On Oct. 31, the Canadian Church Historical Society (CCHS) met for its first conference in 12 years. The conference, organized to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the diocese of Toronto, was held at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College-a fitting location given that college’s prominent place in the history of the diocese. It brought together scholars and archivists interested in many areas of Canadian church history to build connections and awareness about the rich resources held in the diocesan and national church archives.
The conference kicked off with a panel on social justice. Michael Shapcott, director of housing and innovation at the Wellesley Institute and a founding partner of Canada’s Multi-Faith Alliance to End Homelessness, spoke about legendary Anglican worker-priest, activist and parliamentarian Dan Heap, who died earlier in 2014. He was followed by the former bishop of Malaita, Terry Brown, who presented a research paper on a visit to Toronto by the prominent 20th-century Marxist Anglican, Hewlett Johnson, the famous “Red Dean of Canterbury.” The last panellist to speak was Susan McCulloch, who spoke about the origins and development of FaithWorks, the Anglican aid and social support appeal.
The CCHS may not be a household name among Canadians, but it has a long history. Created by General Synod in 1927, the organization’s mandate was to foster academic work on the history of the church in Canada. It included scholars and clergy from across the country, and since 1950 has published findings in its official journal, the Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society.
When asked about the mission of the CCHS Journal, its new editor, the Rev. Daniel Graves, said he hoped it would become “the journal that people go to to publish Canadian church history.” He also noted that part of the publication’s role is to “connect the work of researchers and historians with the work of the Canadian Anglican archivists-basically linking people and resources together.”
The conference was organized by Graves in concert with national church archivist Nancy Hurn, diocese of Toronto archivist Mary-Anne Nicholls, doctoral history student Jonathan Lofft and Trinity College’s dean of divinity, David Neelands. It featured a total of seven panel discussions featuring 20 academics, and also hosted the CCHS’s annual general meeting, at which Brown was chosen as the new president and Lofft as the new secretary.
Speaking of the role of conferences such as this in the life of the church, Lofft suggested that one of their greatest services is simply perspective. “However uncertain our present times are, I think 175 years ago things were uncertain, too… What we see today-whether it’s good or bad-isn’t the way it’s always been and isn’t the way it always has to be.”
Nicholls added that the conference draws attention to one of the church’s valuable resources by bringing exposure to the extensive records kept by the national church and by the dioceses. “People are understanding the history, understanding the story, understanding the present, where we came from. So it’s really vital that we work together on something like this.”
This was a point that Graves echoed whole-heartedly. “We have a rich heritage in our archives across the country-they’re excellently managed and excellently run, but the profile isn’t always that high for those archives, and the particular holdings of those archives.”
The CCHS hopes that the conference’s proceedings will be published in the next issue of the Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society, and that the conference will become an annual event.