Proclaiming the Message of the ˇ°of Canadaˇ± Church:

A Toronto Perspective

 Prepared by Jim McKibbin, President, AOTS of Toronto Conference



The 2001 Canadian Census tells a story of aging, diversity and urbanization.


Our country is aging more rapidly.  The median age of the population rose by the highest amount ever, 2.3 years, to a level of 37.6.  It rose more in the last 15 years of the century than it did in the first 85 years.  The old are getting older.  We experienced an increase of 41% in people over the age of 80 and Statistics Canada is projecting a further increase of 43% by 2011.  People can now think about "taking retirement" at 55, and being retired, for 45 years or more.  There was a 25% increase in people over the age of 100, between censuses.


Canada is has the second highest foreign-born population in the world (18%), next to Australia (24%).


Of immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990's, 43% of them settled in the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) of Toronto.  There are about 4.7 million people in the CMA (roughly the area bounded by Ajax, Bradford, Orangeville and Burlington).  Of those people, 44% are foreign born.


This makes Toronto, the city with the largest foreign-born population, and arguably, the most multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual and multifaith city in the world.  Miami and Vancouver rank second and third.


Larger centres are growing.  Four urban economic systems now comprise 51% of our total population as per below:


1. BC Lower Mainland and Southern Portion of Vancouver Island

2. Edmonton Calgary Corridor

3. Extended Golden Horseshoe (Oshawa, Barrie, Kitchener, Niagara Falls)

4. Montreal and Adjacent Environs


The story of urbanization, is "urbanization where?"  In Northern Ontario, every large urban centre lost population between censuses.


The strength of the United Church, the strength of the Toronto Conference of the United Church, is in the country, in the smaller centres.  This is the backbone of the church.  The church does not have significant strength in the city itself - in none of the large cities.  This is, perhaps, not surprising.  None of the 445,000 immigrants who came to Toronto from 1996 to 2001 brought with them an affiliation to the United Church of Canada.


The United Church is very much an "of Canada" church.  Its history, and the history of the nation, are bound up together.  You cannot tell the one story without the other.  The church is almost as much about building Canada as it is doing God's work.  In many respects the good work of God, in Canada, was conducted first by the church and later institutionalized by government.  This is the story of the social gospel.  Much of that social gospel is a story of immigrants.  The message of the church, obscure, unpopular, became popularized; through the diligent work of people like the Reverend Lydia Gruchy, the first woman ordained in the church, whose ministry was built entirely on concern for the fate of new Canadians.  If the United Church had not been a church of immigrants the United Church would not be, now.


But so it is now, that the United Church, in our large cities, needs to turn its attention once again the Lydia Gruchy's concern - only this time in an urban setting.   There is much to learn from the 2001 Census.  Immigrants aren't keeping pace.  StatCan also reported, that, while immigrants of the '70's made the same money as Canadian born workers after being here for ten years, immigrants of the 90's earned only 80 cents.


In the Toronto CMA there are 15 mother tongue language groups with a population of at least 50,000 people.  There are 64 ethnic origin groups of 10,000 plus.  Anyone of these groups is bigger than many small towns in southern Ontario.


While the church lost adherents between 1991 and 2001 (we are now just less than 10% of the population) what was not lost was the mission of the church and the necessity for its message to be evangelized amongst adherents and others.  This church has been good for Canada historically, and it is good for Canada now.  The intellectualism of the church has brought us a far way.  We are not afraid to say we are wrong when we have been wrong.   Our inclusivity appeals to the heart of a diverse Canadian society.  There is much to celebrate about the contributions our church has made to the social condition of the Canadian population.  We have been passionate followers of Jesus Christ and active partners in God's transformation of ourselves, and the world.   Those, that are new here, need to hear that message.  Let us proclaim it.




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© copyright 2003 by Jim McKibbin

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Posted on July 2, 2003 by permission