Cradle of Christianity proud of heritage, sustaining faith

Published May 1, 1999


LEGEND HAS IT that in 1497 explorer John Cabot and the crew of his ship, the Matthew, weighed anchor off Bonavista, Nfld. They were astounded by the sight of the waters teeming with codfish. One merely had to lower a bucket to catch them, said the crew.

That was 500 years ago. Times have changed.

In the Diocese of Central Newfoundland, based in Gander and encompassing 70,000 sq. km, few people still fish for a living. In the 1990s, concerns over dangerously depleted cod stocks forced a moratorium on the inshore fishery throughout the province.

The aftershocks of that decision are still being felt across the province, said Bishop Edward Marsh. The moratorium has challenged every aspect of life, including church life. Attendance is up, he said, because people feel a need to turn to God for answers.

“So many have been forced to spend more time at home than on the water,” said Bishop Marsh. “It’s not easy for families to adjust to a way of life they have never known before.” Their fathers fished, as did their fathers before them, he added. Women who were the daughters of fishermen grew up to marry fishermen. “Becoming a ?hang ashore’ is a hard adjustment for everyone in the household, and for the whole community.”

Formed in 1976, the Diocese of Central Newfoundland has an Anglican population of about 34,000, scattered in 31 parishes along the coastline. Though Anglican churches have been an integral part of life in the province for more than 200 years, they have only been part of the Canadian Anglican Church since 1949, when Newfoundland joined Confederation.

Central Newfoundland is justifiably proud of both its heritage and the fact that it is rightly considered the cradle of Christian faith in North America. The Anglican Church of St. Paul’s in Trinity is among the oldest churches in the country. The beloved Anglican hymn, We Love the Place O God, was written for St. Paul’s.

In churches that dot the coastline, people who lived in isolated communities and risked their lives to make a living on the sea, found an unshakable faith in God. That same faith is undergoing a renewal, said Bishop Marsh.

“There has been a strong emphasis on renewal, and it might be because we are going through some hard times. When you are relying on God to reap the bounty of the sea and then discover there is no more bounty, you look to God for answers,” he said.

People of the diocese are also involved in outreach programs. Each of the six deaneries in the diocese takes responsibility for one or two areas of ministry, identifying opportunities for program or outreach. These are then co-ordinated to avoid duplication, said Bishop Marsh.

“As new programs come on, people are added to work on them. It is not a static committee approach to things,” he said. “In this way, we are better able to adapt to the needs.”

Among the most successful of the diocesan-run programs is Camp Mintbrook, which is used continually from May to October. Here children, families, youth, and various church and community groups can relax and reflect.

This year, in addition to celebrating its 50th anniversary, the diocese is planning to cele-brate the 2000th birthday of Jesus in a unique way.

“One of the presents we are hoping to offer Jesus is the sponsorship of a family of refugees,” he said. “We feel that if we can offer welcome and comfort to just one refugee family, we will also receive blessings.”

The diocese is also aiming to establish both a Bible study program and a prayer group in every parish.

Among the most pressing challenges facing Newfoundland is recruiting clergy.

“We need six to eight new clergy each year to keep up with retirements or sickness,” said Bishop Marsh. Though he values the strong and committed lay ministry in the diocese, he is still looking for ways to attract more young people into ordained ministry. “There are now only three or four ordinands entering our college each year. That is a great concern to me. We need to start getting into the high schools to talk about the need for clergy.”

The diocese is facing the year 2000 with hope and a strong spirit of renewal, but its people are grappling with some harsh socioeconomic realities. The biggest is that people are forced to leave the island to find work.

“There is nothing worse than having your grandchildren living so far way,” said Bishop Marsh. “That is part of what drives our emphasis on spiritual renewal. People are looking for a firm foundation in their spiritual lives. God moves in mysterious ways.”

Nancy Devine is a freelance writer and editor based in Aurora, Ont.


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