(This article first appeared in the March issue of the Anglican Journal.)
There was a general feeling amongst the elderly in the community that a whole generation was being lost. Their adult children had fallen away, and their grandchildren knew nothing of the faith at all. One of them proclaimed, “O sir…our children are growing up faithless and our little ones have never been baptized!”
This might very easily be the lament of any of our senior parishioners on any given Sunday in one of our churches. Yet, these were words spoken to the Rev. Featherstone Osler, the first resident clergyman of West Gwillimbury and Tecumseth in Upper Canada, shortly after his arrival in 1837. The shortage of permanent resident clergy and the failure to build churches over the preceding 30 years had led to a whole generation of settlers falling away, and their children never coming to faith at all.
It was into this world that Featherstone Osler was thrust. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, with a profound sense of calling and a fortitude that can only be considered remarkable, Osler went about the work of building the kingdom in the two townships and outlying areas committed to his charge. He wore out more than one horse, proclaimed the good news fervently, and in 20 years founded 20 congregations, established Sunday schools, trained bush clergy and built at least a dozen church buildings. He could have flagged; he could have returned to England and taken up a more comfortable sinecure, for his was a family of means. But no—he laid hold of the yoke his Lord laid upon him, trusting in the faithfulness of God and embracing the hope of the kingdom.
Our age is not so different. We lament the loss of a whole generation in the church. But shall our faith falter? Will our fortitude fail? We may not be called to answer the problem the same way Osler answered his call, but we are called to rise to the challenge. We are called to believe that God will give us the tools to meet those challenges.
And we have that one thing that Osler and so many others before and since have had: the good news of God in Christ. The means of proclamation will vary with the age and place, but the hope of salvation is sure, and our God is faithful as we proclaim the words of life to a hurting world. ?
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves is the incumbent of Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, Ont., and editor of the Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society.