Canada has become one vast mission field

Published May 1, 2006

While some dioceses (like Toronto, whose parish of San Lorenzo has as its incumbent Rev. Hernan Astudillo, above left) have done some work on addressing diversity in their parishes, much remains to be done..

A number of Anglican churches are slowly reflecting the multi-cultural face of Canada.

For Patrick Yu, recently elected the first bishop of Chinese descent in the Anglican Church of Canada, ministering to multi-cultural parishes in Toronto is “really refreshing” because he can learn, without even leaving the city, how people from other places practise Anglicanism.

For Rev. Cathy Campbell, parish priest of St. Matthew’s church in Winnipeg, a congregation of aboriginal, Caribbean, Anglo-Saxon and Sudanese members, it has meant “lots of call to mission.” She adds, “There’s never a shortage of totally awesome things to do that are worthy and meaningful and will make a significant difference in people’s lives and the lives of communities.”

By welcoming new members, most of whom left behind a hardscrabble life and are still struggling financially as newcomers to Canada, the parish has also been forced to analyze the issue of stewardship. “We struggle to keep the parish solvent … We live thin and therefore we live on faith,” says Ms. Campbell.

The challenge, she says, is that “it’s easy to misunderstand each other.”

Aside from language and cultural barriers in these congregations, lingering prejudices and racial stereotypes also come into play, says Bishop Yu, whose former parish of St. Timothy’s began as an exclusively English one until it successfully integrated immigrants from the Caribbean, China and South Asia.

It is also a challenge “to find ways of expressing our faith in song and prayer and preaching that are accessible to the whole,” says Ms. Campbell.

St. Timothy’s has simplified one service to make it more understandable to non-English speaking newcomers. “These people have difficulty with English and now we want them to follow a service in Elizabethan English. That’s just impossible,” says Bishop Yu. Still, he adds, the parish is working at finding a compromise between “comprehension and what we value to be our (Anglican) treasures.”

Winnipeg’s St. Matthew’s has been able to make its multi-ethnic congregation work because of prayer and, says Ms. Campbell, “opportunities for respectful listening to each other, times to share our stories and perspectives so that we don’t just come and go as independent people on Sunday mornings.”

Bishop Yu says people must be able to say “I’m going to reach beyond what I’m used to and learn from others. Just as Jesus says, the road to fulfillment, paradoxically, is by self-sacrifice and that happens in multi-culturalism as well.”

With Statistics Canada saying that about one out of five people in Canada or between 19 to 23 per cent of the population could be a member of a visible minority when Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2017, and with the greying membership of most mainstream churches (including the Anglican Church of Canada), some are saying the country has become one vast mission field. In other words, the future of the Anglican Church of Canada could very well lie with the diverse minorities in the same way that people of British ancestry are no longer the majority in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Can non-white immigrants help stave off the church’s diminishing numbers? “It’s a difficult question. The Anglican Church of Canada will die without new members, period. I think God will bring those people in the church that God wants to bring in the church,” says Bishop Yu. “And since Canada is such an immigrant nation our growth must reflect part of that.”

The Canadian church has traditionally relied on immigrants who come already imbued with the Anglican faith. Yet studies have shown that even as mainstream churches struggle with issues of membership, there is a growing interest in spirituality. This is palpable even at St. Timothy’s. There is no proselytizing involved when immigrants come to learn English at St. Timothy’s, located in the Toronto neighbourhood of Agincourt – sometimes called “Asiancourt,” owing to its large Asian immigrant population.

Nevertheless, participants ask questions about the church. “We actually found out that we, Canadians, are the ones who were very sensitive, but the Chinese were very curious,” says Bishop-elect Yu. “The usual question would be, what are you? Are you Catholic or Christian, which they mean Protestant, or are you Orthodox? What do you do in church?”

In response, St. Timothy’s has launched a series called Christian Stories, still with no particular conversion in mind. A typical evening would begin with prayer, hymns, a reading of simple stories, drama and a discussion.

In 1993, the Anglican Book Centre published a study entitled No Longer Strangers, which was based on a report, Ministry in a Multicultural Society, prepared by the late Rev. Romney Moseley for the national program committee of the Anglican Church of Canada. The Moseley Report, as it was known then, was presented in 1992 to members of General Synod; it was based on a two-year study project and a series of studies initiated by the diocese of Toronto “to make sense of the rapidly changing urban scene” in Canada.

The report, endorsed by General Synod, called on Anglicans to “embrace the Spirit of Pentecost and overcome their fear of their fellow citizens in the household of God.” It also challenged the church to “rejoice in the cultural richness of the worldwide Anglican Communion and cherish the links Canadian Anglicans can have with the worldwide church through those who have immigrated here.”

Today, nearly 14 years later, hardly any reference is made to the report. While some dioceses have embarked on their own programs to address diversity in their parishes, much remains to be done.

Ms. Campbell stresses that there needs to be “a lot of intentional work in developing leadership, creating a variety of opportunities,” for visible minority church members.

She cited a local case of the Sudanese young men who are the leaders of their community but have not had the opportunities for formal education. “Like many refugees, they are pushing hard to get through Grade 12 not because they’re not gifted, but because they literally have not had the opportunity to have that kind of formal education and therefore, have none of that paperwork,” she says. “So, for them to become priests of the Anglican Church of Canada, are we then to expect them to do seven years of university?”

Ms. Campbell says that the church’s current models for raising and training ordained clergy are “not well thought out.” Simply sending immigrants to theological schools is not the answer because “the models of education that we have are not flexible enough to include people with English as a second language,” she says. She adds that a dialogue on exploring new methods of ordained ministry between theological schools, bishops and visible minority groups could be a start.

Responding to new ways of ordained ministry “takes time and money,” adds Ms. Campbell. “I think there are lots of people that are working in crisis and a survival mode and I don’t think that’s faithful. I think God gives us the time and the money that we need. And frankly, here at St. Matthew’s, we work with considerably less of both of those and yet the rewards of taking the time and making the financial commitments are immense.”


Keep on reading

Skip to content