Western Newfoundland: Hope amid Challenges: Whitten Sees Lower Numbers but Commitment

By De Santis, Solange | Anglican Journal, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Western Newfoundland: Hope amid Challenges: Whitten Sees Lower Numbers but Commitment


De Santis, Solange, Anglican Journal


IN THE COURSE of being interviewed for this profile of the diocese of Western Newfoundland, Bishop Leonard Whitten summed up the diocese in one phrase: adjusting to new challenges.

In the nearly four years since Bishop Whitten was elected, he and the diocese have grappled with declining church attendance, difficulty attracting young clergy, financially-strapped parishes and poor participation on the part of young people.

In his charge to the diocesan synod in the fall of 2000, Bishop Whitten didn't mince words: "The apathy of so many Anglicans in our diocese, including those in leadership positions, is a constant concern. The poor response to regular worship and financial commitment reflect a deep spiritual problem in this diocese."

Asked to expand upon his comments concerning apathy, he noted that only about ten to 12 per cent of the 36,000 Anglicans in the diocese attend worship as regularly as once a month. At Christmas and Easter, the percentage only rises to 20 or 25 per cent.

The world has changed, he said. "When I grew up, if you didn't go to church, people would say, `why not?' Now people say, `What do you get out of it?"' Some of the problem lies with the church, however, he believes. "Congregations have to be open to new styles of worship, new styles of music or they're not going to attract people," he added.

So what is he doing about it? "I really push Alpha (a Christian discussion and renewal program), Teens Encounter Christ, anything that brings people into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ," he said.

The diocese, which includes the western part of the island of Newfoundland and a small bit of Labrador, is economically dependent on fishing and seafood processing, lumbering and tourism. About 75 per cent is rural, 25 per cent urban or semi-urban. The largest city, and the see city, is Corner Brook, with a population of about 22,000.

The cod moratorium forced many people out of the fishing industry, but those that remain now fish for shrimp, crab and lobster -- species with a better financial return, said Bishop Whitten.

There are two paper mills in the diocese, including one in Corner Brook. Tourists visit L'Anse aux Meadows, site of a Viking settlement, and Gros Morne National Park. The Marble Mountain ski resort brings quite a few tourists into the area also, said Bishop Whitten.

"Economically, we're just doing okay. There's a high unemployment rate in some parts, a lot of seasonal work, a lot of make-work projects. But as I go `round, I don't see very much abject poverty," he said.

The number of Anglicans in the diocese has declined from about 45,000 ten years ago. There is significant out-migration of young people and the area does not attract a lot of retirees from elsewhere, he said. Five or six parishes are just barely surviving financially, but others are becoming healthier through a program Bishop Whitten started called Challenge 2000 -- Giving is Growing.

Last year, Archdeacon Gordon Druggett, the bishop's assistant, wrote in the diocesan newspaper that at the end of 1999, twelve parishes were in arrears in their assessments to the diocese by a total of $297,178. …

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