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A Letter to the Canadian Church from George Sumner

(Photo: Sue Careless)

GREETINGS IN CHRIST! Upon the occasion of my departure from Wycliffe College as principal after 16 years, I was asked to answer some questions about myself, the college, and the state of the Church it serves.  I have to the best of my ability assimilated the question, and this is my summative answer.  I was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas in May, and have just received

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Trinity, 2015: Mark Regis

(Supplied Photo)

In his ministry as associate pastor at St Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto, Mark Regis helps prepare couples for marriage. Sue Careless asks what he has learned about marriage from the course he leads and from his own 8-year marriage to Ruthia.


TAP: What is your role in preparing couples for marriage?

MR: There is a four-stage process:

I meet with the couple interested in having their wedding at St. Paul’s to discuss the process, make a pastoral contact, gather an initial sense of the couple and pray for them.

They participate in our five-week Alpha marriage preparation course

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Kerry Dickson


Sue Careless talks with Kerry Dickson about 622, the new curriculum she is developing for youth.



Is this Sunday school curriculum or material for a youth group? 

It’s more suited to Sunday school, but I think there’s enough versatility in it to allow for use in other contexts.


What age group are you targeting?

It’s really for high school, so grades nine to 12.


Sunday school used to go to grade 8 but now in many Anglican churches it ends at grade 6 and middle school children enter youth groups. Youth groups need to be fun to attract teens

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Foley Beach

Archbishop Foley Beach, the newly-invested Primate of ACNA, was recently in Ottawa for ANiC's synod and the installation of Bishop Charlie Masters. He took time to sit down with your editor to discuss his faith journey, the future of ACNA, the pro-life movement and our need to pray.

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Philip Jenkins

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Photo: Sue Careless


Philip Jenkins spoke on “Christianity in the World City” at Wycliffe College in Toronto on May 14th as part of the Refresh! Conference. His talk has been reformatted by Sue Careless as an interview using his own rhetorical questions and questions from the floor. Dr Jenkins is Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University and is best known for his highly acclaimed work, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.


Has there been a geographic shift in Christianity globally?

Christianity around the world is doing extremely well but paradoxically Christianity in its former centres of glory is doing extremely badly.

In 1640, one of the worst years in European civilization (until 1940), when Catholics were killing Protestants and Protestants were killing Catholics and everyone was killing Jews, people worried whether civilization would fail entirely in Europe. St Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) predicted that the Church in the future would thrive in South America, Africa, China and Japan. Except for Japan, he was right.

By 2050 the countries with the largest Christian populations will be the United States, followed in no particular order by Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, the Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Philippines and China.

The American Physics Society compiled another list of countries that would have “no religion” by the end of this century. They included the Netherlands, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria and Estonia. In the first list there is no member of the British Empire and in the second, most were influenced by the Reformation. So the question to ask is not ‘Has there been a shift in Christianity?’ but ‘Has the world been wholly turned upside down?’

Which is the world’s fastest growing religion?

I have two simple answers: Islam, and Christianity outside Europe. If you subtract the dead weight of Europe, Christianity outside of Europe is by far the fastest growing religion.

Which continent has the largest Christian population?

Africa, no competition. In 1900 Africa had 10 million Christians, about 10 percent of the population. By 2000 they had 360 million, and it hit half a billion this year. By 2050 it should hit a little more than one billion. Over the next 20 or 30 years I’ve seen nothing that would slow it down.

Why are these huge changes happening?

If you want to understand global changes in religion look at demographics. Take the country that would become Kenya. In 1900 it had one million people, by 2000 it has 40 million and it should have 75 million by 2050. So if half the population is Christian and you keep that percent, you are going to have far more Christians by 2050. It is partly a case of conversions but demographics matter, too. In 1900 Europeans on the planet outnumbered Africans by two and a half to one; by 2050 Africans will outnumber Europeans two and a half to one.

Why is 2.1 such an important figure in demographics?

