We need each other: In Quebec, ecumenism is a matter of survival
16 December 2016 • Permanent link: iarccum.org/?p=3043
According to a story often repeated in the diocese of Quebec, when the first Anglican bishop, Jacob Mountain, arrived in Quebec City in 1793, he was greeted on the dock by his Roman Catholic counterpart, Bishop Jean-François Hubert.
“Your people are waiting for you,” said Hubert, welcoming Mountain to his new home.
While relations between French Catholics and English Protestants in Quebec have not always been so cordial, the leadership of the two churches have long understood the practical need to work together in a province where religion historically has played an outsized role in public life.
When the newly refurbished Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica burned to the ground Dec. 22, 1922, the Anglican bishop invited the congregation to worship at the nearby Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Decades later, Catholic Archbishop Maurice Roy provided the Anglican bishop’s residence with firewood from a woodlot owned by the Catholic church.
But for Mountain, and Hubert’s most recent spiritual descendants, Roman Catholic Archbishop Gérald Lacroix and Anglican Coadjutor Bishop Bruce Myers, the relationship has moved beyond simply “working together.” When Myers arrived in Quebec City to take up his new position in May 2016, Lacroix invited him to live at the archevêché, the official residence of the Catholic archbishop of Quebec.
“[Myers] is welcome here like a brother. We pray together, we eat together, we have fun together—it’s life. That brings bonds,” says Lacroix, noting that when Myers is not travelling the diocese, he joins them every morning at 7 a.m. for the Eucharist, which he refrains from taking out of respect for Catholic teaching on the matter.
For Lacroix, this is what ecumenism really looks like.
“Ecumenism will not happen, and unity will not happen, between churches. It will happen between people of those churches,” he says. “It is not a decree that we are going to get from some authority. It’s going to be…walking together, praying together and living together.”
Myers, who served as the co-ordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations at the Anglican Church of Canada from 2012-2016, agrees.
“My being welcomed there, and the hospitality I have been shown, and that I am hoping we will be able to reciprocate in some ways—that speaks louder than any common declaration he or I could make about our good will as churches toward each other,” he says.
It is an approach to ecumenism that Lacroix had also cultivated with diocesan Bishop Dennis Drainville.
In 2014, Drainville joined Lacroix on a pilgrimage to Rome and France following the canonization of Quebec’s first Roman Catholic bishop, François de Laval, and Mother Marie of the Incarnation, who established the first community of nuns in North America.
Recently, these friendships found an even more concrete expression in the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, which formally dedicated a chair for the Catholic archbishop’s ongoing use at a service in November 2016.
While Lacroix and his predecessors have had a seat set aside for them in the Anglican cathedral for decades, Lacroix says the dedication marks a significant milestone in the church’s history of working together.
“That would have been impossible a few years ago…but now, this is welcomed and applauded,” he says, noting that in earlier decades, Catholics and Anglicans were still wary of getting too close to each other on an institutional level.
But while the Catholic church is the diocese of Quebec’s largest ecumenical partner, it is not the only one.
Following the dramatic out-migration of English-speaking Quebecers that began in the 1970s, the Anglican church has also begun to work more closely with other historically English-speaking Protestant churches, such as the United and Presbyterian churches.
Myers noted that in many communities within the diocese, there is an Anglican church, a Presbyterian church and a United church—none of them with a full- or even part-time minister.
“How can we, in a case like that, put more of an emphasis on the things we share in common rather than our differences and find ways to work together?” Myers said, adding that the ecumenical shared ministry model used in other parts of the church is being considered in some parishes.
In other parishes, ecumenism is already a part of daily life.
The dean of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the oldest Anglican cathedral outside of the United Kingdom, is Christian Schreiner—a Lutheran from Bavaria. And at St. Michael’s, Sillery, an Anglican church in the Quebec City suburbs, the interim minister, the Rev. Darla Sloan, is also the incumbent at Église Unie St-Pierre, a francophone United church.
Sloan, who served as an interim pastor at St. Michael’s in 2012, presides over a communion service twice a month using the United Church rite. She says she hasn’t heard any concerns from Anglicans about receiving communion from a United Church minister—in part because the congregation of St. Michael’s and Saint-Pierre have a history of joining each other for worship and special events.
“I think it feels natural to me and to them,” says Sloan. “I don’t think anybody raises an eyebrow.”
Sloan said she is hoping to take things a step further by doing a joint confirmation class for Anglican, United and Presbyterian youth.
She and Schreiner, the dean at the Anglican cathedral, had previously experimented with a shared confirmation class in 2012, which she said was quite successful.
“It was great, because we showed them what the differences were [between the denominations]—how in some ways it is different, and in some ways it isn’t,” she said.
However, in talking about ecumenism, Sloan, Myers and Lacroix all acknowledged that differences—sometimes deep differences, as in the case of human sexuality—exist among the different denominations active in Quebec. They also acknowledged that in some cases, people have switched denominations over these differences.
But they also claimed these realities have not placed a significant damper on ecumenical work.
For example, Archdeacon Pierre Voyer, who studied to be a Roman Catholic priest before leaving the church in the 1970s due to its teachings on social issues (contraception and the ordination of women, in particular), remains very active in ecumenical dialogue as an Anglican priest.
Myers believes the willingness to work together is, in large part, due to the Anglican church’s decreased ability to serve its small but widespread population unaided.
“I think we’re too small a church to be doing this alone. No church should be doing it alone, regardless of its size, but I think we really are stronger together and more effective together with our ecumenical partners,” he says.
While the Catholic church is still a much more significant force in Quebec society than the Anglican church, Lacroix agrees with his fellow bishop.
“When everybody is rich, we don’t look to the neighbour; it’s not right, but we do our own thing. We live like silos right next to each other, self-sufficient,” he says. “But now we need each other…we have a world we need to evangelize.”
But in a context where a small number of new parishioners can mean the difference between a church staying open or closing down, what does it mean to do evangelism ecumenically?
Lacroix says he isn’t worried about “sheep stealing,” or competition between churches for the same parishioners or each other’s parishioners.
“Every church has a different perspective on evangelization, and we can learn from each other,” he says, acknowledging that there is still resistance in some quarters of the various denominations to this kind of approach.
“Every church has its particular way of doing things, and instead of needing to say what is right or wrong, what I like or don’t like, let’s say, ?What can I learn from them?’ ” he says.
Myers likewise resists the notion that ecumenism can get in the way of growth.
“I think ecumenism is a gospel imperative. I think everyone in any church should be working to help reveal the full visible unity of the church in practical and concrete ways,” he says.