New Canadian Anglican history book considers people in the pews

Just released by ABC Publishing, Seeds Scattered and Sown is a Canadian Anglican history that includes several overlooked perspectives: those of Aboriginals, women, and other minorities. Eight historians contributed essays to the book, which covers the colonial period to post-World War II, and in many ways, post-Christian, era in Canada.

Seeds is, first of all, a long overdue overview of Canadian Anglican history. The last book that served this function was The Anglican Church in Canada: A History by Archbishop Philip Carrington published in 1963.

But Seeds is also unique because it is interested not only in leaders, but in the experience of the common person. As its editor, the Rev. Dr. Norman Knowles, explains, “The nature of writing Canadian history began to change in the 1960s with the rise of social history and cultural history, which were interested in writing history from the bottom up rather than the top down.”

Many previous church histories, Anglican and otherwise, fell into this “top down” category, often telling the stories of white male leaders. As well, church historians tended to be “pious amateurs or clergy,” said Dr. Knowles, and this resulted in histories that “tended towards hagiography…towards being celebratory, almost triumphal.” Understandably, this perspective did not endear church history to mainstream academia.

Using a social and cultural history approach, Seeds is deliberately grounded in the experience of common people. As an example, Dr. Wendy Fletcher’s essay, “The Garden of Women’s Separateness: Women in Canadian Anglicanism Since 1945” focuses not only on what women were doing in the institutional church, but also in volunteer organizations like the Canadian Mothers’ Union and Anglican Church Women (formerly Woman’s Auxiliary).

Dr. Knowles, an associate professor in history at St. Mary’s College and the University of Calgary, said that the book reflects a “willingness to be honest, sometimes brutally honest, and transparent” about the history of the church. “I would see that almost as a prophetic function,” he adds, “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 past, we need to know it in its totality.”

Looking back, there are many occasions to be both critical and celebratory. For example, the Anglican Church of Canada was silent for a long time when the Canadian government denied Jewish immigrants entry in the 1930s. On the other hand, one of the first people to finally speak out against this was an Anglican, Canon William Wallace Judd, director of the Council for Social Service from 1936 to 1955.

“As an historian it’s not surprising that anytime I launch into a project I always find that the past has a lot to teach us,” said Dr. Knowles. “Many of the issues that we’re looking at in the church today are very familiar ones, if not in the precise subject matter, at least in terms of how we address them.”

Contributors include William Crockett, Wendy Fletcher, Paul Friesen, Norman Knowles, Terry Reilly, M.E. Reisner, Myra Rutherdale, and Christopher G. Trott. Foreword written by Archbishop Michael Peers, former Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

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