Stuart Macdonald and the cover of his co-authored book, "Leaving Christianity: Changing allegiances in Canada" Register file photos

Book exposes Christian churches' unpleasant statistics

By  Bernardine Ketelaars, Catholic Register Special
  • October 23, 2018

Leaving Christianity:Changing Allegiances in Canada since 1945 by Brian Clarke and Stuart Macdonald (McGill-Queen’s University Press, softcover, 304 pages, $35.00)

Leaving Christianity immediately grabbed my attention. The title gets to the heart of the matter. 

Books, essays, and articles litter the Internet with analysis of declining Church attendance worldwide, but what drew me to this book was that it is focussed on church attendance, or lack thereof, in Canada. 

Easily accessible statistics emerge from the United States. However, as our authors note, this does not always reflect the religious and cultural situation in Canada. 

The second attraction was that the scope of this study would reach back to look at Canadian Christianity before the Second Vatican Council.

It does not take long for the reader to realize Leaving Christianity goes beyond statistical findings of censuses and surveys. The authors equip us with a rich history of the culture and trends which fed into the various studies. Beginning with mainstream Protestant denominations, Clarke and Macdonald expose trends that have been experienced in these churches. 

Relying on resources such as the census and the National Household Survey, they forged deeper into the studies by turning to church records and enrolment lists when these were available through the various denominations. If these were not available, they strived to work with the trends to offer an idea, noting how their findings were reached. 

The same was done for the Roman Catholic Church, intentionally separating the statistics between Quebec and the rest of Canada. 

In addition to the statistics, they turned to the findings of other researchers who had also explored the phenomenon of declining church attendance in Canada — Gregory Baum, Reginald Bibby, Grace Davie, Rick Hiemstra, Hugh McLeod, to name but a few. 

What unfurls before the reader is a mosaic of the faith practices of those who formed the Christian face of Canada and many of us in our faith, whichever denomination that might be. 

We discover the underlying effects of the cultural revolution experienced in the 1960s. Current trends are outlined and, finally, we are given an inkling of what these statistics and trends are telling us as we envision a Canada which is experiencing what McLeod calls “the end of Christendom.” 

We also observe growth in the “No Religion” category – the “third-largest Census category after the categories ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’.”

The growing “No Religion” category may sound harmless; however, Clarke and Macdonald depict the various and often adverse effects this movement to “No Religion” is having on Canadian culture — civically, politically, socially, spiritually and economically. 

Not seeking to provide a quick fix to this phenomenon, Clarke and Macdonald do not gloss over their discoveries. Their findings may be difficult for many to accept. However, they successfully open our eyes to glaring facts to which we may have been stubbornly blind. The reality of the growing phenomenon of the “No Religion” category speaks volumes about the various faith denominations and forces us to question how we are to address this reality.

Faith communities seeking to regrow their church congregation would benefit from reading this book, spending quality time with the last two chapters which focus on major trends and the direction Canada is heading after the demise of Christendom.

 It is also a good read for those who are interested in Canadian history and demographics, as well as those wishing to learn more about the fading face of Christianity in Canada.

Leaving Christianity will be a resource referenced in classes as I co-operate in the formation of men from across Canada who are discerning priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, along with women and men who strive to grow in knowledge of the Roman Catholic faith. 

Recognizing the years of research dedicated to this study, Christian churches across Canada owe Brian Clarke and Stuart Macdonald a debt of gratitude.

(Ketelaars is the director of lay and pastoral formation and a lecturer in missiology and evangelization at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Ont.) 

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