Some Churches Are Growing: It's No Secret How They Do It

By Stackhouse, Reginald | Anglican Journal, January 1998 | Go to article overview
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Some Churches Are Growing: It's No Secret How They Do It


Stackhouse, Reginald, Anglican Journal


TWO PEOPLE we will call Tom and Stacey do something with their seven-year-old son, Lindsay, that 1960s prophets predicted would become a folk memory by the 1990s.

They take him to church with them on Sundays.

This professional couple crowd their way into Trinity Church in Aurora, Ont., one of the commuter towns on the perimeter of Canada's new Toronto megacity.

They are not unusual, the church being filled with other "905ers" as people in this populous semi-circle are called because of their telephone code.

Nor is Trinity unusual. Although Canada's mainline denominations have been on a statistical slide for more than 30 years, there is an increasing number of growing churches from the Atlantic to British Columbia.

Not all are in neighbourhoods bursting with young families. Some are in city centres, others in rural areas. Some are large, others are small. But all have one thing in common: they are growing.

A phenomenon of the `90s is that secularity is "out" and spirituality is "in," giving the churches a new opportunity. When asked why he attends Trinity, Tom speaks about a desire for inner stability, a need he wants to fill from the spiritual resources he recalls from childhood.

Stacey adds they drive a long way to get there for a second reason. "We like Philip," she says, referring to Rev. Philip Poole who, with three other clergy, pastors a church growing enough to be planning a building expansion.

Although churches can often look like senior citizen centres, this renewed spirituality is felt deeply by more and more young people. If you go to the nine o'clock eucharist at Vancouver's Church of the Good Shepherd, you will find almost every worshipper is under 30.

But it is not surprising. The service seems made for them. Although this is a church for Chinese Anglicans, the worship is all in English, the language these young people speak every day at the office and in university.

It begins with choruses led by a young woman in jeans and is presided over by Rev. Philip Der, assistant curate to Rev. Stephen Leung, and there is youthful vitality to the whole affair. When the Peace is exchanged, everyone is out in the aisle, greeting each other warmly. Worship is alive.

At 11 o'clock is a Chinese language service which fills the church, but not only with older people. A large segment is young parents who do not come for the language but to bring their children to Sunday school.

Even though Good Shepherd began in another church in nearby Richmond, it has grown enough to be back to where it was before the new church opened, and the rector thinks the day is not far off when a larger building will be needed.

Why? Partly because the Chinese population is growing dramatically. But it is also because the church has enough "mission mentality" to have a fulltime woman's evangelist.

Fly clear across the country to New Brunswick's potato country in the upper St. John River Valley and you will find the same thing happening at Holy Trinity, Hartland.

Its services are not full but when the newly ordained Rev. Peter Gillies started there in 1995, seven was an ordinary attendance. Since then, it has zoomed up to 27, and when that number is added to the total for Peter's two other churches, Sunday attendance has grown from 52 adults to 79.

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