A resurrection is taking place within the diocese of Quebec: a slow, steady and persistent rebirth. Bishop Dennis Drainville has been on a mission to personally deliver this message of hope to each of the 82 congregations in the diocese. It’s a message that rises out of the stark reality of declining membership.
“Bishop Dennis has always talked about the difficult reality in the context of hope, possibility and excitement,” says Archdeacon Bruce Myers. “To be a Christian is to be a hopeful person in a hopeless situation. Certain things may have to die…before you can have a resurrection.”
Last October, Bishop Drainville told the House of Bishops that 60 per cent of 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. “We used to have 25,000 Anglicans in 82 churches,” says Archdeacon Myers. “Now it’s closer to 8,000. We need to face this new reality.”
However, while facing challenges is the “first step,” there is also new growth. Archdeacon Myers, who is 36, says most of the new clergy coming into the diocese are young and bilingual. And this is attracting young families.
Of the 32 clerics within the diocese, four are francophone. There is also a francophone deanery with its own structure. And where church life as it has been may come to an end, evidence of a way forward is also emerging. “There is a thirst and a hunger out there,” he notes.
The membership decline is largely a cultural one, since most Anglicans tend to be anglophones. “There has been a slow but steady decline of anglophones in Quebec,” he says. “We just don’t have the critical mass we once had.”
There’s no point in finger-pointing, though, since the challenges faced by the diocese of Quebec are not unique. “There are [other] dioceses across the country that are going through something like this,” confirms Archdeacon Myers. “A lot of this is no one’s fault; it’s just demographics.”
Congregations and parishes make their own decisions about the future, he says. It’s their responsibility to take stock of their own situation and “to determine what decisions need to be made.” This includes answering questions about whether or not to close church buildings or amalgamate congregations. “There’s a fear in some communities that the bishop will come in and close them down,” notes Archdeacon Myers. “That isn’t the pastoral way to do things.” What Bishop Drainville will do, however, is remind congregations that “if they can’t meet their own financial obligations, the diocese can’t either,” he explains. “For the first time in a long time, we’re facing this reality. It’s no longer sustainable. We need to rediscover our mission. It’s scary but also exciting.”
Keith Knight is a communications consultant and former interim editor of the Anglican Journal.