In the last ten years of Statistics Canada
data, 25 per cent or so of immigrants are
Roman Catholic, another 20 per cent are
Protestant. They are not only coming, but
when we look at their levels of involvement, we are asking “To what extent do
you embrace, reject or somewhere in-between?” Immigrants are far more likely to
say they embrace.
FT: Are immigrants who arrive in Canadian
churches finding what they thought they would
find? Or are they finding denominations very
different from what they left at home?
RB: No question about it. When we’re
sorting it through, that is a second important part of all this. One of the questions is
to what extent do people coming here from
other countries find affinity with groups
they think they should find affinity with?
After all, they have the same name. Then
there is the question of retention. Can the
next generation of immigrants be retained
or will we find slippage? People always ask
the question with Chinese immigrants and
their offspring finding the back door.
FT: What questions should you be asking if you
are on the board of one of those churches?
RB: If I were on a board of some Lutheran
church, or say a Korean Presbyterian
church, what the Presbyterian immigrant
finds is they may have very little in common with Presbyterians in Vancouver.
The fundamental question is we have an
opportunity to relate to these people.
What can we do with integrity to help
them facilitate that kind of adjustment?
At least to be aware of it.
A more basic question. I remember a
Catholic person out in New Brunswick at
a big conference. We were talking about
this thing, about new life coming to
Roman Catholic parishes, and this person
said, “I’m not sure we really want immi-
grants in our parishes.” When we have
people respond to the [statement], “On
balance, immigration is a good thing for
Canada,” we get 65 per cent who agree.
But one in three do not. But we have the
potential here for an enormous injection
into new life in Roman Catholic churches.
FT: Meanwhile we still see that downward
trajectory in the mainline churches like the
United Church of Canada and the Anglican
Church of Canada.
RB: The United Church prepared a report
for their General Council saying, “We are
basically running out of money.” They
have to cut $3 million out of their budget
in two years.
They are in such a retreat mode at a time
when it could be argued that the market
for religion is incredibly rich in Canada.
Even forgetting about the survey results,
there are all kinds of life and vitality from
those embracing faith or those not far away
from that middle group.
The Pew people released The Future of
World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010–2050. They are doing projections on what religious identification will
look like. Within one day of the United
Church report, Pew comes up with this
projection that by 2050, people in Canada
who say they have no religion will jump
and the vast majority will identify themselves as Christian.
They are saying that looking down the
road there will be an incredibly large,
ongoing market for religion in Canada.
So then the question for the cold-hearted sociologist is, “If you have that
many people who continue to identify,
which religious groups will be stepping up
and servicing these people?” You have all
this dynamic and you have the biggest
Protestant denomination saying they are
close to receivership. Who is going to step
up? The Catholics will. And you don’t
have to worry about the future of Islam in
Canada. But on the Protestant side, who
can step up for the people arriving here
who think themselves Protestant?
When you look at that overall picture
of where things are and where they are
going, that is where the creativity comes
in. What can the United Church do, for
example, if all these people arrive on the
shores, but don’t think they are United
Church? What about coming up with a
sub-brand, we are the such and such of
the United Church of Canada?
FT: But there is this idea we have that liberal
denominations are struggling because they are
liberal. And evangelical denominations are not
because they are not. Does that figure into this
RB: That is trying to look at things from a
theological point of view. If you’re not
looking at it theologically, but demographically, you see an aging group of people who
are dying. They simply have more people
die than they are replacing. That is what is
happening with their numbers.
In the case of the Mainliners, the immigration pipeline has largely dried up as
you’ve moved from the 1980s to now. The
luxury of the Presbyterians benefiting from
people coming from Scotland is gone.
Demographically, there has been this major shift from Europe to [immigrants from]
Asian countries. It’s largely demographics.
I had an epiphany the other day that I
want to work with. People are always
asking me, “What about the next genera-
tion? Sure, you have all these people
coming from the Philippines, but what
about their kids?”
Something like 85 per cent of the
people who participated in a survey of the
Toronto diocese of the Anglican Church
had British roots. We’ve already had an
interesting example of the failure of im-
migrants to hold onto their kids. Will the
latest wave of immigrant learn from the
failure of the first wave?
FT: What should pastors and church leaders be
thinking and feeling about this data?
RB: One of the things I’ve been hollering
for is a dramatic need for a mindset
change – to get away from this idea that
the sky is falling. The talk about prevailing
churches and so on, it denotes the idea of
hanging in there. Get away from buying
secularization to realizing that there is a
real vitality around religion in terms of
THE FT INTERVIEW
Get away from buying secularization to realizing that there
is a real vitality around religion in terms of numbers that
will only be enhanced with ongoing immigration.”