Thursday, August 30, 2007

Planning study for the ACC Ottawa Diocese

A few weeks ago, I had a post about proposed downsizing in the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. The news story followed the release of a study commissioned by the diocese, to assess present conditions, parish-by-parish, and propose recommendations.

The study itself is now online. It's lengthy, but there are some interesting things in it. (You need the most up-to-date version of Acrobat Reader to open it.)

Demographics are a big issue, and the final 50 pages of the report are full of graphs, maps and tables showing how population trends in the geographic area covered compare with the number of Anglicans on parish rolls. It makes for grim reading. Basically, where population is falling, Anglican numbers are falling faster, and where population is rising, Anglicans are still falling.

By the way, I find it very confusing that the study uses the term "diocese" to describe both the Anglican adherents within the area AND the complete population of the entire geographic area, whether Anglican or not.
The population of the diocese grew from 1.287 million people in 1991 (273,349 in Quebec and 1.014 in Ontario) to 1.437 in 2001 (330,072 in Quebec and 1.132 in Ontario). In 2006 the population grew further to 1.509 million people (330,072 in Quebec and 1.179 million in Ontario). The diocese overall in growing by 20,000 people annually. In 2021 the population of the diocese is estimated to reach 1.803 million (371,065 in Quebec, and 1.432 in Ontario).

It just seems a clumsy way of writing. Surely "the diocese" is ONLY the people who are members of the church, not everyone who happens to live inside the geographic boundaries. I'd have though "catchment area" would have been a better term.

One thing I learned was that there are several six-point parishes in the diocese. Now, 3 of the "points" are tiny chapels that only open one day a year, so it's not as if some poor clergyman is desperately racing about to 6 different locations every Sunday, but still. I can't see much to argue with when it comes to the churches recommended for closure. I mean, look at Christ Church, Maniwaki:
Average Sunday attendance 1991: 9
Average Sunday attendance 2005: 0
Percentage of population aged 60+: 100%
There were a few churches (chapels, really) where the recommendation was cold-blooded but almost funny:
Greenmount, Charteris and Bristol should be closed permanently. In Charteris, it is important that all Anglican signage be removed from the location immediately. The location has deteriorated to the point that it is detrimental to the Anglican image in the community.

The church in Deux Riviere is in very poor condition. A tree branch has caused damage to the roof, and the interior ceiling is falling through in one corner. The front doors are in very poor shape. This is a family chapel and though it is not costing the diocese any money to keep it open, the poor condition of the building is eroding perception of the Anglican Church. This location needs to be closed and Anglican signs removed as soon as possible.
Despite the British heritage, we just don't do picturesque ruins here in Canada.

Speaking of which, there's a section on pages 28-29 that hints a little at one of the troubles assailing the Anglican Church. The number of people claiming "British" as an ethnic identity on census forms has dropped by half. This doesn't mean that all the Brits have died off or moved away; the form was changed in the intervening years, and now people who in the past might have ticked off "British" can now choose "Canadian" as an ethnicity. A lot of those former "Brits" would have been Anglicans, but as they've shed traces of their history, they've dropped the church affiliation as well. It obviously isn't an exact equation that British background=Anglican, but there's enough of a connection that the study points out that the western part of the diocese was more populated by people of British descent, while the eastern part has had more people with French background (and hence the stronger Roman Catholic presence there). It's not a coincidence that the western rural areas used to be strongly Anglican.

Though the recommended church closings got the press attention, I think the most controversial recommendation was the one about starting up a French-language Anglican ministry in the Quebec section of the diocese.

