THE DIOCESE OF Montreal continues to weather political upheaval and a population drain that has threatened its survival in a predominantly Roman Catholic and French Canadian faith and cultural community.
It has not been easy, said Bishop Andrew Hutchison, but the survival instincts that have driven many congregations are also fuelling a renewed sense of purpose ae a desire to be a force of ministry in the community.
"The Anglican Church in Montreal has always been terribly English and the leaders of English life in Montreal also tended to be the leaders in our churches," he said. "In the years since the start of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec -- there were 100,000 or more members of the Anglican church -- since the 1960s, 75 per cent vanished westward along the 401."
Bishop Hutchison said the ongoing challenge is not only to remain a faithful presence in the diocese, but also to maintain the infrastructure. The diocese covers the city and island of Montreal, the Laurentians, the south shore of the Montreal region and part of the Eastern Townships.
There are 122 Anglican churches in the diocese. In the past 10 years, some have had to close. Others have seen a shift to part-time or shared ministry arrangements. Making these changes, said the bishop, is never easy for anyone.
"Generally, when you talk to people they'll say, `Sure, close another 20 churches, but don't close mine.' It continues to be a problem."
"Churches are more than bricks and mortar, they are markers of history and community. One of our needs is to continually manage our assets."
He added that the diocesan family has many valuable assets, but is cash poor.
When he became bishop in 1990, Bishop Hutchison made it a requirement that all priests in the diocese be functionally bilingual -- though the overwhelming majority of parishes are English-speaking.
"It is true that they could survive without a word of French, but it is important to be able to connect with the community outside of the church walls," he said. "I make an effort to include some French in liturgy. It is met with grace and genuine appreciation. We cannot be an island unto ourselves. We must represent ourselves as a servant church."
To that end, the diocese has initiated, or is participating in, a number of projects to reach the wider community including a shelter program and a community feeding project. A ministry to street people in downtown Montreal "ministers to more people now than the church it replaced," the bishop said. …