If you have a society in which a typical woman during her lifetime has 2.1 children, then that is the replacement rate for a steady and usually stable population. If it goes way above that you have an expanding, young population; if it goes way below, you have a shrinking, aging population. The median age of the population of Italy is 42, while that of Uganda is 14. This also has a great deal to do with religion and secularization. If you tell me the fertility rate of a particular society, I can give you a very good guess at how secular it is.

If you have a low fertility rate of 1.6, that society has lost the traditional, religious-based sanction for larger families. There are fewer children and so far fewer potential bonds to organized religion. In villages where there might once have been 100 children going through confirmation, now there are two or three. In the last fifty years, you have sharp falls in fertility rates in Europe due to secularization and the passing of secular policies like abortion and same-sex marriage. We see this dramatically in Spain and Italy. A Roman Catholic these days is female and lives near the equator. Last year in the Philippines there were more Roman Catholic baptisms than in France, Spain, Italy and Poland combined. Areas of Germany have a fertility rate of .8 percent. This demographic decline is unprecedented.

Yet the countries with the sharpest falls in fertility in the last 25 years, and the ones most likely to be secularizing radically in the next two decades, are all Islamic. The sharpest drop has occurred in the United Arab Emirates: from 6 children per woman in the 1980s, down to 1.6 today. There is a two-tier Muslim world. Some are very secular and European, with low fertility rates such as Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Others have very high fertility rates and are very religious, fundamentalist and violent: Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. Fertility rates are a very good predictor of religiosity.

Some countries have resisted this great European fertility fall. Black Africa still has an expanding and extremely religious population. South Africa is the exception. It is experiencing a nascent secularization.

What obstacles could stop the growth of Christianity in Africa?

If you have religious wars, particularly ones driven by resource conflict, there could be massive destruction of Christian populations.

What role do women play in the African church?

Even if they are not ordained, women are key among the lay leaders. Women bring their menfolk in as converts. If a church doesn’t have a very strong female base and constituency, it is going nowhere.

What is the most secular populated continent in the world?

Europe. But South America is moving in the same European direction regarding abortion and same-sex marriage.

What does Christianity look like in Europe and North America?

There are two extremes. Europe is the most secular and the United States is the most religious. Recent surveys show growing numbers of people with no religious affiliation who are often referred to as the “nones.” In Europe they really mean it, but be very, very suspicious of the so-called American nones. Many still attend church.

How do you have a church without children?

You cannot run a society with only old people. We’ve had mass immigration from the Global South into Europe and North America and those people have brought their religious patterns with them. In Europe we’ve seen one pattern where new immigrant groups become the new framework of Christianity, replacing older churches. In America they do not, because the existing churches are still so strong. So Nigerian, Vietnamese and Korean churches in the States just add another layer to the existent American Church.

In Europe we see this pattern of replacement very strongly. (Secularism is not uniform across Europe. The exceptions are Poland, Slovakia and Croatia – which still have extremely high levels of religious practice and vocations to the priesthood.) In France today only 48 percent of people claim even a nominal Catholic identity. Religion is not dead in Europe but it’s strongly associated with immigrants. Nigerian congregations are springing up everywhere. The largest Christian congregation in Europe is in Kiev – and is Nigerian-led. The four largest mega-churches in Britain are all pastored by Nigerians. The mega-churches in Paris and Brussels are Congolese. European Catholic seminaries are overwhelmingly Black African and Vietnamese. There are important areas of growth within the white churches of Europe but they move away from the idea of church being for everybody and concentrate on smaller, highly motivated groups that borrow from Pentecostalism and charismatic American and African churches. You’re familiar with Holy Trinity Brompton, and St Andrew’s Chorleywood, which draws heavily on the Chilean Pentecostal revival. The See of York was founded in 627 and now has a black Ugandan bishop, John Sentamu. Christianity won’t die in Europe but will shift enormously from a white to a black and brown phenomenon.

In the US by 2050 ninety percent of the Roman Catholic Church will be Latino and Asian.

Where does Canada fit in?

