 Hoskin Avenue, we have initiated drastic measures. We have closed our classrooms, and have begun to teach out the remaining three weeks of the term by videoconference. The first class of about thirty happened yesterday morning, and I understand that both students and their professor were satisfied with the level of engagement. I want to say how grateful I am to our skilled IT team and to our intrepid faculty for their dedication and willingness to adapt. I also want to acknowledge our indebtedness to the many benefactors who made it possible for us to develop our technological infrastructure. The ability to offer classes remotely has been a real asset in making our teaching accessible to a few students, but we never thought that it would become essential for the entire school.

Within the College we have implemented restrictions aimed at minimising the number of non-residents allowed in the building, and we have stepped up the cleaning procedures in the common areas. Staff and faculty have been asked to remain at home, and we are learning how to meet by telephone and online. A town hall gathering for the residents was held on Saturday, and it featured a panel of medical people which included an epidemiologist from New York who was brought in by video. The session helped ease some fears and gave clarity on what residents could do to protect themselves and others. A number of residents have returned home.

Our students continue to impress me. This past Sunday, as many of you know, the local Anglican churches were closed to corporate worship by the directive of our bishop. So, our resourceful students assembled in the Chapel for their own service. Their worship was complete with a sermon and hymns! During this period of isolation, we will continue to hold informal Chapel services where students can gather to pray and hear God’s Word. And we are broadcasting these daily services on the Wycliffe College Students’ Facebook page. It is inspiring to see our community continue to care for one another.

As we begin to learn to live differently, it is all becoming more real. Last week had an almost apocalyptic quality to it. Voices in the medical community were calling for aggressive measures in the face of this unseen and, for most of us, unfelt foe, and one might almost have expected to witness a gathering darkness on the horizon. But this week we are trying to do our part to try to “flatten” the curve of infection in the hopes that, perhaps by May, we might resume our “normal” lives. But much remains uncertain, including what “normal” will actually look like when this threat is past. Will our hygienic consciousness ever return to what it was? What will be the long-term economic effect of this crisis?

What we hope we shall not return to is an all-too-prevalent sense of complacency. Our self-sufficiency and our confidence in the advances of science and medicine have led us to take things like community and personal health for granted. These times call for increased vigilance not only for our own safety, but for the safety of others. It is not just a fear of contracting an illness that enforces our “social distancing,” but also the fear that we may be unwitting vectors of disease.

Many, of course, are asking where God is in this pandemic. Christians have always understood that we live in a disordered natural world, a world that mirrors our own resistance to God’s good purposes. And yet, we are confident that these good purposes will ultimately triumph, for we have seen them at work in the raising of Jesus from the dead. Therefore, “thou shalt not be afraid for the pestilence that walketh in darkness”, proclaims the psalmist. Let us continue to pray for courage and for the eyes to see God at work as we face future uncertainty. And let us inquire after one another’s welfare as we continue to exhort each other to keep the faith. In these days of isolation and through the technological means available to us, let us be persistent in connecting with others, with those we love, with those who are neglected, with those who are fearful. And this includes those outside our Christian family.

As many in our secular culture seek to quell a rising panic, they will perhaps turn to God. And we must be prepared to come alongside them, offering them hope as we point them to Jesus Christ. This is not the first time the Church has faced plague and pestilence. As early as the third century, Christians in Carthage rallied to the aid of the sick in an epidemic that swept through North Africa and the whole of the Roman Empire. “Many of us are dying,” wrote Bishop Cyprian, but the devotion of the Christians braving anti-Christian persecution and willing to risk their own health for the welfare of their neighbours also won many to Christ.

Just so, may the trials of our day bring out a supernaturally-inspired compassion within us. For, as Tertullian claimed, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. “Only look,” they say, “Look how they love one another!”’ (Apology 39).

With every good wish for health and wholeness,

+Stephen

For the latest updates on Wycliffe College's response to the coronavirus situation, please visit wycliffecollege.ca/coronavirus.