The Future of our Faith




                               by Kenneth Bagnell



   I was surprised a few weeks ago, when someone – I know not — sent me a document which underlines the decline of the churches but in particular The Anglican Church of Canada. Its basic message was a rather distressing sentence: “By any measurable standard the Anglican Church of Canada is in serious decline with little hope that the numbers can or will be reversed in the foreseeable future…” It struck me as a bit patronizing when it takes a position that’s so high handed: “In one diocese after another the third largest denomination is declining, its demise now almost certain as it focuses on a host of social justice issues to the neglect of evangelism, discipleship and church planting. The Anglican Church of Canada which is squeamishly shy about publishing how many people attend its churches, has published no complete statistics for membership and average Sunday attendance since 2001….” Okay, okay! Obviously it’s both patronizing and high handed But when I looked at the source that presented it: Guess what it its name is? Global Orthodox Anglicanism! How do we know it’s theologically credible?

      I’m fully aware of declining church statistics of the established Protestant Church pretty well everywhere. I have United Church figures on the wall of my study but that’s not the point. It’s the rude confrontation of the apparently self-governed segment of Anglicanism when it is facing numerical decline. These are not historic Anglicans, they are an offshoot, mostly of fundamentalists, who operate in opposition to a long and well established Protestant denomination: The Anglican Church. Who in the world are these presumptuous people based on apparently primitive allegations against an historic faith and its noble character and purpose. Thomas Jefferson, the renowned American President of the early 1800s, recognized that in confidence and so should all of us: “I never considered a difference of opinion in religion as cause for withdrawing from friends.” That applies to verbal assault on the integrity and historic principles of The Anglican Church of which I’m not a member but a friendly supporter.

    To many of us who are friends of Canada’s Anglican Church, we should be more aware of the eccentric movement, which is largely an American movement and usually called The Global Orthodox Anglican Church. Given the ancient years in which the already existing Anglican Church was formed, it’s somewhat awkward to me. After all, “The Church of England” didn’t “naturally conform” with the sudden birth of a small new movement, which was actually formed well after the origin of history’s Anglican communion. Nonetheless, the affiliation of the somewhat unqualified founders of Global Orthodox Anglicanism, has become woven into the Anglican practice and faith. A few Anglican members slowly shake their heads but it’s now woven into the historic and very faithful Anglicanism.

    I’ve had fine friends in the Anglican faith, including some who, decades ago, gave thought that Canada’s Anglican Church and the United Church of Canada, might become one. In fact, back in the year of 1970, I had returned to Halifax, to take on a season’s term of CBC television’s six o’clock host. It was distinct back then that the possibility of a union between the Anglican and United Churches was being considered across the country. Two ministers, one Anglican, one United, travelled from Toronto to the Maritimes and hence were willingly booked to be interviewed by the host, which was me.

      My memory, as I grow older, is far from excellent, but what I do sense was the comradeship that was binding them as serious colleagues, speaking to the public with a calm but positive approach. Both were affirming the idea, with care and calm. But nothing came from it. Now, almost fifty years later, there is no talk about union. It’s very important to know that the passive situation we now see, has nothing whatever to do with “rejection” of the other or “indifference” to the concept. They were in intellectual terms, ecumenical. But the seriousness and probable contention over theology, along with the many provocative church members, were too strong.

       In any case, both faith cultures, have declined in membership, some seriously.  The United Church, obviously back then favorable to a union, began to slip in membership and all the problems that come when any organization is weakening radically. One or two references for the denominations will speak for itself and you will realize that, institutionally speaking, they are not very strong these days or for the days to come. The United Church reached its largest membership in 1965, when it had a membership of 1,064,033. I’m truly sorry to say that by 2016 it had dropped to become 413,717. It has continued in that direction.

   Obviously you wonder how strong our Anglican parishes are. Honestly I wish I did not know. But the document that reached me a couple of weeks ago, contains not numbers, but happenings. I apologize but in journalism, that in the field, we level with the readers. I decided to do so. The document that I received a bit late for whatever reason, shocked me.  Here, briefly are relevant facts that precede the rather dire circumstances in various Diocese. Just a few will speak for the broad painful situation:

(1)      The Diocese of Huron: “The Diocese is experiencing closures, building sales, amalgamations and more. A gloomy picture is emerging from the diocese: there are too many buildings, too few people, and too many congregations that cannot pay for their priest or maintain their building….”

(2)      The Diocese of Algoma: “Last August the Diocese of Algoma approved the closing of 16 churches… that’s 16 churches out of a total of 35, or 45 percent in the Muskoka area… I think it’s fair to conclude that an organization that closes 45 % of its outlets is tottering on the brink of extinction, writes Samizdat…”

(3)      Finally, the Diocese of Toronto: “Within the Toronto Diocese, there are now many examples of parishes established years ago that no longer fit their community needs. The symptoms show up in declining attendance and shrinking financial resources…The church is doing particularly badly in areas where there is a young population, ethnic diversity or a population working in blue collar industry. The diocese of Toronto faces a stark reality: grow or die…”

     There’s more: Quebec, Algoma, Niagara, British Columbia and so on. Enough I guess, but I must commend the lay members of the Anglican Church. I approve the Anglican people for being candid to us all and I wish them a positive opportunity as time goes on.  How very appropriate it is that my memory harbors an old refrain from a fine man, the late John  MacCain who is lying in state. It should appeal to us now more than ever. “I consider myself a Christian,” Mr. McCain said years ago, “And for that I want to say my faith has sustained me in very difficult times.” May we never forget him or what he has said to us in that reference. I hope it’s meaningful for you. We all must face it for we are destined to meet it.