The Anglican Church in Canada - once as powerful in the nation's secular life as it was in its soul - may be only a generation away from extinction, says a just-published assessment of the church's future.
The report, prepared for the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia, calls Canada a post-Christian society in which Anglicanism is declining faster than any other denomination. It says the church has been "moved to the far margins of public life."
According to the report, the diocese - "like most across Canada" - is in crisis. The report repeats, without qualification or question, the results of a controversial study presented to Anglican bishops five years ago that said that at the present rate of decline - a loss of 13,000 members per year - only one Anglican would be left in Canada by 2061.
It points out that just half a century ago, 40 per cent of Vancouver Island's population was Anglican; now the figure is 1.2 per cent. Nationally, between 1961 and 2001, the church lost 53 per cent of its membership, declining to 642,000 from 1.36 million. Between 1991 and 2001 alone, it declined by 20 per cent.
Regular attendance is declining at all Canadian Christian churches, except for the Roman Catholic Church, whose small increase is attributed to immigration.
The status quo is not an option Report prepared for the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia
But Anglicanism's problem is aggravated because it is primarily a tribal church, the offspring of the Church of England. It has traditionally been home to Canadians of Anglo-Saxon descent who increasingly have no ethnic identification with the church, said religious studies professor David Seljak of St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ont.
A similar problem burdens the Presbyterian Church - offspring of the Church of Scotland - which is losing adherents almost as quickly as the Anglicans.
Prof. Seljak explained that members of families who have lived in Canada for three generations or more increasingly self-identify as "Canadian" rather than with their pre-Canadian ethnic origin. And Canadians increasingly say they're generically "Christian" rather than Anglican, Presbyterian or Pentecostal.
Moreover, while the two ethnic groups, English and Scots, are declining as a proportion of Canadian society, the two tribal churches have limited appeal to Canadians of other origins, apart from those who encountered missionaries - for example, Canadians of Caribbean, Korean or African descent.
The B.C. diocesan report tells Anglicans on Vancouver Island and the adjacent Gulf Islands - which the diocese covers - that 19 of their 54 churches should be closed, with another 11 put on death watch, and that two more should not have their priests replaced when they move on or retire.
The remaining congregations have been told to abandon their sedate, clubby Anglican culture and get their behinds off pews to evangelize in shopping malls, homes and workplaces.
"The status quo is not an option," the report says. With a preponderance of Anglicans being 60 or older, the church is "one generation away from extinction," it says.
"The unchurched are not coming to us. Lapsed Anglicans are not coming back in sufficient numbers."
The report has caused anger, bafflement and resignation in congregations whose churches are targeted for closing. Many of the parishes recommended for "disestablishment" and being put up for sale are among the most historic in the province.
Archdeacon Christopher Page, rector of St. Philip's in Victoria's suburb of Oak Bay, said his congregation is divided between accepting and resisting change - "as am I some mornings."
The congregants of 106-year-old St. Andrew's in the village of Cowichan Station, a half-hour north of Victoria, have worked hard to open the picturesque building to the community. They run a Monday-to-Friday coffee shop, and promote contemporary spiritualism outside traditional Anglican boundaries. They've increased their membership to 80 from 30 over two years, but still the diocesan report has recommended the building be sold.
"We're trying to figure it out," said the rector, Rev. Dawn Braithwaite. But she said her parishioners are not going to be "reactive" until the diocesan governing body votes on the report in March.
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