By the Rt. Rev. Bruce Myers OGS
Last month a few of us from the Diocese of Quebec had the wonderful opportunity to pay a short visit to the Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness in the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Between 2009 and 2015 our two dioceses, along with the Diocese of Bujumbura in Burundi, were in an official companionship agreement bound by a covenant signed by the diocesan bishops of the day. Even though that formal relationship concluded a few years ago, the bonds of affection between our dioceses remain, and this was my first opportunity to visit our Scottish Anglican brothers and sisters. What I encountered was a diocesan family and a context ministry very much like our own in Quebec.
Moray, Ross and Caithness is—by British standards—a geographically vast diocese, covering the northern quarter of mainland Scotland (which itself would fit within the territory of the Diocese of Quebec nine times). The diocese’s nearly 40 congregations are strewn across the expansive Scottish Highlands, served by about 20 clergy, fewer than half of whom are full time, and most of whom serve multiple congregations. A typical church service would see between 10 and 20 people in the pews, in part because Anglicans are a tiny minority in Scotland, which though historically Christian is a rapidly secularizing society. Sound familiar?
Among my discoveries in Scotland was that what the Anglicans of Moray, Ross and Caithness may lack in numbers, they more than compensate for in terms of faithfulness—another similarity between our dioceses. The people who make up the body of Christ in our respective dioceses are extraordinarily committed and deeply faithful, even if their numbers are small.A few weeks ago, the Sunday gospel reminded us that faith the size of a mustard seed (“the smallest of seeds”) can accomplish meaningful and important things for the revealing of God’s kingdom in our midst.
In that same gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples pleaded with him to “increase our faith!” They did not say, “Increase our attendance!” We would of course welcome more people to join our churches. However, we also seek to cultivate the faith of those who already form a part of our local churches, and to live out that faith daily, however few in number they may be.
Jesus encourages us when he says that smallness does not limit our potential to do great things for the sake of God’s kingdom. And this is good news for Anglicans in places like Quebec and the Scottish Highlands. As Stephen Conway, a bishop in the Church of England, recently put it, “The church does not let its small attendance prevent it from being a light to the community and a place to which people turn for support and encouragement.”
As our own diocesan family in Quebec gathers for Synod later this month, we’ll hear stories about how some of our own small congregations across eastern and central Quebec have been places of support and encouragement in their communities. I hope that we in turn be encouraged as a diocese that the smallest of faithful efforts will be blessed by God and can bear fruit for God’s kingdom.