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Manitoba History: Book Review: Norman Knowles (editor), Seeds Scattered and Sown: Studies in the History of Canadian Anglicanism

by Stephen Sharman
St. Andrews, Manitoba

Number 62, Winter 2009

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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This volume is an important contribution to the study and writing of the history of the Anglican Church of Canada and will, one hopes, be a step towards the writing of a new and sorely needed comprehensive history of the Church. The last such history, as the anonymous author of the Introduction reminds us, was Archbishop Philip Carrington’s The Anglican Church in Canada published in 1963, almost fifty years ago. Not only does the history now need to be brought up to date, but the questions which contemporary historians ask of their material need to be answered. It is one of the strengths of this collection of essays that some of these questions, such as the role of women in the church and relations of the Church with Anglicans of the First Nations, are indeed addressed. Wendy Fletcher addresses the topic of the role of women in her paper, “The Garden of Women’s Separateness: Women in Canadian Anglicanism since 1945,” and Chris Trott that of relations with Aboriginal people in his fine paper, “I suggest that You Pursue Conversion: Aboriginal People and the Anglican Church of Canada after the Second World War.” These questions have been addressed in previous works of Anglican Church history such as histories of the Women’s Auxiliary or accounts of missionary labours and societies, but these studies enlarge their perspective, as in the case of Dr. Trott’s essay, by taking into account the views of Aboriginal people.

The volume contains nine chapters written by eight authors. There is also a foreword written by the Most Reverend Michael Peers, eleventh Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and an anonymous introduction. The authors are a distinguished group which includes, for example, the former General Synod Archivist (Terry Reilly), the principal of a theological college (Wendy Fletcher), a professor of Native studies (Chris Trott), academics and clergy. The chapters cover a lengthy period of time: from 1578 when the Rev. Robert Wolfall celebrated the first recorded Anglican Communion service in Canada to the present. In geography, the chapters attempt to cover all of Canada but, as we shall see, not too successfully.

The first section of three chapters surveys the establishment of the Anglican Church in colonial Canada. The two chapters by M.E. Reisner, “Who shall go over the sea for us? First Anglican Ventures into Present-Day Canada (1578-1867)” and “According to the Measure of the Rule: Laying the Foundations of the Church in Eastern Canada (1816-1867)” examine the establishment of the Church in central and eastern Canada, and one chapter by Myra Rutherdale, “Some Moral Effect on the population at Large: Western and Northern Canadian Anglicanism (1820-1914),” the establishment of the Church in western and northern Canada.

The next section, also of three chapters, continues the story from 1867 to 1945. As Canada grew and developed her identity, so also did the Church. Paul Friesen explores the role of citizenship, worship and mission in the development of Anglican identity in this period in his paper, “Citizenship, Worship and Mission: Three Sources of Anglican Identity during the National Era.” Norman Knowles focuses on mission and social service in his essay, “By the Mouth of Many Messengers: Mission and Social Services in Canadian Anglicanism (1867-1945).” And Terry Reilly and Norman Knowles co-author an interesting and important essay, “A Union not for Harmony but for Strength: The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada (1892-1992),” on the growth of the General Synod as seen through the eyes of successive primates in their addresses to General Synod.

The third section, again of three chapters, takes the story from 1945 to the present. William Crocket examines the changes that the Anglican Church has not survived especially in the area of liturgy in his chapter, “Uncomfortable Pew: The Church and Change since 1945.” Wendy Fletcher surveys the role of women such as clergy wives and women ministers and the introduction of the ordination of women in her paper, “The Garden of Women’s Separateness: Women in Canadian Anglicanism since 1945.” Chris Trott’s task in his paper, “I suggest that You Pursue Conversion: Aboriginal People and the Anglican Church of Canada after the Second World War” is to show the evolution of relations between the Church and her Aboriginal members, and he does this extremely well. These three essays deal with matters that are still very much alive in the life of the Church.

The introduction places this volume of essays within the context of a renewed interest in the history of religion in Canadian academic circles in the last two decades. It is no coincidence then that most of the authors of this volume are academics. Many of them are also committed Anglicans. As Anglicans and historians, they face “questions of identity and authority and the challenges of diversity and inclusion” (pxvii). The author of this introduction suggests that a cause of the previous lack of interest in religious history among academic and professional historians was a lack of “critical perspective” among those who had previously practised this trade. By implication, then, he hints that the authors of these papers possess the quality of critical perspective. A critical perspective means not only an ability to examine critically the assumptions of previous and present generations of Church people and their historians, but also an ability to keep all sides of a debate in a fair balance. This is especially important in the difficult matter of change in liturgy and the role of women which has been bitterly divisive in the last three decades. Here two authors fail to provide a fair balance. William Crocket dismisses the work of the Prayer Book Society of Canada in one sentence and a footnote which refers the reader to a website. This is a society that, through its submissions to General Synod, as well as its publications and those of the Anglican Free Press, has played a major role in liturgical discussions in Canada. Similarly Wendy Fletcher, in her account of the implementation of the ordination of women and the experiences of the first women ministers, fails to give any account of the fate of those women and men who did not accept the ordination of women. In fairness to Dr. Fletcher, to do this was not part of her intention for her paper but still it is an omission of a significant part of the story. As a result, both present incomplete histories, and incomplete histories are misleading histories. The volume contains another weakness. It contains very little about the growth of the Church in the prairie provinces in comparison with the amount of space devoted to central and eastern Canada.

This volume is, as I said, an important contribution to an understanding of the history of the Anglican Church of Canada. I hope that it will be the first in a series of volumes. Much needs to be done.

Page revised: 24 February 2018

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