It was a church plant in 1965. It began with 30 members.

The public affairs director for the church states that they are a church whose fundamental principles are

concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, rose on the third day and ascended into heaven.

Today membership has risen from its original 30 to 3,000 faithful worshiping in six congregations.

No this is not the southern United States Bible belt. This is Ottawa, Ontario the capital of cautious, conservative determinedly secular Canada.

And this is not an evangelical megachurch with a pumped up contemporary worship band, flashy power point sermons and a full-service religious program.

This Ottawa faith community that has grown from a tiny beginning to 3,000 members in just 50 years is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

To what do the Mormons of the National Capital Region ascribe their phenomenal growth in the past half century? Gail Haarsma explains,

we’re clean cut and clean living — and that’s true — but I think it’s the central belief in the family and however you constitute your family. Families are important and kids are important. But also, it’s the central belief on Jesus Christ. We are a proselytizing religion, so there’s always growth that way.

There has been a great deal of hand-ringing over the past decade in the Anglican Church of Canada about a pronounced trend in a direction opposite to the Ottawa Mormons.

Five years ago, Michael Valpy at the Globe and Mail reported on study by the Anglican Diocese of BC in which serve

that calls Canada a post-Christian society in which Anglicanism is declining faster than any other denomination. It says the church has been “moved to the far margins of public life.”

According to the report, the diocese – “like most across Canada” – is in crisis. The report repeats, without qualification or question, the results of a controversial study presented to Anglican bishops five years ago that said that at the present rate of decline – a loss of 13,000 members per year – only one Anglican would be left in Canada by 2061.

It points out that just half a century ago, 40 per cent of Vancouver Island’s population was Anglican; now the figure is 1.2 per cent. Nationally, between 1961 and 2001, the church lost 53 per cent of its membership, declining to 642,000 from 1.36 million. Between 1991 and 2001 alone, it declined by 20 per cent.

Perhaps, when this study came out, we Anglicans would have done well to abandon any hope of growth and throw in our lot with the Mormons.

But the threatened Anglican extinction of 2061 is still a long way off. So there is a little time yet before we disappear altogether.

It may be that in the present cultural climate, for now Anglicans are going to need to leave the spectacular numerical growth to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and bless them on their way.

Unlike the Mormons, we are not primarily a “a proselytizing religion.” We aim to be a welcoming community, embracing people wherever they find themselves on their journey, encouraging them to ask questions and to enter into the exploration of what faith might mean in their lives. We are comfortable with questions, ambiguities, and even doubts.

It may not win us a huge following but we Anglicans seem to be most at home with a gentle approach that feels in tune with our quiet nature.

In spite of these liabilities in our character the dire predictions of our impending demise and imminent death have yet to be fulfilled. All across the country, there are Anglican congregations where people faithfully gather to worship, opening their hearts to Christ and serving one another and the world with compassion and love. In my own congregation I experience every Sunday the beautiful energy of a truly multi-generational community in which families with toddlers and youth, gather to worship alongside young adults, people in middle age and senior citizens.

For the Anglican Church more modest numbers may not be the worst thing in the world. There is a gentleness and intimacy that can be present in worship with 120 that may be lost when a gathering expands to 1,000. The wind of the Spirit blows unpredictably. And, even without fabulous growth in numbers, our only call is to remain faithful and open to the movement of that Love who calls us to authentic relationship with all of life. This in itself is a kind of growth, even when it is not manifest in spectacular stats.