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Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan, N.W. Canada

By the Rev. William Newton
Hon. Canon of Saskatchewan

London: Elliot Stock, 1897.

Chapter XIX. Criticism of Church Methods

AT the present time the most important question for the Canadian Church to settle is the best method of work for this general mission to settlers. The Church is undoubtedly very weak in all our dioceses, even the oldest, in remote country districts. Often for many miles our Church has no stations, or, indeed, any existence whatever. Should Church-people settle in such districts, they are left to the various sects, who are more widespread and zealous than ourselves. Hence thousands of English Church-people are lost to our communion, and their children know the Church as a mere tradition in which they have no interest. These things are notorious in all our dioceses, and spasmodic efforts are made to recover lost ground; but why should not the failure be allowed, and new means be tried to meet the fresh conditions of our colonies in these extensive countries? For many years now it has been evident that we have neither the men nor the means to cope with the difficulties of large, sparsely-settled districts. At present we shut our eyes to the fact, by making a so-called 'mission' cover fifty or a hundred or two hundred miles, and supply it with a solitary priest, or deacon, or lay-reader, and even such missions are often vacant, or cannot be supplied continuously. The missioner's health breaks down, or the solitude oppresses him, or the apathy of the few who belong to the Church discourages him, or the zealous sects around undermine his work, or his inexperience leads him into difficulties which he is unable to overcome, or his sanguine hopefulness at starting leads him to make glowing reports which cannot be sustained, and the Church authorities are disappointed because he cannot do impossibilities, and tell him so.

This is the usual course of such missions, and they fail, as might be expected; for how can any man cover a hundred miles of country, where the people live at least a mile apart, and because of their excessive labour are often too tired to travel on the Sunday, or too indifferent to make any effort to do so? How are families to be gathered, and children to be instructed, in all weathers, when they are not near the small centres, which are but few and far between, and when these are already occupied by innumerable sects?

As one of the conditions of such work is that it must be based on voluntary offerings, how are these to be collected? and who is to collect them, and when? People in such missions have but little money, and this only at certain times. The labour of collecting from them is often labour in vain. And if the missionary would take gifts in kind, what would he be able to do with them? He is supposed to be usually travelling about, and the markets are afar off, even if there be any. Then, what is to become of the studies of such a missionary? Where can he get books? How can he use them to advantage if he have them? What is to become of his own spiritual life? and how is the spirit to be replenished out of which he has to draw the living waters of the Gospel for others? He has no companionship, no brotherly counsel, no church privileges--only a monotony of life, which is repeated, year in, year out, until brain and heart are weary, and sometimes both moral and physical consequences ensue which are sad to contemplate.

The question arises, Can this be the right system for such work? The plan is to take a young man, either trained or untrained, perhaps before he is even ordained, and to send him into a district, promise him a certain stipend, which the people are to supplement, and then he has to find his own way, and to do the best he can. Any guidance given him is usually of the slightest kind, and, by reason of the distance from the source of authority, it may mislead, rather than assist, the inexperienced missionary. There must be some better system than this which would make our mission in sparse settlements more generally successful. As usual, in this as in other matters, it comes true that 'There is no new thing under the sun.' England and the Continent of Europe were evangelized by companies of men who worked together, each man doing his own special work for the good of the whole.

These men were called by different names, and their methods of work were not always the same; but they managed to cover the countries which they occupied with effective agencies, and with churches for Christian worship. They founded and built up 'the best civilizations that the world has ever seen. Their system was both a human and a divine one, and it had deep and wide foundations, and we shall have to return to it if we would build up a national faith in our colonies. Our present methods are individualistic, and rest too much on monetary considerations, and the matters which hang around them. We want men of genius, for originating methods of work adapted to special circumstances and places, as the Archbishop of Canterbury told the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at its annual meeting two years ago. In such work hard and fast lines cannot always be laid down and followed everywhere, until they become commonplace and rigid customs, which are too antique, in a bad sense, for the work.

The condition of the Algoma, and several other of our dioceses where the work is ministering to settlers, must be taken into account if we would question the perfectibility of our present plans, and seek for others that are more likely to succeed. It will take generations to make the missions self-supporting, and many never will be such without endowments, or the provision of some extra means of support when the present grants are withdrawn.

