It is the 23rd of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1846.
Today we will turn our attention to the fine land and people in the Great White North. Canada takes up more square mileage than its downstairs neighbor, but the history of Christianity in the region usually gets an inverse amount of attention. Whether it is ice hockey, poutine, or suffocating politeness, we think there is a lot to learn from our Canadian neighbors.
The story of Christianity in the far north begins with Italian explorer on behalf of the English, John Cabot, and the French explorer Jacques Cartier. Lord Durham of Canada famously remarked that Canada contained "two nations warring in a single bosom." The battle for national and confessional supremacy tipped in the Catholic Church's direction with the establishment of the French Catholic colony at Quebec under Samuel De Champlain.
While Canada would be more Catholic friendly than their neighbors to the South, the kind of Catholicism practiced could cause consternation across the Atlantic. To pull out two terms we've seen in the past, the Canadian Catholics could be either "Ultramontanist" or "Gallican." You might remember that "Ultramontanist" referred to a Catholic who saw final authority as coming from "over the mountains," that is, from Rome. The "Gallicans" took their cues from French or "Gallic" culture and authority instead of primarily from Rome. These sparring Catholic groups make up an important difference in the history of Canadian Christianity.
But there was an essential similarity amongst North American Christians in the 18th and 19th centuries. Christian missions often went hand in hand with attempts to "civilize" the indigenous and First Nations people. The $64,000 question was: what elements of modern European civilization helped propagate the Gospel and what served as a hindrance. We can see these tensions in Canadian missions in the 19th century by remembering a pioneer in that world who died on this, the 23rd of November in 1846. Today we remember James Evans, an Englishman who made his way to Canada and was himself converted at a Methodist camp meeting in Augusta township on the St. Lawrence River.
He quickly established himself as an able preacher and an even better linguist. Methodist missionaries sent Evans to the north shore of Lake Superior. It is here that Evans composed important early dictionaries, readers, and hymnals in the native tongues of Ojibwe and Cree. While this work was fundamental to further evangelization, Evans found himself in several tragic and perhaps culturally insensitive controversies.
His treatment of young First Nations women caused scandal (although no evidence of actual wrongdoing took place). It was also during a trip upriver to establish a missionary outpost that Evan's gun accidentally discharged, killing his interpreter and guide. Ultimately, Evan's unpopularity would stem from imposing certain practices (such as strict observance of the Sabbath) on the new converts. Evans eventually went back to England, where he died of a heart attack. It's a complicated legacy but essential for understanding Christian missions and establishing the church amongst native populations in Canada. And so much of the early work relied on the work of linguists, James Evans deserves to be remembered primarily as this, on this, the anniversary of his death on this day in 1846.
Today's reading is one stanza from a hymn and poem written by an Irish born Canadian Methodist. This from E.H. Dewart and his "Out on Life's Dark Heaving Ocean."
When the mists of doubt and passion
Hide the reefs and shoals from sight,
God of Love, protect and save us!
Be our Refuge and our Light;
Be our sure, unerring Pilot,
Guide us safely to the shore,
Where the waves of sin and sorrow
Beat upon the soul no more.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who is pro-curling, but Anti-Tim Horton's, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.