Religious education reformer dies

The Rev. Canon Philip Jefferson led changes in religious education throughout the Anglican Church of Canada. Photo: General Synod Archives
The Rev. Canon Philip Jefferson led changes in religious education throughout the Anglican Church of Canada. Photo: General Synod Archives
Published April 17, 2012

Canon Philip Clarke Jefferson, who helped modernize and unify religious education in the Anglican Church of Canada, died peacefully on April 11 after fighting a courageous battle with ALS. He was 83.

A funeral service will be held April 17th, at 11 a.m., at St. James Anglican Church, Dundas, Ont.

Canon Jefferson worked at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national offices in Toronto from 1958 until 1973. In 1959, he was appointed editorial secretary of the General Board of Religious Education and edited a new Sunday School curriculum. It was a tumultuous time, according to an article in The Canadian Churchman newspaper. There was broad dissatisfaction with the Sunday School curriculum, which varied regionally. Many wished to go back to the style of material used uniformly across the country in the 1920s and 1930s and did not welcome innovations. “The new church curriculum was slow to catch on and blistering criticism came from some who saw it as undermining the authority of the Bible,” the Churchman reported.

Installed as a canon of the diocese of Nova Scotia in 1965, Canon Jefferson was appointed general secretary of the religious education department the next year. That department later became the division of parish and diocesan services.  As director, it fell to Canon Jefferson to rebuild support among diocesan officers and bishops, who had been critical as the church “struggled through the ‘new theology’ phase,” according to the Churchman. Canon Jefferson told the newspaper that the department had tried to emphasize supportive services, as well as “the experimental and innovative.”

He was also devoted to parish ministry. After earning B.A. and Bachelor of Sacred Letters degrees from Dalhousie University and the University of King’s College in Halifax, he began his career in the parish of Ship Harbour in his home province of Nova Scotia. He then went on post-graduate work in religious education at Union Theological Seminary in New York, earning a Master of Sacred Theology degree while also serving as the curate of Christ Church, Tarrytown, N.Y. Following his years in the national offices in Toronto, Canon Jefferson returned to parish ministry at St. James’ church in Dundas, Ont. He saw the congregation through the trauma of a fire that devastated the church in 1978.

In the last part of his career, Canon Jefferson again turned his attention to education. He and his wife, Canon Ruth Jefferson, returned to his birth city of Halifax in 1984 where he taught at the Atlantic School of Theology for 10 years.

He is mourned by his wife, Canon Jefferson, sons Stephen (Joan), Paul (Vicky), and John, grandchildren Lesley and Matthew, Philip, Melanie, Emily, Adam, Shane and Lindsay.



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