Quebec Diocese Faces `Two-Headed Challenge'

By De Santis, Solange | Anglican Journal, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Quebec Diocese Faces `Two-Headed Challenge'


De Santis, Solange, Anglican Journal


LEADING the Anglican church in the Diocese of Quebec is a bit like playing Chrysler to General Motors, Chicago to New York City. In Canada's 1991 census, about 5.9 million citizens of the civil province of Quebec identified themselves as Roman Catholic, compared to 96,000 who said they were Anglicans.

In no other province have culture and politics been so firmly entwined with the Roman Catholic church, although the church's grip on Quebec society has waned dramatically in the past four decades. (Fewer than 20 per cent of Quebecers now say they go to church regularly, according to Statistics Canada.) Yet, the predominant French-speaking culture has a Roman Catholic heritage, and the Anglican church must cope with that reality.

"We really do have a two-headed challenge -- to be open and welcoming to people of the French language and not to try to persuade people of another church to come to us, and to help the long-standing anglophone Anglicans to maintain some identity, help them in a situation where their community has become very small," said Bishop Bruce Stavert, 60, in an interview.

Over the past 40 years, the rise of Quebec separatism has prompted thousands of English-speakers to leave the province, affecting the church most prominently identified with "les Anglais."

Currently, there are about 8,300 Anglicans on parish rolls in the Diocese of Quebec, compared to about 17,600 in 1970. "Anglicans have always formed a small segment of the population in this province. Throughout its history the diocese has invariably had to struggle to maintain itself," wrote M.E. Reisner in her 1995 history of the diocese, Strangers and Pilgrims.

"We've closed a church a year in the past 50 years, about 10 churches since I've been bishop," said Bishop Stavert.

Some of the churches have been preserved, he noted, through heritage funds made available from the provincial government. A native of Montreal, the eleventh bishop of Quebec was consecrated in 1991.

The diocese, founded in 1793, is the church's second-oldest, after Nova Scotia (1787). It covers roughly one-half of the huge province (720,000 square kilometres of a total of 1.54 million), but was much larger at its inception, initially including what is now Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. In the past two centuries, seven dioceses have been carved out of the original Diocese of Quebec.

The first Anglican priests were appointed in 1768, nine years after the fall of Quebec to Britain on the Plains of Abraham, just outside Quebec City. About 20 years later, the first bishop of Nova Scotia, Charles Inglis, visited Quebec and urged church leaders in Britain to appoint a bishop for the area.

In 1793, Bishop Jacob Mountain, formerly examining chaplain to the Bishop of Lincoln, arrived in Quebec with 13 members of his family.

Over the next 32 years, Bishop Mountain toured his huge episcopate by boat, carriage, wagon and canoe, and the number of clergy grew to 53 from eight. His son, George Mountain, was the third bishop of Quebec in the mid-nineteenth century. Up to George Mountain's death in 1863, the bishop's salary was paid by the British parliament, but by the late nineteenth century, the diocese was self-supporting. …

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