A church the poor can afford

Published June 1, 2011

Older church members often look back at the mid-20th century with a feeling of warm nostalgia. We remember large youth groups, at least three services on a Sunday and multiple choirs. Churches were a central part of community life in North America. They were easy to get to and open for all…or so we thought.

Today’s situation is often attributed to changing demographics and the broadening of social norms. The changes in membership also display awkward truths about the program of the church and its relationship to God’s mission.

There has been a progressive deterioration of our ministry presence across Canadian society. We have all but pulled out of the most marginal areas of our society, including rural areas, the North and the most troubled urban areas. Although there is still some ministry presence on aboriginal reserves, in most areas it is much less than it used to be, much less than it should be. Our style of ministry—grand buildings to gather in, learned clergy who are our primary ministers and liturgies that aim toward pageantry—are expensive. There isn’t anything wrong with this ministry, just that its reach is quite limited. We may say, with very little exaggeration, that we have become a church that the poor cannot afford.

It is not easy to know all that will be needed to turn us around, but we can identify some of the essentials. We need to remember, first of all, that our church is entirely dependent upon the presence of Jesus. This presence is the most important and only precondition of a church. Jesus promises his presence wherever two or three are gathered in his name. He also promises that we will find his presence specially actualized among the poor and marginalized (Matthew 25).

This calls us to invest in new ways to be disciples. We should enjoy the blessed life of our churches but we must find ways to express its essence beyond our walls or, perhaps, to find its essence beyond our walls. We could, for example, become a part of small discipleship groups in prisons, among the poor and with the most vulnerable in life. We must become disciples who live life to the fullest, within our familiar circumstances but also beyond the ghettos of comfort that have trapped much of our church’s vitality. It is in those places of challenge and the presence of God that we will rediscover the fullness of the life of Christ among us, the fullness of what it means to be disciples. Ω

Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.


  • Mark MacDonald

    Mark MacDonald was national Indigenous Anglican bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada from 2007 to 2019, and national Indigenous Anglican archbishop from 2019 to 2022.

Related Posts

Skip to content