Canada is much closer to the European model. Canada is the top immigrant destination of the G8 countries. The combined Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh populations in Canada equal 7.2 percent while the same percent of the Canadian population belongs to immigrant Christian churches. Canadian Christianity is going to be much more an immigrant phenomenon. There are thriving Chinese Baptist churches in Scarborough and Richmond Hill. And don’t get me started on Vancouver.

Are Islam and the Asian religions immune from the secularizing trends that affect Christianity?

No. Let’s look at two imaginary friends of mine: Tony and Tariq. Tony is from a Roman Catholic background; Tariq is from an Islamic background. Their parents followed those religions but Tony and Tariq have zero interest in religion. Neither attends a religious service or follows any religious practice. Yet every study in Europe and North America will list Tariq as a Muslim but none will list Tony as a Roman Catholic or a Christian. So what do some statistics about Muslims actually mean? Simply that they or their families came from a country where Islam was the default religion, not that they necessarily now practice that faith.

Why do you stress city?

Christianity was born in cities in Asia and Africa and in our time has decided to go home. Today the largest concentrations of Christians are in cities. We are living in the greatest age of urbanization, greater than during the Industrial Revolution and it’s happening in Africa and Asia. We’re dealing with cities of 25 and 30 million people. Chonqing in China has a larger population than Iraq.

How do you live in a city that size?

Either you have a superb, caring and highly efficient government or you have excellent, devoted, religious institutions in those cities that provide welfare, health and education services that governments cannot begin to match. That is why Christianity is booming in cities like Lagos, Kinshasa and Nairobi: the government is basically non-functional. And it’s also why Islamic fundamentalist movements do well around the world. It’s why Hamas does well in the Middle East where the local government is often corrupt and utterly incompetent. If your child has a medical emergency you go to a particular Hamas mosque that will find a local heart surgeon who is devoting his or her time to the poor.

To understand the religious patterns in the world today you have to return to some basic biblical realities. It’s not so much people listening to doctrine or words initially but people seeing deeds and great social outreach. It’s people taking care of your family, people offering a humane face in a city utterly lacking those phenomena. Cities like Lagos are going to be the great centres of Christianity for the remainder of this century.

What about Christianity in China?

The current scale of Christianity in China is open to argument. In 1949 when the Communists took over, there were 5 million Christians. Today the official count is 24 million but the best figure we have is 70 to 75 million, larger than in any European country. There are a lot of Roman Catholics but the great growth centres are Charismatic and Pentecostal. During the 1980s and 1990s the Communist Party was favourable to Christianity because it represented modernisation, hard work and good ethical standards. When Christian numbers ran out of control – especially when Christianity made deep inroads into educated elites, and even the Party itself – then it was time to apply the brakes. So now the Communist Party is giving major support to other religions such as Taoism and Buddhism. In 2005 the government commissioned and funded the building of a colossal 354-foot-high statue of the Buddhist goddess Guanyin on the island of Hainan.

How do Muslims and Christians interact when they move to the Global North, say from Lagos to Toronto?

In an African country religious differences are less than you might think, because everyone is related to everyone. A Nigerian Christian probably will have a Muslim aunt. The interfaith conversations are amazing in Nigeria. It would be unthinkable to start any meeting there without a prayer. It doesn’t matter if it is a priest or a mullah who delivers it.

But if you move to Toronto you have Christians and Muslims from completely different societies. When people move and lose those original ties to that particular community and landscape then you get people cut off from their old, local Islam and sometimes they adopt this new, transnational, more radical Islam. You move to a land [seemingly] without God. Some Muslims then accept a much more generic Islam that makes universal claims. Similar things happen to Christians who move from Ethiopia. They may move to a more transnational Christian faith like Pentecostalism. The old religious labels acquire a new currency in the new land. Sometimes a western government makes an ethnic group speak through its community’s religious leaders, the mullahs, who may be more radical than the ethnic group itself.

The Global North is present in the South in media, money and soft power. (Both Muslims and Christians use media for evangelizing.) The Global South is in the North in the form of people, [immigrants]. Christianity is truly a global Church.