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Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan, N.W. Canada
Chapter XVII. Difficulties of Church Work


MISSIONARY work in this far North-West has three branches. There is the Indian work, the town work, and the work of the travelling missionary among the settlers. As we are situated now, the Indian work is the easiest, and the most independent and agreeable. In this case the missionary has his work close at hand; the Government and the missionary societies help him, and benevolent persons of various kinds render him assistance. There need be no travelling, nor much wear and tear either of body or of mind. A missionary at an Indian mission station now is not much to be pitied; his accommodation is excellent, his living is good, he has his services close at hand, his work claims sympathy and attention, and these to a great extent he gains. I would sooner be engaged in this work, in the Saskatchewan and Alberta districts, than in any other kind of work, had I my choice and did circumstances allow me to choose. As I view it, the Indian work includes the mission to the half-race, which cannot now be wisely separated from it.

While I write, an eminent Roman Catholic missionary of this country is endeavouring to induce the Canadian Government to give reserves of land for the accommodation of the Indians. I do not anticipate much good result from such an arrangement. Already they have received 'scrip' for special lands, but these have at last fallen into the hands of traders. The half-race and the Indian are so mixed that no one can separate them; and the majority on the reserves and in the schools are half-race rather than Indian. Now that they are all learning to speak English, some will rise in the social scale, and the others will quickly pass away. Neither the half-race question nor the Indian question can be dealt with in any permanent way. From a variety of causes these questions are fast solving themselves, and they had better work out their manifest destiny. Real kindness would help these people to cheap schools, and to secure fitting stipends for their clergy--for the half-breeds usually gather themselves into communities. In other ways they could be encouraged to independence and self-help, and this would be far better than plunging them into full pauperism.

Our next missionary work is the work of the Church in the towns. There are no villages here; they are all either towns or cities. Probably our town work is like that which has to be done in all our colonies where the circumstances are similar. This work is as much Congregationalism as it can be under a bishopric. The people who form the congregations are new to one another. They manage their affairs by committees; and, as they provide the minister's stipend, they are the masters of the situation, and they virtually control both the priest and the bishop. The Australian colonist farmer said to his bishop, 'Yes, you may send the minister; but if we don't like un we won't pay un.' Considering the various tastes and opinions of these new communities whose members are gathered from everywhere, it would be a miracle if any clergyman suited them all equally well.

In large cities, here as elsewhere, congregations are formed of separate classes, to suit the views of the classes; but it cannot be so in the small towns. They all must meet in one church-building, and there are sure to be differences of opinion amongst them. The Church work of the small towns is, therefore, a very difficult matter, whether the clergyman be what is known as high, or low, or broad Church, or whether he is no Churchman at all. He may be ever so sincere and prudent, and yet he may give offence if he turn to the east in the Creed, or if he does not turn; if the altar have a cross, or if a cross be absent; if he wear coloured stoles, or only a black one. He will be too poetical in his preaching for one person, and too dry for another; too doctrinal for some folk, and not doctrinal enough for other folk. As a rule, he must not be more than thirty-five years of age, or he is likely to be 'an old man'; and then, whatever may be the value of his services, 'he ought to be superannuated'--of course, at somebody else's expense. The younger he is, the better for him; the more handsome he is, the more charming, especially as a large portion of his stipend is usually raised by 'The Ladies' Aid Society.' It is always best to keep popular with them, as otherwise the necessary amount may not be forthcoming. This 'Ladies' Aid Society' can often 'wag the dog,' priest, bishop, and all, except the business men to whom the clergyman may be indebted.

Experience goes for very little; modesty wins no laurels, and it is not usually classed with learning and ability. Besides, the people composing these small town congregations are often roamers; they seldom stay long in one place, and a year or two provides quite another set of worshippers, and all the work has to be begun again. Generally, too, assistance is difficult to get in carrying on the Sunday-schools and other enterprises, except those which cater for the popular amusement. Helpers for these are usually ready, if an appeal be duly made to their self-esteem.

In raising funds for Church work, what strange schemes are set on foot! Dances, concerts, bazaars, meals sold on racecourses; these things would astonish the old saints and martyrs, who planted the Cross in altogether different ways in those ignorant times and dark ages--the times 'before our modern enlightenment.' They gave their lives, and all they had, in a holy sacrifice, as history tells; but we offer our amusements, and call these our self-sacrifice. In true self-sacrifice our people are apt to be very deficient; they are not often willing givers, either of time or money, for their church, so that a very heavy burden is laid upon the minister in carrying on the services, and the affairs of the congregation, in these small places. The secret of this want of zeal arises from deficient Churchman-ship. It seems almost impossible for Church ideas to take root and thrive in our new colonies. The people have no historic sense. There is nothing in which it can grow. Their notions are of to-day, or at most of yesterday; their hope and thought are in the future; their dreams are of coming times. So the Church of England is at a disadvantage. Her ideas and methods are not new; they are ancient: what, therefore, have they to do with young America? True, this maybe apassingphase of human feeling, but it applies to our new towns, and it is of these that we are now speaking. There is need of patient sowing and planting, but such quiet forms of work are at a discount. No one in these places is likely to believe in any work which does not advertise itself by noise and blare of trumpets; and without these 'whoever hears of the minister?'--'he is nowhere,' the Church and the clergyman are failures,' and subscriptions are not paid. Faithful spiritual work may be readily trampled down by the destructive feet of a thoughtless multitude.

