Ten Events in the 1960s that Permanently Changed the Anglican Church of Canada

By Alan L. Hayes
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During the 1960s, which were a decade of upheaval in western Christianity in general, the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) registered some fundamental changes in its worship, theology, ecumenical outlook, discipline, and cultural inclusiveness.  

Here are ten of the most significant changes of those years. I'll let you decide which were good, which were bad, and which were a bit of both.


September 1961: a charismatic outbreak. In Prince Rupert, BC, several clergy received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. One of them had recently visited California and observed charismatic renewal in an Episcopal church there. The Prince Rupert episode was the first known appearance of charismatic renewal in the ACC. The bishop of Caledonia was displeased with so unconventional an experience, and pressed the clergy to resign, but the charismatic movement quickly spread to Toronto and elsewhere, inspiring some Anglicans but alienating others. Many saw it as a reaction against the over-formalization of Anglican worship. In due course the charismatic movement was accepted and institutionalized as "Anglican Renewal Ministries." 


1962–1966: response to the Second Vatican Council. Before the 1960s most Anglicans, if they weren't Anglo-Catholic, regarded the Roman Catholic Church with some mixture of disdain and fear, and often described Anglicanism by contrasting it with Roman Catholic error. But during the 1960s relations between Canadian Anglicans and Roman Catholics thawed with astonishing speed. Several Canadian Anglicans were in attendance at Vatican II, and, inspired by its candid and thoughtful approach to the church's mission in the modern world, reported on it regularly—and enviously—in denominational periodicals and at parish meetings across Canada. And Anglicans and Roman Catholics began joining in worship, conversation, mission projects, and ecumenical coalitions—none more influential, successful, and permanent than the Toronto School of Theology (1969).


August 1963: the Anglican Congress. A thousand Anglicans from all over the world descended on Toronto for worship, teaching, and conversation. Many came from African and Asian countries that had recently been decolonized, and they were no longer willing to submit to the hegemony of first-world churches. Accordingly, the archbishop of Canterbury and other leading bishops announced to the gathering a new principle of "mutual responsibility and interdependence in Christ." They proposed that all the provinces of the Communion should be equal and autonomous, but knit together as partners in mission. It was an electrifying idea, and effectively created the Anglican Communion as something more than a name or a shell. The ACC soon shut down its missionary society and participated in the new system.


February 26, 1964: immigration advocacy. Two years after Canada removed racial restrictions on immigration, Anglican leaders, while pleased, wanted to see still greater transparency and equity in the system, as well as a more generous approach to refugee sponsorship. On this day Anglican representatives met with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Immigration to share their views, which were largely accepted. The ACC would gradually change from an overwhelmingly white and British institution (aside from Indigenous Anglicans, who, however, were still treated more as wards than as members) to a more multicultural and multiracial reality. But it would be another twenty years before the church began to take critical account of its racial disparities.


1964: the "New Curriculum." The national church began publishing a series of Sunday school materials that eliminated most Bible stories and the teaching of core doctrine. The New Curriculum was criticized at the time by George Luxton, the bishop of Huron, for its "somewhat hesitant attitude about faith and doctrine" and its "oblique reference to and use of the Bible." Rank-and-file Sunday school teachers were generally more surprised than pleased by the New Curriculum, and when they discovered that, in order to teach it, they would be expected to undergo two weeks of "group life" instruction, many resigned. The New Curriculum was soon abandoned; it was the national church's last attempt to produce a standard curriculum. A few years later the denominational department of religious education was dissolved. The experience promoted a sense, never entirely dissipated, that the national church staff was out of touch with the concerns and values of ordinary Canadian Anglicans.


September 1965: the call for Prayer Book revision. At the very next meeting after it had approved the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer that is still officially the ACC's normal order of worship, General Synod commissioned the development of a new liturgical order. The ostensible objective was to update the language of Anglican worship, but leading Anglican liturgiologists were also unhappy with its Reformation theology. The Book of Alternative Services would take two decades to develop, but in the meantime General Synod urged bishops to permit "exploratory liturgical uses." Thus began the "era of the mimeographed liturgies," followed by a series of "trial uses." The same General Synod underscored its discontent with Reformation formularies by urging the relevant judicatories to stop requiring that clergy, at their ordination, assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571.


1965: The "Principles of Union." The ACC and the United Church of Canada published an agreed vision for joining together as a new church body. The premise of this ecumenical decade was that the fragmented state of the church represented sinful disobedience to the will of Christ. Moreover, ecumenists observed that each denomination was inclined to settle into an unholy self-satisfaction and self-commendation. The Canadian theologian Bill Coleman, a Wycliffe graduate who had been Principal of Huron College and was now bishop of Kootenay, was one of many who argued that the disappearance of Anglicanism as a separate collective could be a triumph of principle rather than a tragedy. But this is a change in my list that turned out not to be permanent. A decade later, the bishops rejected the plan of union before it was even discussed by General Synod. Since then the ACC has largely stopped speaking of itself as an incomplete piece of the body of Christ, and has functioned more as a competitive brand in the religious marketplace.


August 1967: provision for remarriage. General Synod revised its canon (ecclesiastical law) on marriage to allow the remarriage of divorced persons, conditional, in the early years, on some fairly serious scrutiny of each case by a diocesan commission. Few canons contain theological sections, but this one began with a preamble seeking to square Jesus' negative views of divorce and remarriage with the ACC's new policy.


August 1967: formal repentance. The "Joint Interdepartmental Committee on Indian and Eskimo Affairs," which had no Indigenous members, formally repented of its long-standing colonial mentality. We "must plead forgiveness for our participation in the perpetuation of injustices to Indians,” they wrote General Synod. On their recommendation General Synod resolved to “give its full support to and become actively involved in projects enabling Indians to discuss their own proposals for self-determination.” Over the next few years the ACC exited the administration of Indian residential schools, appointed Indigenous Anglicans to its national staff, and, in concert with other Christian denominations in Canada, began advocating for a moratorium on northern resource development pending the resolution of Indigenous land claims.


August 1969: women deacons. General Synod agreed that Anglican women could be ordained to the diaconate. In fact, the bishops soon announced that some women who had been appointed deaconesses might already be deacons, depending on the wording that had been used when they had been admitted to that office with the laying on of hands. The admission of women to the diaconate was an important expression of gender equality, and an essential step towards the ordination of women as priests in 1976. Some deaconesses, however, refused to be recognized as deacons, fearing that, as clergy, they would be absorbed into a male-dominated hierarchy characterized by clericalism and jockeying for power; they preferred their underpaid, institutionally devalued sisterhood of Christian service.


A concluding question. The numerical strength of the ACC peaked in 1964, when it recorded almost 1.4 million identifiable individuals on its parish rolls. (In 2017, the most recent year for which figures are available, the number was less than 360,000.) Did this numerical decline have anything to do with these denominational changes in the 1960s? And, if so, which changes may have accelerated the decline and which may have slowed it down? There's room for debate!




Alan Hayes is Bishops Frederick and Heber Wilkinson Professor of Church History at Wycliffe College.