The Diocese of Quebec is all but dead, its bishop told the Canadian House of Bishop at their autumn meeting in Niagara Falls, the Anglican Journal of Canada reports.
The Rt Rev Dennis Drainville said his diocese was “teetering on the verge of extinction,” according to an account given by the church’s official newspaper.
Of the diocese’s 82 congregations, 50 were childless and 35 congregations had an average age of 75. These graying congregations often had no more than 10 people in church on Sundays, he said.“The critical mass isn’t there, there’s no money anymore,” he said.
Falling attendance is not solely confined to the Anglican Church, however. Until the 1960s Catholic Church attendance stood at more than 90 per cent.
However, According to a 2008 Léger Marketing poll, the proportion of Quebec's nearly six million Catholics who attend mass weekly now stands at six per cent, the lowest of any Western society.
To combat the decline, Bishop Drainville, who told his colleagues it was very possible he would be the “last bishop of Quebec,” urged the House of Bishops to re-imagine how the church could engage society.
A church should provide “a compassionate, caring community, a transformational relationship with God, and life-changing liturgy,” the bishop said. Anglicans had all three, but seemed unable to “present this to society.”
In 1901 ‘mainline’ Protestants, predominantly Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists made up 56 per cent of the Canadian population. By 2001 this had fallen to 29 per cent.
However, within the Protestant totals a dramatic shift away from the mainline churches has taken place, Dr Bruce Guenther, associate professor of church history and Mennonite studies at Associated Canadian Theological Seminaries has noted.
Guenther found that total Protestant attendance had not declined in real numbers over the last quarter-century but there has been a massive shift within Protestantism.
The mainline churches attendance declined by 33 per cent between 1981 and 2001, while evangelical church attendance rose by 50 per cent and was now 25 per cent larger than the old ‘mainline’.
Between 1961 and 2001 the Anglican Church of Canada lost 53 per cent of its members, with numbers declining from 1.36 million to just 642,000.
The rate of decline has increased in recent years, according to an independent report given to the Canadian House of Bishops in 2006 by retired marketing expert Keith McKerracher.
After the report’s release, McKerracher said: “My point to the bishops was: Hey listen, guys, we’re declining much faster than any other church. We’re losing 12,836 Anglicans a year. That’s two per cent a year. If you draw a line on the graph, there’ll only be one person left in the Canadian Anglican church by 2061.” (For all practical purposes it looks like Catholicism will be about five years behind the Anglicans.)
In his comments to the House of Bishops last month, Bishop Drainville said Quebec would not be the only diocese to go under. “There will be many other dioceses that will fail.”
Sometimes it appears to me that the men who rule from the top are incredibly and willfully blind. There must be a reason that Evangelical churches are exploding while mainline old world churches are declining. Could one of those reasons be that Evangelical congregations tend to be entirely local, meaning they are unencumbered with hierarchies, massive church upkeep, and have far more freedom to develop their own spirituality? Could it be the Holy Spirit is trying to show that more is less and a smaller is better?
If I remember correctly it seems that Vatican II had a great deal to say about subsidiarity, and that it attempted to put forth the notion that responding on the least authoritative level was the best approach. Perhaps the bishops of Vatican II really did hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, the last two Popes must be hearing a different voice.
What' s happening in Quebec is happening all over the West. Massive mainline churches are shrinking in numbers and congregations are dropping to match their small Evangelical counterparts. Which, as Bishop Drainville points out, means the end of large old churches and expensive top heavy hierarchies. There just isn't enough money to go around. The clerical gravy train is grinding to a halt.
Bishop Drainville (hmm, what a fascinating last name given the topic) is right, that in theory the Anglican church has “a compassionate, caring community, a transformational relationship with God, and life-changing liturgy,”. He's also right that the packaging of that message is off kilter. Which is why ordaining women and openly gay clergy has not stemmed the tide. What he won't do is look at what makes the packaging so off kilter. Could it be that the packaging contradicts and undercuts the message?
Could it be that modern society no longer sees a credible Jesus in clerics dressed like medieval princes or princesses? Or believes that a God supposedly born in a barn and crucified a naked public sinner really needs to be worshipped in a massive cathedral--or even intended such a thing? Could it be that society has matured beyond the notions of a magical priesthood and understands the Eucharist as a freely given gift of Jesus and not a function of clerical magic? Could it be that Western Christians place freedom of choice and conscience ahead of dictates from monarchical power structures? Could it be that the reason for the exodus is not lack of faith, but the cognitive dissonance between religious structure and real life experience. That adults don't see the need to be treated as children by religious leadership. Could it be that in truth this massive exodus is not about the message, but the contradictions and restraints the official package places on the message?
Perhaps the best Christmas gift mainline Christian leaders could give Jesus is to take the wrapping and packaging in which they present Him, and throw it in the garbage with the rest of the Christmas wrapping. After all Jesus was born naked just as He died naked. Maybe all we really want and need is the unadorned message and life He came to share.