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Our church name

By Bert Merson on June, 11 2015

(This story was first published in the September 1955 issue of the Canadian Churchman.) 

 That one should be asked during a prolonged spell of hot weather to write an article on a subject that has been both prolonged and at times “hot,” is, I suppose, mere coincidence. Certainly, the assignment could hardly be classified as “reward” even though the writer was indeed honoured to be one of those named by the Primate to study and report on the subject, “The Name of the Church.” 

The Committee consisted of the following:—His Grace, the Primate, The Bishop of Calgary (Convener and Chairman), The Bishop of Huron, The Bishop of New Westminster, The Bishop of Algoma, Very Rev. W.W. Davis (Nova Scotia), Very Rev R.L. Seaborn (Quebec), Very Rev. G.H. Dowker (Montreal), Rt. Rev. P.R. Beattie (British Columbia), The Ven. S.F. Tackaberry (Edmonton), The Ven. D.S. Catchpole (Kootenay), The Ven. A.F. Bate (Fredericton), Rev. Canon A.T.F. Holmes (Niagara), Rev. F.R. Gartrell (Rupert’s Land), Lt. Col. M.L. Douglas (Ontario), Mr. G.H. Linney (Edmonton), Mr. J.D. Middlemass (Calgary), Mr. Bert Merson (Toronto) and Rev. Canon H.R. Hunt (Secretary). 

BEGAN IN 1911

This Committee was convened on February 15th, 1954, in Toronto, and eleven of its number were in attendance. The Secretary, Canon Hunt, with his usual efficiency, prepared a comprehensive resume of “action” re “The Name of the Church.” After reading it, I was reminded of the remarks of a visitor to “The Gallery” of the House of Commons, Ottawa, who said: “I came to see the House in action, and all I see is the inaction of the House.” According to the information supplied us, the matter of change of name was introduced in General Synod in 1911. At that time it was referred to the next General Synod.

In 1915 a committee was named to “consider the matter.” In 1918 the committee reported having asked Diocesan Synods for suggestions but having only received one. By resolution the committee was asked to again approach the Dioceses and report at next Synod. In 1921, “It was resolved that, in view of the great diversity of opinion in regard to a change in name, no action be taken, and the committee discharged.”

General Synod of 1931, received a report from the “Anglican National Commission” recommending as a suitable name, “The Anglican Church in Canada”; this was not adopted. Apparently an “Anglican” national commission reporting that the “Anglican” Church in Canada be our name was more than the “Anglicans” present could take.

BISHOPS VETO CHANGE

It was not until 1949 that the matter came up again. Then a motion was received to the effect that the name be changed the “The Anglican Church of Canada.” This motion carried in the Lower House by 157 to 62, but was lost by non-concurrence in the Upper House, 12 to 8. A notice of motion of somewhat similar effect was referred to a Joint Committee which the Upper House proposed to set up “To consider the whole matter and report to next Synod.”

In 1952, the committee on “The Name of the Church” reported it had learned through its studies “that there is little desire on the part of the great rank and file to take action upon merely speculative grounds, because of the many serious and practical difficulties involved,” and recommended the present title of “The Church of England in Canada” be retained, that no action be taken, and that this Committee be discharged.

Having carefully read this recommendation, one could almost be led to believe that this committee, too, had sat in “The Gallery” at Ottawa and picked up some Government language, even though they did not follow the Government’s tendency to readily change anything pertaining to England in name or associate terms.

An amendment to the recommendation referred to, which would have changed the name to “The Anglican Church of Canada,” was lost 119 to 106, and the motion to adopt the committee’s report carried 116 to 93. So, at the 1952 Synod, another committee was “discharged.” The regularity by which committees have been “discharged,” which word in my Trade Union vocabulary is “fired,” can only be equalled by the “firing” of artists on a certain radio programme, and suggests to me that former committee members may have grounds upon which to seek Unemployment Insurance. 

MANY NAMES SUGGESTED

It was against all this back log of reason and controversy that the 1954 committee met to again tackle the question. Many suggestions as to names came to us from the past. Among them being, Anglican Church in Canada, Anglican Church of Canada, Catholic Church of Canada, Episcopal Church of Canada, The Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, The Church of Canada (Anglican); the continuance of our present name, and others.

Canon Hunt must have gone through the minutes and records of previous Synods (with all that the word “hunt” means) as he provided us with untold reasons, pro and con, as to why or why not this or that title should be used.

So those of us who met on February 15th were indeed well “briefed.” It has been my experience to sit on many committees, in many places, on many subjects, but I can recall none where I seemed to sense such an atmosphere of tension. I think we all wondered who was going to set a match to the powder keg and there appeared to be a tendency to “flirt” with the question.

After discussion we first of all unanimously agreed that “a change in name is desirable.” That seemed to clear the air and from then on, as far as I was concerned any way, progress was assured.

An interesting discussion followed and we came to the conclusion that the most acceptable title would be “The Anglican Church of Canada,” and that the time is now ripe to make this change.

PRESENT TITLE CONFUSING

In 1949, it was the House of Bishops who voted down the change in name. In 1954 the House of Bishops were requesting a fresh study of the question “with recommendations” and, inasmuch as we were unanimous in our recommendation, it was decided that “The House of Bishops” should be so informed prior to the 1955 General Synod.

So, what had first of all appeared to be a difficult and ticklish question was resolved, in as far as our committee was concerned, in complete harmony and agreement.

What its fate will be at General Synod is, at the moment, a matter of conjecture. Personally, I regret being unable to be in attendance at Edmonton to express my views on the matter, so this gives me a good opportunity to do so. As a very ordinary layman of the Church and an Englishman of nearly fifty years’ residence in Canada, I believe that the change is necessary and desirable. Canada’s human content is changing very rapidly. We Anglo Saxons are no longer the majority group we once were. People from many nations are in our midst in much larger numbers than in previous times. Many of these, and their children, are seeking a place of worship in this their new country.

Our present title, The Church of “England” in Canada, is, to say the least, confusing to them, and they shy away from us because they are not “English.” I do not feel qualified to argue this case on ecclesiastical grounds, but I do believe that our church is very near to the beliefs, acceptances and customs of many of these new citizens. That they, having gone through the turmoils of the past few decades in Europe, need our help and will welcome the opportunity of being part of us once they are sure there is a place for them in our midst.

The change to the name “Anglican Church of Canada” will do much to give them this assurance. The term “Anglican” is of common usage among us. Using it in our “title” will take nothing away from us either as Englishmen, Canadians, or Churchmen, but it will tend to make our Communion more acceptable on a broader base. We cannot afford to continue to hinder our progress simply on the grounds of being opposed to change merely because it is change. We must face up to the problem and, in my opinion, the time is now.

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June, 11 2015
Categories:  140 years

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