The Church in new settlements may also suffer from the looseness of her membership. Her spirit is not exclusive, and she admits all comers into her fold; but this weakens the Church in her special character and work. If people are nominal Churchmen, without Church ideas and convictions, they are simply captured by the more earnest spirit that is in the sects around them, and the 'liberality' of these nominal Churchmen is so great, that they will give money and help to other bodies, for the sake of their business connections and social influence, and fail adequately to support their own Church. Especially are they deficient in the moral courage that is necessary in order to defend their Church from the attacks and misrepresentations of the sects around them; and of these, in our state of society, there is always an abundance. In a Church, as in an army, it is not the numbers but the discipline of the men that makes a general successful. Insubordination, refractoriness, want of sympathy with the objects of the war, will cause the failure of the best general, because, in that case, he has to fight his army as well as his enemy.

Writing as a clergyman who has watched the state of the Church of England in Canada, and in the new towns that are springing up in the North-West territories, I cannot but express my conviction that this is a chief cause of the general unrest of our clergy. They are, as a rule, inadequately supported by their people, not only in money, but in that spiritual and intellectual sympathy which so materially helps to produce and to sustain a strong and successful ministry.

At one time I experienced something of this crooked spirit in one of the towns in which I had planted the Church. I had great trouble at first in laying the foundation, and then in building on it; but I took special care of the young people. Local circumstances were not favourable, and local influences were against us if we persisted in building on Church lines. Year by year, on the evening of Christmas Day, I gathered the children into the church, which was our only place of meeting. The children and the visitors crammed the church, and we had a splendid festival, and all seemed to be delighted with it. The other denomination had their festival on the same night, and came to me to ask me to change my evening, as the meetings would clash, and many of my people had promised to give them their assistance. They all knew that for several years previously I had held my festival on this particular evening, and wanted for it the help of the Churchpeople as a matter of course. I announced the festival as usual, and it succeeded, while the other failed; and then minister, wife, and others came to see what we were doing, but as the building was packed, and I had to manage everything, I could not receive visitors or pay any persons special attention. Besides this, in honour of the occasion, and to show respect to the children, who, although they were natives of the country, were nicely dressed, and on their best behaviour, I put on a special vestment, and wore a little cross, which I have often found helpful among the Indians on the plains when we were strangers. The business over, the ladies wished me good-night, and hoped that I would always use my gown, even in the ordinary Church services. I went to my Hermitage very weary, but very contented with the festival. A few days passed, and then I had to start on a journey of a hundred and twenty miles, in bitterly cold weather, to perform a marriage ceremony. On my way I called at the post-office, and there received the following communication:

'REV. AND DEAR SIR,

'From the friendship that has existed between us since I came to ------, I think it my duty to make you acquainted with the impression which your conduct lately, especially on Christmas evening, has made on your members and others. Several of them have spoken to me on the subject, and expressed themselves simply disgusted with your treatment of the Rev. Mr. H------ and his wife, who attended your festival; and with your wearing conspicuously on a black gown a white cross.

'I fear your influence here is gone.

'Believe me, my dear sir,

'Yours truly,
'A. B------.

'P.S.--I have learned that a petition to the Bishop is being got up for your removal.

'To REV. DR. NEWTON.'

To this the following reply was sent:

'All Saints, January.

'MY DEAR SIR,

'Your letter of the 9th instant has just been received by me. I thank you for any kind expressions the letter contains: any other matters will be referred "home," with such explanations as circumstances may make necessary.

'Certainly no one desired to be rude to Mr. and Mrs. H------, nor do I think any rudeness was shown them by anybody at our Christmas festival.

'With kind regards, I am, as ever,

'Sincerely yours,

'WM. NEWTON.
'To A. B-----, Esq.'

The petition was prepared, sent round, and signed by a few persons; but I heard nothing of it until a Roman Catholic gentleman asked me if I knew what became of it, and I said that I did not. He replied that the petition had been sent both to Methodists and Catholics to sign. He further said, 'It came to me, but I took care to place it where it will give no more trouble to anybody.'

Years afterwards, when changes had taken place, the writer of the foregoing letter took himself off to the Baptist congregation, where he doubtless felt more at home than in regulating the amount of ritual to be observed in the services of the Church of England.

But what a state of things is revealed in our Church, when persons of such opinions and feelings can have any influence in determining the methods of a clergyman's work, and this chiefly because of the necessity of considering the amount of their subscriptions.


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