Here’s the church and there’s the congregation – Church and sect in Canada (1948)

What space can be used for is a question that concerns the geographical imagination, in the sense that James A. Tyner (2012) speaks of a person’s imagination.

Although Tyner has, in the above-noted study, applied the concept of the geographical imagination specifically to the study of genocide, his conceptualization is equally applicable to other discussions – that is, to discussions other than ones solely focused upon genocide – regarding land, property, and power.

Tyner’s observations about the geographical imagination, in his 2012 study of genocide, offers the clearest language regarding space and spatiality that I have so far encountered.

Geographical imagination is a way of organizing knowledge

In the first chapter of Genocide and the geographical imagination (2012), Tyner notes that as human beings, we can be said to produce space, and to be produced by it. Space, in Tyner’s understanding of the term, has no materiality and exists conceptually as a result of human relations and interactions. Tyner speaks of spatiality as the purposefully organized space of social interaction. Geographical imagination, in turn, he conceptualizes as a way of seeing, a spatial structure through which people order their knowledge of the world.

We can, in this context, think of the building of a church or religious sect as the expression of a particular geographical imagination, as S. D. Clark describes in Church and sect in Canada (1948).

Similarly, what steps to take, once a congregation is no longer able to maintain a historical church building, also involves choices among competing geographical imaginations.

Land-use parameters influence church redevelopment in Toronto

Hackworth and Gullikson (2013) document how municipal land-use parameters influence the direction of church redevelopments occasioned by dwindling congregations.

A March 29, 2013 Globe and Mail article concerning the conversion of a former convent in Montreal into a university student residence is also of relevance.

As the Globe and Mail article notes, sometimes a religious organization such as an archdiocese would prefer to demolish a historic church and build something new in its stead, while a citizen’s group may be intent upon the preservation of the church because of its heritage value.

Church and Sect in Canada (1948) also discusses the historic relationship between church buildings and their congregations.

This is an interesting book, from an interesting era in cultural history. In the preface to the 1948 text, S. D. Clark thanks H. A. Innis, an influential contemporary of Marshall Mcluhan, “for help and encouragement throughout the work on the [Church and sect in Canada] study.” I was also interested to learn that Erving Goffman had been a student of Clark during Goffman’s undergraduate years at the University of Toronto.

Religious movements of protest

In the introduction to Church and sect in Canada (1948), Clark notes that the social development of Canada has been characterized by a succession of religious movements of protest. The introduction begins (p. xi) with the remark that: “In 1775 Nova Scotia found in Henry Alline, Newlight preacher, a great religious prophet.

“In 1922 a similar prophet emerged in Southern Alberta in the person of William Aberhart, high school principal and bible teacher.

“The religious movements which these two men initiated were separated in time by a century and a half and in space by over three thousand miles, but they were intimately related in the larger complex of the religious-social development of Canada.”

Clark asserts that “The social development of Canada has been characterized by a succession of such religious movements of protest. At no time has the religious organization of the Canadian community been wholly stable. The large religious denominations have struggled to secure a dominant position.”

He adds that the conflict between what he terms the forces of order – represented by churches – and the forces of separation – represented by sect forms of religious organization – is fundamental in the history of Canada’s religious development.

In Chapter 4, “The Break with American Sectarianism,” Clark outlines early trends that continued long afterwards. He speaks, for example, of underlying changes in community structure of the Maritime Provinces after 1783. Introduction of capitalist forms of economic enterprise involved a shift from traditional relationships.

Adjustment of the evangelical religious movement meant (p. 186) “the elaboration of a more complex denominational machinery and the break from the sect ideal of religious fellowship. The evangelical movement was forced to become part of the community, and, in becoming such, it lost much of its narrow sectarianism in organization and appeal. It accommodated itself to the secular by ceasing to concentrate upon the religious.”

In his 1948 study, Clark speaks at length, as well, of what I would describe as the spatial geographies – involving contrasting geographical imaginations – in which Canadian churches and sects have traditionally operated.

The Salvation Army

In a chapter entitled “The Great Revival of the City,” Clark notes (p. 419) that the methods employed by the Salvation Army, in its role as a religious sect in the late 1800s, made it possible to gain the support of “foot-loose elements of the urban population.”

The Salvation Army, in combining street preaching with parades led by brass bands, “provided an effective means of attracting attention. Crowds were gathered together on street corners, in public parks and other open spaces and, when a sufficient state of religious enthusiasm had been aroused, the following was paraded to the barracks where a revivalist meeting took place.”

The Salvation Army brought a characteristic level of informality to its efforts (p. 419):

“At no point did the Army impose any serious obstacle to the participation of the individual in the religious service. He could easily join the crowds on the street and depart if he saw fit. Similarly, the act of entering the house of worship was made easy.

“The Army sought to provide religious services in the sort of places in which people who had not been accustomed to attend churches felt at home; thus the simplicity of the barracks and the employment, at times, of public halls which had been used for other purposes (in East London, William Booth found it an advantage to convert taverns to Army meeting places).”

Clark adds:

“Within the religious service itself, an emphasis was placed upon the free movement of individuals. The lack of decorum in Army meetings served to develop a feeling of homeliness and ease, in sharp contrast to the stiff formality which characterized the church religious service.”

The pulpit appeal came to be directed to higher social levels

S. D. Clark (1948) also brings attention (p. 400) to the historical association between urban churches, in Toronto and elsewhere, and the wealthier classes of society.

“If churches were to be filled with the sort of people financially able to maintain them, the pulpit appeal had to be one directed toward the higher social levels of the population.

“Revivalism and the large church edifice were incompatibles. The former attracted the support of the poor, the latter required the support of the rich.

“Thus neither the ecological nor cultural needs of the urban community could be met effectively by a church relying upon regular religious services carried on in stated places of worship.

“Methodism in becoming a religion of the church – or temple – ceased to be a religion of the city streets. It became increasingly dependent upon the settled residents of the community, upon the people who enjoyed a sense of status and security. Thus it ceased to be a religion which served as a revitalizing or reorganizing influence in the community among those people who lacked a sense of status or security.”

Holiness movement

According to Clarke (p. 401), the Methodist Church was unable to align with the “holiness movement” within western Christianity:

“So long as the holiness appeal could be contained within the religious teachings of Methodism it presented no danger, but the holiness advocates tended – inevitably in view of the nature of the doctrine – to place an exclusive emphasis upon the holiness idea, and out of such an exclusive emphasis there emerged the spirit of the sect. Methodism could only give a limited support to the holiness appeal if it was to retain its character as a church.

“In the end, it was forced to surrender leadership to the new holiness sects such as the Holiness Movement Church and the Salvation Army.”

The Methodist Church did, however, try to retain a revivalist influence through the development of special evangelistic agencies including a body of professional evangelists. These agencies were not a regular part of the church organization but were sufficiently under its control to be doctrinally safe.

Careless (1984) c.f. Clark (1948)

In Toronto to 1918 (1984) p. 166), J. M. S. Careless asserts that by the early 1900s in Toronto, “Older evangelical fervours may have been declining as churches laid less stress on individual salvation and more on the social gospel of collective human betterment.”

The above-noted characterization of evangelism as focused upon individual salvation, and of churches as focused upon collective human betterment, is subject to debate.

S. D. Clark (1948) offers an alternative conceptualization of evangelism and other forms of religious expression in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

He speaks of a distinction between informality – associated with evangelic religious expression – and formality, associated with non-evangelistic (primarily middle and upper class) religious expression. Clark speaks, as well, of a distinction between a religion of the city streets and a religion of the church or temple.


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