For the better part of two centuries, Anglicans in Quebec subscribed to the conventional wisdom that if you’re a francophone, you’re a Roman Catholic.
The result was that for 206 years, the overwhelmingly francophone territory covered by the Diocese of Quebec contained not a single French-speaking parish, and attempts to evangelize among francophones were discouraged.
Now the diocese has taken its first formal step to reach out to the francophone majority it had once considered off limits, recently inaugurating its first French-speaking parish, Tous les Saints (All Saints).
Officially created last fall, the francophone parish’s history dates back a decade. A small group of about a half-dozen would gather for worship in Quebec City’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity each Sunday.
“It was more a ‘group’ than a ‘community,'” remembers the new parish’s first rector, Canon Pierre Voyer. That group was a dedicated mix of French-speaking Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Christian Reformed, Mennonites and even some bilingual anglophones. Ten years later, the group has transformed into what may be Quebec City’s only steadily growing Christian community.
Anglophone Anglicans have been steadily leaving the province since the 1970s, and the Roman Catholic Church is still in post-Quiet Revolution decline. But the parish rolls of Tous les Saints contain upwards of 70 names, the majority of whom Canon Voyer says are disaffected Roman Catholics who’ve left over issues such as divorce. “They feel welcome in the Anglican Church. It’s a place where they’re welcome and discuss these things and feel cared for.”
Liturgically, it’s also a place Canon Voyer says many francophone Roman Catholics find familiar and comfortable. “They want a sacramental life. They want liturgy, hymns, preaching, sacraments.”
The parish uses the Episcopal Church U.S.A.’s French edition of its Book of Common Prayer. Canon Voyer also translates some of his own versions of Canadian liturgies.
In addition to bringing new life to the Anglican community in Quebec City, Tous les Saints is also bringing new life to All Saints Chapel, a worship space adjacent to the cathedral that’s fallen into disuse and disrepair in recent years. The chapel is being completely refurbished and will become the new parish’s permanent home when renovations are completed in the spring. Until then, the community will continue ? as it has for the past 10 years ? to hold its Sunday services in the cathedral.
Anglophones represent less than five per cent of the population in the vast territory covered by the Diocese of Quebec; Anglicans number only 8,000.
For Canon Voyer, the meaning is obvious. “If the Anglican Church is to survive in the Diocese of Quebec, it’s certain that it’s going to have to become more open to the development of francophone parishes. Is that going to happen? I’m not sure.” Neither is Canon Voyer’s bishop, Bruce Stavert. “Let’s face it. This is an English church. It’s the Church of England, after all ? or at least it was,” says Bishop Stavert, a bilingual native Quebecer. “I don’t know whether we can become an entirely French-oriented church, although I like to think that we can. My suspicion is that it really requires francophone clergy to pull it off properly.”
Bishop Stavert said francophone Anglican ministers are hard to come by. He has a handful in his diocese, but only two have ministries aimed at other French speakers. While keen to increase the number of French-speaking members of his flock, Bishop Stavert is also aware that many anglophone Anglicans ? who’ve lived through unprecedented cultural, political and linguistic changes in the past 30 years ? are anxious about what that might mean for the future of their church.
“We live a kind of double challenge in our life and ministry as Anglicans in Quebec,” Bishop Stavert said. “First, we want to be open to the French majority with whom we live, and not appear to be an overly English church. On the other hand, we have Anglicans for whom their church is the last English-speaking institution in their community, who don’t want to see their churches change overnight into something different. We have to be sensitive to that.”
Bruce Myers is a journalist in Quebec City, and a member of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.