Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Anglican Church of Canada in Crisis

According to an article in the Church of England newsletter (as reported by George Conger), the diocese of British Columbia is closing churches and is in survival mode. Note the comment by the bishop of the diocese in the final paragraph.

"The Diocese of British Columbia is “one generation away from extinction” a report prepared by a diocesan task force has warned. To save itself, the report prepared by the Diocesan Transformation Team recommended the diocese shutter 19 of its 52 congregations, and pursue a programme of transformational ministry.

Five of the redundant churches would be renamed and recreated as “hub churches” to serve the areas affected by parish closures, the Jan 25 report said.

“We have the choice at this time to be able to make the choice for a transformational change, focused on mission and where we’re going, rather than dwindling,” Bishop James Cowan told a press conference announcing the release of the report.

The recommendations will go to the March meeting of the diocesan synod for action.

“I would not say we are yet a church in crisis,” Bishop Cowan explained. “We are a church that is saying a crisis could come if we don’t act.”

In October Bishop Cowan told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation he believed the diocese would pull out of its decline if it focused on social justice issues. The September 2009 issue of the diocesan newspaper reported that average Sunday attendance had fallen from 4,955 people to 3,856 people, and the average congregation had fallen from 95 members in 2007 to 82 members in 2008. Only four of the diocese’s congregations showed a budget surplus and a growth rate in excess of 2 per cent."

They have been focusing on "social justice issues" now for 50 years with increasing intensity and the statistics in this depressing paragraph are the result. So the bishop says that the obvious strategy is to double down and do more of the same even more diligently. One gets the feeling that he says this because he honestly has nothing else to suggest - no real Gospel to preach.

Bad as it is in BC, the English-speaking diocese of Quebec is even worse off. The bishop there is openly saying that he is likely going to be the last bishop of that diocese and that the end is near. According to the Anglican Journal:

"The Anglican diocese of Quebec is “teetering on the verge of extinction” as parish finances continue to collapse and the number of parishioners dwindles.

This doom-and-gloom message was delivered to the recent Canadian House of Bishops meeting here by Bishop Dennis Drainville, who declared that he could possibly be “the last bishop of Quebec.”

Bishop Drainville urged the House of Bishops to have a “new vision” and to look at how “old relationships and structures” can be changed to respond to the needs of the times.

People are looking for three things in a church, he said: “a compassionate, caring community, a transformational relationship with God, and life-changing liturgy.” Although the Anglican church has these, “...we don’t know how to present this to society,” he said.

Quebec will not be the only diocese to falter, he warned. “There will be many other dioceses that will fail.” Bishop Drainville, who spoke at a session called “The State of the Church,” said in his diocese he has seen churches that were “unfocused, had difficulty in understanding the call of God,” and where clergy were “unengaged and felt directionless.”

He noted that a vast majority of Quebec congregations (50 of 82) virtually have no children, 35 had parishioners with an average age of 75, and usually had only 8 to 10 people attending Sunday services. “The critical mass isn’t there, there’s no money anymore,” and yet parishes want to function the way they always have. With no money coming in from parishes, “we have not paid our national assessment in church for two years,” said Bishop Drainville. 'I have no pride in that.'"

He simultaneously claims that the Church has a "transformational relationship with God" and yet also says that the churches are "unfocused" and clergy "unengaged and felt directionless." I would suggest that if they really had a living faith in Christ and a conviction that the Gospel is true, they would not feel so at sea.

The problem is that liberal social activism, a low view of biblical authority, a loss of the vivid reality of sin and the glory of the substitutionary atonement, a relativistic and mushy opinion that all religions are the same and a failure to challenge modern atheism and secularism lead to the death of the church. While this decline in liberal Protestantism has been going on, Evangelical churches in Canada have moved from being fringe elements to becoming the majority of Protestants worshiping on a given Sunday morning. Why? Not because of our great liturgy or historic buildings, but only because in Evangelical churches people meet God.

But no one should gloat over this; the loss of the Anglican Church of Canada is a heavy blow to the cause of Christ in Canada. I just pray that the remnant will find a way to reorganize and come under the authority of orthodox and evangelical bishops who will turn a corner so that the Anglican witness does not die out completely. The Anglican Church of Canada itself increasingly looks like an ecclesiastical structure that has had its candle snuffed out.


Peter Dunn said...

Thanks for your prayers. One problem for the ACC is that the most conservative parishes, such as St. Johns Shaugnessy, are under threat of having their properties seized by the diocese if they don't fall in line with the liberal orthodoxy. In my view this is nothing less than repeat of the 1st century persecution of the church(Heb 10.32-34): "But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one" (RSV). Real persecution of Christians is alive and well in Canada.

Yet it is very clear that conservative parishes like the one to which I belong, were the top contributors to the dioceses and the General Synod: yet the ACC is actively offending and persecuting the top contributors. They are cutting off the nose to spite the face. I laughed allowed at this line, "he believed the diocese would pull out of its decline if it focused on social justice issues." You are exactly right that this is not the solution but has contributed to the downward cycle.

Tom said...

I recently attended a service at a UCC congregation where the pastor said in her sermon that since the United Church is going to die anyway they may as well toss their money at their favourite social issues. This approach makes more sense than that of the bishop.

Craig Carter said...

That is an amazing quote - brutally honest and a pithy statement of what a person could be thinking that would make them stay in that sinking ship. It makes sense.