Diocese on the brink, bishop warns

By on December 1, 2009

According to Bishop Dennis Drainville of the diocese of Quebec, 50 out of 82 Quebec congregations have few or no children. In 35 congregations, the average age is 75 years with only 8 to 10 people attending Sunday services. Shown here, The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Quebec City.

Niagara Falls, Ont.
The Anglican diocese of Quebec is “teetering on the verge of extinction” as parish finances continue to collapse and the number of parishioners dwindles.

This doom-and-gloom message was delivered to the recent Canadian House of Bishops meeting here by Bishop Dennis Drainville, who declared that he could possibly be “the last bishop of Quebec.”

Bishop Drainville urged the House of Bishops to have a “new vision” and to look at how “old relationships and structures” can be changed to respond to the needs of the times.

People are looking for three things in a church, he said: “a compassionate, caring community, a transformational relationship with God, and life-changing liturgy.” Although the Anglican church has these, “…we don’t know how to present this to society,” he said.

Quebec will not be the only diocese to falter, he warned. “There will be many other dioceses that will fail.” Bishop Drainville, who spoke at a session called “The State of the Church,” said in his diocese he has seen churches that were “unfocused, had difficulty in understanding the call of God,” and where clergy were “unengaged and felt directionless.”

He noted that a vast majority of Quebec congregations (50 of 82) virtually have no children, 35 had parishioners with an average age of 75, and usually had only 8 to 10 people attending Sunday services. “The critical mass isn’t there, there’s no money anymore,” and yet parishes want to function the way they always have. With no money coming in from parishes, “we have not paid our national assessment in church for two years,” said Bishop Drainville. “I have no pride in that.”

At an open forum, Bishop Patrick Yu (Toronto area bishop, York-Scarborough), said he was “troubled by the sense of panic….” He said that a bishop’s role is “to be the non-anxious presence,” to say that “the church may be falling, but here’s what we can continue doing.”

Bishop Drainville said he was “not in panic, anxious, yes.” He argued that different dioceses have different resources. Right now, he said, the leaders in his diocese are using more new communications technology since deaneries cannot afford to meet face to face, and they are seeking grants to finance ministries.

The diocese, founded in 1793, is the church’s second-oldest, after Nova Scotia (1787). It covers roughly one-half of the province (720,000 square kilometres of a total of 1.54 million).

Bishop Elaine Sauer, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario synod, also spoke of the challenges: diminishing resources; an aging population; a decline in candidates to the priesthood; and the “maintenance rather than mission mode” of parishes.

But she said that a number of initiatives have grown in response to these challenges. These include weekday school programs that reach out to neighbourhoods, peer ministry on campus, training Bible study leaders, youth-oriented monthly worship services, and youth bands, among others.

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