Monday, 22 August 2016

from 1961- "The Hidden Failure of our Churches"



So a friend of mine has a Maclean’s magazine from Feb 25th 1961. (For those of my non-Canadian friends, Maclean’s is ‘the’ Canadian magazine). My friend was kind enough to lend it to me and I thought I would give a bit of a review of it.
First, the title-
“The Hidden Failure of our Churches: Despite the so-called religious revival, the churches themselves- Catholic and Protestant- are afraid they are losing their place in Canadian life”.
The first thing that struck me was the idea that these are “our” churches, rather that “the” churches. There was an identifying with the church on the part of, not only the author, but seemingly of the magazine.

The magazine is from 1961- the year JFK became president of the United States, and John Diefenbaker was prime minister. The Cold War was worsening and some families were building bomb shelters. 1961 saw the beginning of the building of the Berlin Wall. This was also the year of the first direct involvement of the US in the Vietnam War. Bonanza and Andy Griffith were on TV and you may have heard “surrender” by Elvis playing on the radio. We hadn’t landed on the moon yet (1969), and the ‘free love’ we would associate with Woodstock and the sexual revolution hadn’t yet reached its height.

The article begins with a subtitle- 
“Our Christian churches look healthy. But within, church leaders themselves fear the churches are unfit: too lazy, too social, too weak. Ralph Allen reports on where they’ve gone wrong and what they can still do about it”. 
The first line states, 
“When this year’s census, the first since 1951, is made public it will contain the statement that at least nine Canadians in every ten are adherents of a Christian church or have been committed to one by their parents or guardians.” 
(I’m not sure of the exact wording of the survey, but I believe the present Canadian statistic is somewhere around 20% of Canadians attending church once per month of more).

“In the answers … of professing Christians may lie the fate of all mankind. Against such other gigantic forces as communism, materialism and thinly sheathed militarism, the Christian church is widely held to be the most hopeful protector of the human race, physically as well as spiritually.” You won’t find that statement in a modern major publication!

After speaking about the growth of the Christian churches in Canada the author says, “But almost without exception the leaders of the Christian churches are the first to admit that the statistics are misleading. … in the heart of Quebec, which by all known standards of arithmetic is the most thoroughly Christian society outside the Vatican, an eminent Roman Catholic priest told me sadly a month or so ago: ‘If the province were isolated from Anglo-Saxon Canada, if it were truly a Roman Catholic island like Cuba or Spain or Mexico, it would already be on the brink of the same kind of revolution these other Catholic countries have had. … Thousands of Catholics have been allowed to forget that the Church’s real concern is for human souls and human welfare, and see it chiefly as an officious nag telling them perpetually when they can take a drink, when they can sleep with their wives, where they should spend their money, what they should teach their children.’”
The Very Rev. Angus James MacQueen, past moderator of the United Church says in the article, “On the whole the church is not doing a very creditable job. … In many areas of her life she is unfit for the tasks of the hour. She is too comfortable and too well adjusted to the status quo, and too ready to equate it with the Kingdom of God on earth. She is too preoccupied with her own denominational projects and ambitions, and even with her own congregational budgets and buildings. She is too divided in her own structure to launch much of an assault against evil, or to preach unity and reconciliation to the world. And she is too pietistic and irrelevant in the face of the real stuff of life and great issues of our day- the feeble guardian of personal decency and the fount of tranquility and optimism.”

The executive secretary of the Student Christian Movement of Canada, the Rev. Roy G. DeMarsh stated to the Canadian Council of Churches, “in some universities, the Christian group on the campus is hardly visible any longer. … There is a sort of hidden spiritual hunger (among the students). They know that there is more to life than the secular realm and getting a good home with a two-car garage and a beautiful wife or husband. They know there is more to life than this, but they are only mildly interested and there are many distractions.” In an interview with an agnostic student, the former head of a Christian group on campus, he says that those who go off to university are not prepared for the challenge they meet there. Many who have blindly followed the words of their churches are unprepared to reply to any academic criticism or engage in critical thought in the area of religion.

Among the important changes facing the churches of 1961 are the “shift in population since the war; the rush from the rural areas to the cities and the rush from the cities to the suburbs” which made it nearly impossible to keep track of their people, let alone tend to them. They note that people move with increased frequency and change churches frequently as well, not always remaining committed to the denomination.

The article also mentions an effort on the part of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada to survey their people to find out areas of weakness. Among them was discovered a growing rift between clergy and laity. Aidan Gasquet, the English cardinal and church historian, once pointed to one of the hazards in this relationship. ‘What is the position of the layman in the church?’ a priest was asked. ‘To kneel before the altar and to sit beneath the pulpit,” the priest replied. The cardinal’s wry comment was that the layman is sometimes granted a third privilege: to put his hand in his pocket.” In Quebec, once abandoned by France, the largely uneducated people found themselves without much leadership. The clergy often found themselves put in positions of authority and leadership beyond their usual pastoral duties. This led to a kind of authoritarianism that increasingly became resented by the laity. The end result seems to be an increasing privatization of religion where the clergy no longer help determine how a person votes (among other public matters). The clergy continue to have authority in the religious realm, but a decreasing authority in public affairs or education. Their authority retreated to the home and church in the eyes of many Catholics. The influence of individualism, a desire to be thought of as an individual with their own thoughts and feelings rather than just a part of the flock, seems to be a trend in the criticism of the church’s use of authority as well.  

