Project Canterbury

The Church on the Prairie

By H. H. Montgomery, D.D.

[London:] Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1910.

Chapter VIII. The Diocese of Rupert's Land

We are all inclined to smile when we read of the enormous tracts that once were included in certain dioceses. It is well known that the whole of Australia was once an archdeaconry in the Diocese of Calcutta and that until a Bishop was consecrated for Australia in 1836 no Bishop had ever set foot in the Antipodes. Archdeacon Broughton, afterwards the first Bishop, was not empowered to confirm, and he was asked whether he would not allow the Service of Confirmation to be held excluding the Act of Confirmation and the prayers alluding to it. So great was the desire to have something which gave a taste as it were of Confirmation that they asked for the "question" to be put and the "answer" to be given. The Archdeacon did not accede to this request. The Diocese of Rupert's Land once comprised the whole West of Canada, everything west of Lake Superior as far as the Pacific Ocean, and everything north as far as the Pole. The distance would be 1,500 miles by 2,000. The first Bishop was appointed in 1849: and these vast regions, traversed at that time by herds of buffaloes, were incorporated into the Dominion of Canada in 1869. But it is interesting to go still further back. The first Church services on the [78/79] Red River were held in 1820. The first school on the prairies was planted soon after 1820. What was called the Red River Academy, was opened in 1849, which became in time St. John's College. This College was reorganised by Bishop Machray in 1866. When I visited in 1906 what used to be Fort Garry, I found a reminiscence of the old fort, a gateway preserved as a relic in a garden, and around it a bustling city of 100,000 people with the widest streets I have seen, I think, and one of the most magnificent hotels. One might naturally suppose that this great city--Winnipeg--could support the whole diocese. So it could if its population were united and were wholly and fervently Christian. Our Church, however, does not form by any means the richest portion of the population. It also has to supply its own spiritual needs and build additional churches year by year. At the same time it does not beg for help from outside sources as others are compelled to do. I am free to confess that in my opinion Rupert's Land has been most generous in this respect. It has always stood modestly aside when a great appeal for the prairie has been made; it says that in a sense, however inadequate, it has covered the ground. I mean that it is not easy for the Archbishop of Rupert's Land to speak now of entirely new ground opened up. He has come to the period of much-needed subdivision of spheres, and it is because this cannot be carried out speedily enough that the Church is losing ground at this time.

Put yourself in the place of a clergyman with some six centres of worship. To the chief centre he must pay [79/80] much attention, for his stipend comes chiefly from it; he lives there; if he were away for a whole Sunday without a service there would be a fine commotion among the churchwardens and sidesmen. Yet he cannot adequately take charge of five other centres if he has always to be at the centre once or twice on Sunday. What is he to do in regard to celebrations of Holy Communion at the other places? So he has to let a growing township have a service once in three weeks, or a fortnight. Meanwhile the Methodist or the Presbyterian opens a weekly Sunday evening service, bright and hearty; he can only give the afternoon. It breaks his heart: is he to lose his footing altogether there? Lay-readers cannot do for Churchmen what local preachers can do for Wesleyans. Why not? No one knows, but it is a fact. Churchmen wax restive under ministrations which keep Wesleyans happy. Churchmen will comfortably attend the ministrations of the local preacher but not their own Church service, unless there is an ordained man there or at least a paid lay-reader. These are some of the puzzles of "work abroad" for the Englishman.

Winnipeg wants to build a Cathedral in place of the church so full of memories by the bank of the Red River. There is a beautiful churchyard full of famous graves. Archbishop Machray's little wooden house stood near the river, but it has fallen from age. I naturally asked when the present most interesting Cathedral, a small church, would give place to a fine Cathedral which would illustrate the dreams and hopes of Churchmen on the prairie for the future. But I was [80/81] told that there are curious difficulties in connection with Cathedral building in a climate where in winter forty degrees below zero is common. If you build a very large and lofty Cathedral in line with such Cathedrals as we are accustomed to in England, you must consider the cost of fuel in keeping it warm. The cost becomes enormous. If you build a small Cathedral you are told that you do not dream dreams. Winnipeg Churchmen have to settle this knotty point.

What of the farm districts?

Population in Manitoba fluctuates terribly. The land is no longer new. Farmers and storekeepers are attracted Westward. Sometimes a congregation disappears altogether, and so you have even in an agricultural country the conditions so familiar in mining centres; of course such farms cannot for ever be given up, but for the next ten years the population of the old West will fluctuate because of the new West. So again an old-established parish which has given up all diocesan grants has to come at times cap in hand to Synod for help. Perhaps a hailstorm has destroyed the crop and no one has money, or all the Church people have moved away. Therefore the annual review of grants by the Synod is absolutely necessary. No parish can claim grants as of right. No parish can be barred from them even if it has once voluntarily resigned them.

In 1907 eighty-one missions received diocesan grants; these missions include from two to six centres. They are staffed by forty-one clergy, but the forty-one should be seventy if we are to do what other denominations [81/82] are doing. Stipendiary readers are in charge of fourteen missions; twelve other missions are in the hands of students from St. John's College and of summer students from the East, and of course a priest visits these missions periodically. The number of clergy in the diocese is now 104, with sixteen paid lay-readers, five Indian catechists, and there are also twenty-two summer students. It is delightful to note that this diocese possesses a Field Secretary for Sunday schools. The better organisation of Sunday schools throughout the world is one of the problems which has exercised the Lambeth Conference. The bishops have requested the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a committee to inquire into the problem. Here in Rupert's Land is a diocesan official appointed for this very purpose.

I suppose the glory of this diocese may be said to gather most thickly round St. John's College in Winnipeg. It is a college in connection with the university. It has fine buildings and good grounds, and it was the darling of Archbishop Machray. Certainly the future of the diocese, and I should like to say of the Province of Rupert's Land, also depends upon the work and growth of this college with its 62 students. They graduate in arts and pass on to theological study.

The S.P.G. has given £3,000 to this diocese for its mission work from its special fund to be spread over three years.

Once when the Bishop came and took the first service in a place where other denominations had been more faithful and better supplied with men and means, there flocked to that service some who had hungered after the [82/83] old prayers and Church Order. After the prayers and sermon and Communion were ended a woman came into the vestry and asked to see the Bishop, and thanked him as the tears stood in her eyes. "Thank you, Bishop, for this. You don't know what it means to me and my man. It is twenty years since we have attended our own Church service, and it is just too much for us. Oh! don't desert us now, send us a minister soon." "And where is your good man?" said the Bishop, "I should like to shake hands with him." "He can't come, Bishop, he daren't trust himself; he is that overcome with joy that he sent me, but he can't come in himself." Meanwhile Winnipeg grows. It now holds 140,000 people: and in that wonderful railway station there are 145 miles of siding. Let the Church rise to its opportunity.

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