In the meantime, what will become of the most devoted missionaries, who are broken down in health and spirits, and who in most cases will have nothing to retire upon, and for whom no other work will be offering by which they can earn a living? Their prospects are really gloomy indeed. Often I have wished, when I have heard bishops and others blaming the poor clergymen for not raising sufficient funds under such conditions, that I had the power to distribute more equally the funds of the dioceses among the men who were bravely struggling with these difficulties; and I would leave dignitaries to their own reward, and to the voluntary principle that is so earnestly forced on others. I would first of all see the distant settlements well supplied with men and means, and so lay a foundation on which a grand superstructure could be reared. Bishops and other dignitaries are more like the angels, and nearer to heaven, than the common clergy can expect to be, and hence they are more fit--if that were necessary--to live on manna than the poor missionaries who are of coarser mould, and who require bread and meat and warm clothing in the winter-time. I think this would be the general sentiment of the English people, who mostly send us their benevolences. Let the lowliest be first served, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.

I wish we could return to the most ancient forms of missionary enterprise, and let our dioceses be smaller and more manageable. Let our bishops be bishops, and not prelates. Let the dignity be in the work, and not in the style of living. Simple grace will adorn any sphere; simple wisdom will crown any work; and the Master has shown how beautiful the manger may become; how sublime the Cross; how charming before the ages can be the fishers' boat; and the hillside where the Divine Presence is. And, although wealth can be consecrated to God's glory, it may be ours, in our new conditions, to tread in the footsteps of the Redeemer, and take up our cross and deny ourselves for Him, and by living in His spirit show our true apostolic succession to the world in these modern days. If a priest can live on a hundred pounds or a hundred and fifty a year, collect part of it, and travel at his own cost, let a bishop have his three hundred pounds and be content, and keep strictly in his sphere, and--at least, in the colonies--leave worldly dignity alone. He will be more respected in his office if he be fit for it, and he will be more in touch with his people, who often care but little for old-world dignities and titles.

With this simpler diocesan organization I would seldom plant a single man down in his loneliness in a wide district of country; I would have small communities of clergy, under an experienced priest, who should superintend the work of the whole district, and be a father in God to the men who were around him, giving them counsel, and encouragement, and protection, and spiritual help, and intellectual training. He would be a practical rural dean where he is most wanted. In this way freshness and vigour could be thrown into the work, and efficiency and economy would be secured. This would be a real missionary organization; not necessarily interfering with settled pastorates, but supplementing.them in some cases, and in others preparing for them when the population became more dense.

Such spots might, as of old, become religious houses and centres of light and blessing, where prayer could be offered and work could be done for the glory of God, until in many places of our vast solitudes the wilderness would rejoice and blossom as the rose. Closely connected with this subject of the methods of work adapted to our colonial Church conditions is that of the kind of bishops required, and the manner of their appointment. What has a little surprised me is the apparent want of delicacy that I have seen in the newspapers as soon as a vacancy has arisen in our North-West dioceses. Name after name is mentioned, as if a clergyman were a politician looking for office.

Considering the professed sanctity of the bishop's office, ought not ambition here to be stilled, and when the responsibility and the difficulties of the position are realized, ought not the feeling to be, 'Who is sufficient for these things'? Remembering, too, the mother Church at home, and our indebtedness to her in the past, and our dependence upon her help in the future, it does seem out of place to raise the question of our independence of the Church authorities at home in the selection and appointment of bishops for our vacant dioceses, especially in the far West. English Churchmen, above all men, might well realize what is meant by their belief in the communion of saints, and be thankful when England, in our need, gives us of her best, not only of her money, but of her cultivated sons, who are incomparably the richest gifts she can offer to her Colonies.

Men of the world know, without any dispute, the advantages of a European education for prominent offices anywhere; and, while England is willing to open the way to colonists of great ability at home, so as practically to make the Empire one, and England to be wherever the Union Jack waves, it is surely ungracious to raise the question in the Church--of Canada for the Canadians--when bishops are required whose dioceses cannot exist without the benevolences of the motherland. Surely the best and most worthy men should be appointed as bishops wherever they may be found. Hence I cannot look with the highest satisfaction upon the changes lately brought about in the Church of England in Canada. Not that a general synod of the whole Church can be greatly objected to, if it be required--and Methodists and Presbyterian organizations already have their general conferences and assemblies--but the assumption of conferring new titles without the formal sanction of ecclesiastical authorities in England is surely not ancient, but very modern Church order, and in history it will stand out as a departure from old customs, which will not add such dignity to the Archbishoprics of Canada as they would have worn if, at the next assembly of English Church Bishops gathered from all parts of the world, His Grace of Canterbury conferred such titles, with the sanction and authority of the whole English Church.

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