Seeds Scattered and Sown: Studies in the History of Canadian Anglicanism

May 4, 2009 – 5:32 pm

Edited by Norman KnowlesISBN 978-1-55126-499-8
soft cover, approx. 400 pages, $34.95


Reviewed by Linden Rogers
Montreal Anglican

Church history “from the bottom up” is anything but dull

seeds-cover-smallIs it possible for a book of essays on our church’s history to be so riveting that it is difficult to put down? This has certainly been my experience with Seeds Scattered and Sown: Studies in the History of Canadian Anglicanism. These studies provide a perspective which shows the church’s past to be a rich, vibrant tapestry, one people by faithful, hard-working, and often imaginative Anglicans and one which many of us have seen in our own lives but have encountered in our history books only in short glimpses.

Past historical writers, both professional and amateur, were really confined by the conventions of writing church history to two general areas; either they were to write an institutional history or a biography of a person in a leadership role. Because of this “top-down” approach, a great deal of church history was not known or heard.

But the contributors to Seeds Scattered and Sown have taken a different approach. As the editor of the volume, Dr. Norman Knowles, points out, changes in the writing of Canadian history in the 1960s brought social and cultural history to the fore. These changes have made writing history from the “bottom up” possible and the result has been the discovery of many new histories and new voices. The historians in this collection of essays are able to bring into our view the experience of ordinary Canadian Anglicans and the issues that deeply moved them over a period of a century and a half. They are also able to bring forward several perspectives largely overlooked in past general histories: those of aboriginals, women, and other minorities.

To be witness to these new perspectives is one part of the excitement that these essays generate, but there is another aspect as well. The contributors describe both the church’s successes and its failures. As Dr. Knowles explains, it is only through such a “willingness to be honest, sometimes brutally honest, and transparent,” that we can really move forward in our church life. “I would see that almost as prophetic function … that the church needs to face its past with eyes wide open. There’s a convenient amnesia from time to time, and sometimes we need to be reminded of what we’ve forgotten, certainly if we hope to learn from the part, we need to know it in its totality.” Archbishop Peers, in his Foreword, reminds us how important this unflinching look at the past was for the beginning of healing in the residential school issue.

This is the work of eight very capable contributors. The editor, Norman Knowles, is an Associate Professor at St. Mary’s University College in Calgary. Past participants in the Education for Ministry program will remember him as the author of Stepping Stones: Church History and Theological Development in Canada. The other contributors are William Crockett, Wendy Fletcher, Paul Friesen, Terry Reilly, M.E. Reisner, Myra Rutherdale, and Christopher G. Trott. The organization of the book is both chronological and thematic. Chronologically it is divided by Canadian political eras: pre-Confederation, post-Confederation to the end of World War II, and after World War II to the present.

Each of these sections begins with a short but broad overview of the major historical developments of the period, followed by three chapters, each dealing with a unique area of church life.

The first two chapters in the book cover the beginnings of the colonial church in Eastern Canada, and the third with the growth of the church in the West and North. The focus of Chapters 4 to 6 is the building of the national church: Anglican identity in the post-Confederation period, mission and social service, and the history of synodical government in Canada. The final three chapters deal with some thorny issues which have engaged the church since 1945, problems familiar to many of us: the “uncomfortable pews”-that is, life in the church since 1945, women in the church, and the role of aboriginals in the church. These essays are packed with insight into the church’s past life, and any one of them is a good entry point into the rest of the book.

Seeds Scattered and Sown is for anyone who has imagined that the history of the Anglican church in Canada is dull and irrelevant. Those who have a long experience in the church, those who have experience in the church, those who have experience in reading Canadian Anglican history, and those new to the study and to the church-all will surely be excited by the passion and sheer grit of the men and women who have preceded us. Understanding their successes and failures can be invaluable in forming our present-day policies.

These essays give rise to more intriguing questions. One of these questions for me is the impact of the post-Confederation missionary movement on Anglicans, for we were thinking in terms of the “global village” long before Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase. As well, I would hope that people from other countries who have come here and made the church their home would be willing to share the history of their encounter with Canadian Anglicanism.

Michael Peers ends his Foreword with this statement: “May we always have historians such as these who can maintain that reputation for transparency by the same scholarship and integrity as is manifest in this history.”