Anglican Church of Canada: Headed Toward Oblivion
The Anglican Church of Canada, once the bastion church of all non-Roman Catholic Christianity north of the American border, was formally warned this month that it is ever more rapidly disappearing, and that unless something drastic is done it will vanish altogether shortly after the mid-century.Familiar pattern here. The cozy, comfortable liberal establishment denominations have lost members.
The warning came in a report to the church’s bishops. It carried an unusual note of authenticity in that it was founded, not on census figures, but on the actual membership roles of parish churches. All its news was bad. Church membership has declined 53 percent over the last 40 years, it said, the sharpest decline of any major Christian denomination.
That is, it fell from 1.3 million in 1961 to 642,000 in 2001. Moreover, the rate of decline is quickening, the drop between 1981 and 2001 being much sharper than that between 1961 and 1981.
Other churches are losing members as well. The United Church of Canada (an 80-year-old union of Methodists, Congregationalists and some Presbyterians) has fallen from 1.04 million to 638,000 over the 40-year period. Presbyterian membership (i.e., those Presbyterian congregations that did not join the United Church) is down 39 percent, Baptist membership is down 7 percent and Lutheran down 4 percent. The membership lists of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada have meanwhile risen 38 percent over the period to 232,000 in 2001. Last year, that number stood at 243,000.
The article then goes on to quote Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, the Anglican primate of Canada. But his response seems distinctly feckless.
. . . the significance of the archbishop’s response lay in what he did not mention, notably the church’s consistent departure from traditional Christian teaching, which has been going on throughout the whole 40-year period of decline. It began with the acceptance of serial marriage, progressed to the ordination of women, then to the funding of terrorist groups in Africa, and finally to the acceptance of homosexual practice. The church’s latest foray is its tacit approval of homosexual marriage, which has seen it virtually disowned by the Anglican churches of Africa and Asia.There is, of course, an alternative explanation. The person who did the study, Keith McKerracher, blames excessive bureaucracy.
[. . .]
But the fact the archbishop refuses to recognize his church’s liberal leaning as a possible explanation for the exodus of more than half its members means he’s highly unlikely to begin reasserting Christian teaching.
McKerracher says even though his report shocked some of the bishops, he doubts the Anglican Church, as currently organized, can find the willpower to take action. He says Canada’s Anglican hierarchy is woefully bureaucratic, and that most decision-making is bound up in inefficient committees.Of course, bureaucracy and theological liberalism go together. The more bureaucratized a church, the further the leadership is from the ordinary believers in the pews, and the closer they are to secular elites in academia, the media, interest groups and politics.
“The church should do some marketing research to find out why people are fleeing,” he says. “But I don’t think the Anglicans will do anything.
“They talk things to death. And my impression is that the bishops are not going to go around telling priests to shape up.”
It’s a familiar story, afflicting “Mainstream Protestantism” in the US, and some sectors of the Catholic Church.