The article collects a number of self-critical quotes from church leaders as it searched for the ‘disease’ afflicting the church. Some name the institution. Some name the non-involvement in the plight of the suffering. Some blame career ambitious clergy, or even a lack of clergy:

“There is … no place in American society where a person with moral, social or racial blemish is more penalized as an intruder than in the church- more than in schools, in industry, or government. In the most crucial issues of life, friendship and love, marriage and home, death and burial, and the Christian obeys submissively the dictates of American culture and public opinion rather than the claims of the Christian Gospel”- Dr.Jitsuo Morikawa, secretary, American Home Mission Societies, New York.

“May I point out the pitfalls into which sometimes the home, the school, the Church collectively or individually may have fallen. It is that in our desire to pass on the faith which we ourselves hold so dearly, to give of the vision which we ourselves have formed, we have imagined that it was sufficient to tell the children. We have sometimes been satisfied with the externals, with performance rather than virtue; with verbosity rather than vitality, with recitation rather than reaction. In the very zeal of the action of the home, the school and the Church on the young we have a terrible temptation to over-protect, to over-teach, to over-coddle.”- The Very Rev. G. Emmett Carter, principal, St. Joseph’s Teachers’ College, Montreal.

“To find the Christian style of life for the twentieth century- this is the task today; not to find new forms of Church work, bigger and better groups, organizations, movements and programs. All these call men out of the world into the artificial and hothouse world of ‘Church.’ Now here is the crux of the matter: if the Church is understood as the training ground for action in the world, that is good; but if it is regarded as an end in itself, that is evil.”- Dr. Joseph C. McLelland, professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion, Presbyterian College, Montreal; associate Professor, McGill.

“Americans more than ever see the churches of Jesus Christ as competing social groups pulling and hauling, propagandizing and pressuring for their own organizational advantages.”- Dr. Eugene Blake, executive head of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

“The church, instead of being a goad, is by and large at peace with society. Throughout the world the church has tended to sanctify the regime. Jesus meant the church to be the yeast that leavened the whole loaf. But the vast majority of laymen and many of the clergy see the church as the sanctifier of the status quo.”- The Rt. Rev. James A. Pike, Episcopal Bishop of California.

“The traditional forms of instruction in our churches have not provided most Christian students coming into the university with a grasp of the faith sufficiently mature to serve as a basis for their intellectual life. Common reactions among them are: to abandon Christianity for some form of liberal or scientific humanism; to attempt to put Christ and faith in a watertight compartment far removed from intellectual activities; to drift into a state of indifference where religion loses its significance; to live in a state of unresolved tension or despair.”- Commission on the Church and University, Canadian Council of Churches.

In terms of the lack of clergy, in Montreal in 1961 they required “one priest for every 700 souls”. A tall order for a priest! In my opinion a healthy ratio is 1 priest for every 100 parishioners. Montreal was not able to get the desired ratio and instead had a ratio of 1 priest for every 3000. “In 1911, in a diocesan population of 600,000, the number of new priests ordained was 25. In 1960, with the population at two million, there were only 27 ordinations. … a far cry from the ancient Catholic tradition that it is every family’s ambition to give a son to the priesthood. And because of its sheer structural size and its concept of the wide range of its duties and rights, a scarcity of priests, nuns and monks means far more to the Catholic Church than a shortage of people to preach sermons, serve the mass, offer communion and hear confessions. It means a shortage of people to run its multi-million-dollar business affairs and physical plant, of teachers at its schools and universities, of nurses for its hospitals, of scholars as well as clerks and even corner-lot hockey coaches.”

The author outlines a few changes the Catholic Church was making in order to deal with these issues, including: a papal decree to absolve churchgoers from fasting overnight before taking communion; masses spoken in the vernacular rather than Latin; including responsive readings to help the congregation participate in the liturgy; making the confessional more secret; getting priests to liven up their sermons and make them less condescending. (Keep in mind Vatican 2 didn’t happen until 1962.)  The article quotes one young man, “I finally quit the church because it just wasn’t talking to me; it became as much a matter of boredom as of disbelief. I am not an atheist, I am not an agnostic, I am not a Catholic. I don’t know what I am except that I have lost interest.”

The article reports that the Protestant churches face “a conflict of goals- the tug between a highly concentrated religious gospel and what the fire-eating revivalists Billy Sunday used to call the ‘godless social service non-sense’ of progressivism”.  Commenting on the numerous non-religious activities sponsored by the churches (Scouts, etc) Dr. Joseph C. McLelland (a prof at Presbyterian College in Montreal) said, “The suburban style of life is a refined bourgeois style, a hangover from our protestant past but without the ‘Protestant principal’ of reforming adventure at its heart. Therefore it is being sucked into the devouring maw of Religion; it is being fooled into thinking that more Church work means more Christianity”. The author remarks, “All the Protestant churches share an uneasy feeling that their basements and halls may be getting too big and their altars too small.” The Rev. L. E. Mason, stewardship counselor of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, commented, “[the church is] too much like the world outside. Instead of the church turning the world upside down, the world is turning the church upside down.”

The article includes a survey conducted in Guelph, Ontario. The survey concluded that most people “believe in God and in their churches- or say they do- in much the same way as did their fathers and the fathers of their fathers.    But in their everyday lives they are paying very little real attention to their churches and taking very little guidance from them. … Many, perhaps most, of them like their churches but don’t take them very seriously.”


“It’s a common saying,” Dr. James Gallagher, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, points out, “that Christianity is never more than a generation away from extinction. So long as we keep reminding ourselves of that, we’ll be here for a long time”.                

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