Ministry by the Anglican Church of Canada in the French language may be seen as innovative by some, but francophone ministry has a surprisingly long history: the first attempt was in 1768.
In a curious footnote to the history of Anglican Church in Canada, the first Anglican priests appointed to Quebec City, following the British conquest of New France, were French-speakers. They were sent-not, primarily, to minister to the local garrison-but to proselytize the local Roman Catholic population.
They were not, as history has shown, particularly successful.
Almost 250 years later, however, many Anglicans in the diocese of Quebec believe its survival depends on their ability to reach out to the French-speaking population.
Given that French is the first language of the overwhelming majority of the population in Quebec, coadjutor bishop Bruce Myers says pursuing growth means looking beyond the traditional Anglophone communities.
“If we are to grow numerically, [we have] to have more French–speaking Quebecois clergy and parishioners and members of our church,” he said.
While ministry to anglophones will always be an important part of the work of the diocese, Myers, who will take over as diocesan bishop when Bishop Dennis Drainville retires, believes demographic changes in recent decades make francophone ministry essential.
The rise of Quebec nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s-along with the Charter of the French Language, which established French as the province’s official language in 1977- precipitated a massive outmigration of anglophones.
In Quebec City, English speakers made up 40 per cent of the population at the highpoint in the 1860s, but they constituted a mere 1.4 per cent in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.
For most Anglicans in the diocese, English is their mother tongue, but many also need a working knowledge of French and among the younger generations, bilingualism is almost a given.
This has meant significant changes to ministry in the diocese.
Of the four Anglican congregations in Quebec City, only two are fully English-speaking, the two others – Tous les Saints, which meets at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, worships in French, and St. Michael’s, Sillery, is bilingual.
Archdeacon Pierre Voyer, priest-in-charge at Tous les Saints, is one of three francophone priests serving in the diocese. In a diocese where many churches struggle to attract more than 10 parishioners on a Sunday, Tous les Saints has about 70 members, around 45 of whom come regularly.
Nonetheless, Voyer, who oversees francophone ministry in the diocese, is skeptical about the degree to which francophone ministry can turn around the diocese’s demographic decline.
“In the Roman Catholic church, and in the different Protestant churches, we are losing our people,” he said. The problem, he said, has less to do with language than with the Quebecois’ indifference to organized religion.
“I don’t know about the future,” he said. “Religion…is no longer part of their lives.”
The Rev. Darla Sloan serves the fully francophone Église Unie Saint-Pierre, a United Church in Quebec City. She is also interim priest at St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Sillery. Photo: André Forget
Drainville was also uncertain about the degree to which francophone ministry will provide a lasting solution.
“There is no indication that I have that a diocese could be supported by a totally francophone population,” said Drainville. “If we had started this process 25 or 30 years ago, who knows? But I am not sure we have 25 or 30 years in central and eastern Quebec.”
Drainville noted that while the diocese has been putting more resources into ministry to French speakers in the last decade, there are only four francophone parishes across the diocese and just two of which are strong.
He also voiced skepticism regarding the efficacy of bilingual ministry.
“I would never recommend a bilingual approach…because, by and large, it is neither fish nor fowl,” he said, arguing that bilingual parishes neither offer an authentically French- Canadian form of Anglicanism nor preserve the anglophone heritage some English- speaking parishioners cherish.
The Rev. Darla Sloan, a United Church minister who serves as interim priest at St. Michael’s, Sillery, agreed that bilingual ministry can at times be awkward. But, she maintained its importance.
“To be truly intercultural and ecumenical as a church means everybody being equally uncomfortable,” she said, noting that the move to bilingualism, while it caused some people to leave the church, has also allowed francophones to participate more fully.
“I think that’s a wonderful testimony to the world, that we need to be able to say, ?Look, we’re doing this: it’s not natural, it’s not first nature, but it is not [in] nature for the sheep to lie down with the lion,’ ” she said.