Another great challenge facing the Anglican Church is its ability to reach other cultures. Membership continues to be a predominantly British culture. The Ottawa Diocese is unique in that it spans two provinces, Quebec and Ontario, and therefore, the challenge of doing ministry in a French and English culture needs to be addressed. (There is no "French and English culture". There is French culture and there is English culture, and the people who belong to each often get along very well, but it's just phony government boosterism that pretends that there exists some sort of third "hybrid" culture that combines both.) There is very little evidence of French culture in the diocese. The website is in English. (The language of the people in the church. I've always heard that it's courteous to speak to people in their own language.) Part of the sparsely populated Quebec section of the diocese has been cut off the map. (Maybe because nobody lives there, and there are no roads leading up into the wilderness.) There are only two churches in the diocese with bilingual signage. Even in Quebec there is very little evidence of the French culture. The Quebec churches are predominantly British congregations, and moreover, with the exception of Chelsea and Wakefield where there is an influx of British population, the existing churches all serve an aging British population. (You say that as if it were a bad thing!)
It's good someone comes right out and says it - the Anglican Church here in Canada is what it always has been - a church of people with a British background, either by birth or adoption. It's not an international smorgasbord of different cultures, like the Roman Catholic Church. There are few French signs on Anglican churches for the same reason there are few Ukrainian or Russian or Spanish signs - there are no people around to read them.
Holly feels that the spirituality of the French people needs to be understood. Holly described the French people as being "wired for spirituality". (I knew there was some good explanation for all those shrines to the Virgin Mary made out of half-buried bathtubs.) She said they "approach devotion with great intimacy": something that Anglicans often struggled with. (And we all know how well that works in practice:) In Quebec, attendance at worship is one of the lowest in the country. They feel conflicted with the Roman Catholic Church. The buzzword among Roman Catholic French is "outré" (other). (I've absolutely no idea what this means. "Outré" exists as an English expression, too, and a curiously appropriate one to describe what goes on in a lot of Anglican churches.) Holly's congregation loves the fact that Anglican clergy are married. They say she is "human" to them. She has tried some interactive sermons that were very well received. The congregation welcomed this opportunity of not being preached to. Holly is not Francophone. She is from Hamilton and although she speaks French, she has learned the language and the culture on the job. She has discovered that the French people appreciate her willingness to learn. The love to laugh at her British accent. She has allowed them to see her vulnerabilities. (The altar guild just presented her with a lovely new chasuble with the old French expression "Kïck Mè" embroidered on the back. Don't know just what it means, but the congregation sure enjoys the processions.)

Pierre feels that most importantly a priest has to understand the French Canadian culture. (Especially the "You're Not The Boss Of Me" ethos.) He also agreed with Holly, that the discipline of the Roman Catholic clergy and Anglican clergy are very different. The approach of the Roman Catholic Church does not promote the engaging of laity in ministry; it is more autocratic. Pierre was unable to think of a single situation where using clergy from a Roman Catholic background has worked. (Interesting, that. The laity can be converts themselves, but they don't want a priest who's a convert. Is it because they can't respect someone who used to be a "real" priest who's fallen away from the faith?)...Pierre said that many of his divorced and homosexual parishioners have been hurt in the church, and they want (all together now) an inclusive church that is welcoming and caring.
Once again, there's that promise of a vast tide of disgruntled/divorced/homosexual Catholics just waiting to come surging into the Anglican Church.

This seems to me to be a completely backward way of proceeding. There are some foreign-language Anglican churches in Ottawa (I know of one Chinese congregation), but that's because there was already a population present in the church that could benefit from translated services. The same thing goes for native language congregations in the North - the people were already there, and using the local language made things easier and more meaningful for people who were already members of the church. This, on the other hand, is a sort of religious speculation - create a French ministry, and THEN watch as the people arrive. I don't think it will work. There are many more reasons why French people aren't in Anglican churches than just the fact that the proceedings take place in English. A lot of Roman Catholic priests are just as liberal and dotty as the Anglicans, and yet still Quebecers stay away from church, despite there being no language or cultural barrier. Being "spiritual" doesn't automatically translate into church-going. And many Quebecers wouldn't consider joining "the English church", no matter how you dress it up. (Dean says they have a marginally better chance of getting French Canadians into the Anglican Church by resurrecting press-gang methods - going to a Quebec strip club and dropping a coin into some guy's glass of beer then shouting, "AHA! You've taken the Archbishop of Canterbury's shilling, now you must do his bidding!")

