Quebec diocese faces ‘two-headed challenge’

By on December 1, 2000

Bruce Stavert, Bishop of Quebec

LEADING the Anglican church in the Diocese of Quebec is a bit like playing Chrysler to General Motors, Chicago to New York City. In Canada’s 1991 census, about 5.9 million citizens of the civil province of Quebec identified themselves as Roman Catholic, compared to 96,000 who said they were Anglicans.

In no other province have culture and politics been so firmly entwined with the Roman Catholic church, although the church’s grip on Quebec society has waned dramatically in the past four decades. (Fewer than 20 per cent of Quebecers now say they go to church regularly, according to Statistics Canada.) Yet, the predominant French-speaking culture has a Roman Catholic heritage, and the Anglican church must cope with that reality.

“We really do have a two-headed challenge – to be open and welcoming to people of the French language and not to try to persuade people of another church to come to us, and to help the long-standing anglophone Anglicans to maintain some identity, help them in a situation where their community has become very small,” said Bishop Bruce Stavert, 60, in an interview.

Over the past 40 years, the rise of Quebec separatism has prompted thousands of English-speakers to leave the province, affecting the church most prominently identified with “les Anglais.”

Currently, there are about 8,300 Anglicans on parish rolls in the Diocese of Quebec, compared to about 17,600 in 1970. “Anglicans have always formed a small segment of the population in this province. Throughout its history the diocese has invariably had to struggle to maintain itself,” wrote M.E. Reisner in her 1995 history of the diocese, Strangers and Pilgrims.

“We’ve closed a church a year in the past 50 years, about 10 churches since I’ve been bishop,” said Bishop Stavert.

Some of the churches have been preserved, he noted, through heritage funds made available from the provincial government. A native of Montreal, the eleventh bishop of Quebec was consecrated in 1991.

The diocese, founded in 1793, is the church’s second-oldest, after Nova Scotia (1787). It covers roughly one-half of the huge province (720,000 square kilometres of a total of 1.54 million), but was much larger at its inception, initially including what is now Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. In the past two centuries, seven dioceses have been carved out of the original Diocese of Quebec.

The first Anglican priests were appointed in 1768, nine years after the fall of Quebec to Britain on the Plains of Abraham, just outside Quebec City. About 20 years later, the first bishop of Nova Scotia, Charles Inglis, visited Quebec and urged church leaders in Britain to appoint a bishop for the area.

In 1793, Bishop Jacob Mountain, formerly examining chaplain to the Bishop of Lincoln, arrived in Quebec with 13 members of his family.

Over the next 32 years, Bishop Mountain toured his huge episcopate by boat, carriage, wagon and canoe, and the number of clergy grew to 53 from eight. His son, George Mountain, was the third bishop of Quebec in the mid-nineteenth century. Up to George Mountain’s death in 1863, the bishop’s salary was paid by the British parliament, but by the late nineteenth century, the diocese was self-supporting.

Bishop Stavert also has had to tackle financial concerns. In 1996, his regular letter in the diocesan newspaper noted that average giving in the diocese was $5.60 per week, compared to a national average of $15.41 per week. Currently, the figure is $6.00, said treasurer Rodney Clark.

One hopeful sign has been the growth, in the past decade, of Tous les Saints, the first new French-speaking congregation in many years, which operates out of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City, the see city. While some of the 70 people on the parish roll have an Anglican background, most are former Roman Catholics, said Bishop Stavert.

He is encouraged by that development, but also notes that Catholics who are looking for “something else” often head for evangelical denominations, bypassing his church because it seems to be similar to the Catholic church.

Bishop Stavert, who is bilingual, said about 75 per cent of clergy in the diocese can speak both languages. “What we probably ought to be doing is being much more forthright in becoming thoroughly bilingual and reaching out to the other cultural and linguistic community,” he said. There is also a growing Anglican parish in the Native community of Niskapi, he added.

The diocese is predominantly rural and although it is much smaller than it was, it is still large enough that Bishop Stavert noted “there are only a very few parishes I can visit by day and be in my own bed that night.” Weather often affects his travel. “When I stay in people’s houses, I never strip my bed in the morning because I never know if I’m going to be able to leave,” he said.

He is away about 60 to 70 days per year, he said, which can be hard on his family – wife Diana Greig and children Kathleen, Rosamond and Timothy. “Our children are relatively young – 16, 12 and 10 – so they keep us busy,” he remarked.

Although he has a residence provided near the cathedral, the family sometimes finds its life invaded by the many tourists who visit the historic city. The Staverts have a more private residence about 20 minutes out of town, he said.

Bishop Stavert is 10 years away from the mandatory retirement age for bishops, and he says he and his wife are “just starting to talk about what that will look like.” He has been involved over the years in a number of national church groups, such as the Anglican Foundation and the National Executive Council, and is currently Anglican co-chair of the Anglican Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada.

He is vigorously enjoying his work, although there are days, he says, “when I’d like to retire tomorrow.” He does find that his administrative load has increased since the synod office, facing a fiscal crunch a few years ago, downsized to one full-time secretary and one part-time treasurer.

“I seldom take a regular day off. I get a bit of time here and there, but most Sundays I’m at a parish. Saturday is the closest I come to a day off,” he said.

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  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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