Will francophone ministry bring Quebecers to Anglican pews?


Ministry by the Anglican Church of Canada in the French language may seem innovative to some, but francophone ministry has a surprisingly long history: the first attempt was in 1768.

In a curious footnote to the history of Anglican Church in Canada, the first Anglican priests appointed to Quebec City, following the British conquest of New France, were French-speakers. They were sent not, primarily, to minister to the local garrison but to proselytize the local Roman Catholic population.

They were not, as history has shown, particularly successful.

Almost 250 years later, however, many Anglicans in the diocese believe their churches' survival depends on their ability to reach out to the French-speaking population.

Given that French is the first language of the overwhelming majority of the population in Quebec, Coadjutor Bishop Bruce Myers says pursuing growth means looking beyond the traditional anglophone communities.

"If we are to grow numerically, [we have] to have more French-speaking Quebecois clergy and parishioners and members of our church," he says.

While ministry to anglophones will always be an important part of the work of the diocese, Myers, who will take over as diocesan bishop when Bishop Dennis Drainville retires, believes demographic changes in recent decades make francophone ministry essential.

The rise of Quebec nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s--along with the Charter of the French Language, which established French as the province's official language in 1977--precipitated a massive out-migration of anglophones. In Quebec City, English speakers made up 40 per cent of the population at the high point in the 1860s, but they constituted a mere 1.4 per cent in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.

English is the mother tongue of most local Anglicans, but they also need a working knowledge of French; among the younger generations, bilingualism is almost a given. This has meant significant changes to ministry in the diocese. Of the four Anglican congregations in Quebec City, only two are fully English-speaking; the two others, Tous les Saints, which meets at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, worships in French, and St. Michael's, Sillery, is bilingual.

Archdeacon Pierre Voyer, priest-in-charge at Tous les Saints, is one of three francophone priests serving in the diocese. In a diocese where many churches struggle to attract more than 10 parishioners on a Sunday, Tous les Saints has about 70 members, around...

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