I'm afraid this "bilingualism" wheeze is going to be one of those useless prestige projects that the ACC will shovel money into and which will never get off life support.


Blogger Nicholodeon said...

You touch a very cogent point re: 'culture' and religion.

Russ Ortho is intimately linked with what can be called 'Russian culture'...and each expression of Orthodoxy...Greek, Bulgarian, linked with the culture in which it flourishes. The language of that culture is the language of worship, exc in Russian Ortho we use Slavonic, an older form of Russian.

As a polyglot I add my own thesis, namely since language governs behaviour, the ability of the Russ Orth church to continue in Canada is its continued use of the mother tongue...when parishes switch to English, they begin the process of divorcing from the Russian culture...but in Canada, there is no such thing as a 'Canadian' culture to replace the Russian culture.

Example is the Orthodox Church in America, so-called. They began using English back in the 50s when McCarthy et al were going after commies and pinkos.

Now they are having to cope with misguided concepts of democracy etc which threaten to convert the OCA into some sort of Congregationalised Orth Church.

The much touted 'American way of life' with its prot-inspired Gospel of Prosperity, cannot be incorporated into Russian Orthodoxy.

I am not arguing against Liturgy in English although our translations are abysmal, using ersatz Elizabethan without following the grammar and other rules governing that form of English.

I am just saying until Canada has a definable culture, Orthodoxy will have to remain linked to the culture that gave its particular expression to that particular expression of Orthodoxy. The theology remains constant; just the language of the parish changes.

What you say about Anglicanism I agree survives as long as there is an England and people of that culture.

Even in Roman Catholic parishes we have a hint of the orthodox way of doing in Wpg Holy Rosary is the 'Italian' parish, where sermons are delivered in Italian and English, and Italian feasts are given more definition that elsewhere. Immaculate Conception is the 'Filipino' parish, where marriages are conducted according to Filipino tradition (I attended one there recently) and the sermon again is part in Tagalog and part in English. Holy Ghost is the 'Polish' parish, and of course St. Boniface and all the parishes in St. Boniface function in French.

Only intellectuals attempt to divorce culture from religion and faith.

And guess which ecclesial communities are dominated by intellectualism? All that is left to the Lutherans, for example, is for them to devour and shred holy writ in attempts to prove individual understanding of certain passages, from which spring NEW! denominations.

Oh, outre (with the accent e) means 'outraged'...and 'autre' means other. Which did you mean? I like the 'outraged' version!

Hey, Doc, look what you have triggered in my slumbering synapses all on an early Saturday mng before my coffee is finished brewing. Oh, I use a Braun machine. I am all into modern European in the kitschen.

11:34 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

I think people underestimate the importance of language in sustaining a culture. Quebecers sure don't - as Catholicism has been abandoned, the French language has taken over the role of "culture repository". Sometimes I think that French has become a substitute religion for Quebec.

Dean thought that it would make more sense, from an outreach point of view, to develop a Caribbean-Anglican ministry. We have a lot of people here from the West Indies, and many of them are Anglican. But then again, that's an offshoot of British colonialism. The language is still English, and the affiliation with Anglicanism came from the same British culture that established that church here in Canada.

12:31 pm  
Blogger Nicholodeon said...

Actually, Dean is spot on re: West Indian culture. I attended Anglican services 'up country' outside Mandeville in Jamaica, and although the English liturgy was the grounding for worship, the hymns were all intertwined with Jamaica.

It was during their Thanksgiving festival, and the hymns although ones used in England and I suppose in Canada, were rewritten to use Jamaican fruits, vegetables, fishes and other local things.

'Come ye thankful people come' had stanzas talking about breadfruit, aki and goongoo peas and rice instead of English harvest stuff. Decorations were not pumpkins etc but flowers and fruit from Jamaica.

It was wonderful, and I might add, the text of the worship was the 1661 version. Guess what? The 1500 or so worshippers gathered, all from 'up country' and so tillers of the soil, and not professionals, were able to use those words to worship.

The West Indian culture in Wpg at least is alive and well.

12:41 pm  

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