|Air Photo Study|
The western world was changing rapidly. The threat of nuclear war was
ever present but, at the same time, there was exciting new technology.
There were new goods - lots of them - and there was a feeling in Canada
that the possibilities for prosperity were endless. God no longer seemed
relevant to the lives of a great many people. Books like Pierre Berton's
The Comfortable Pew, saying that the church had become more ritual than
substance, were very popular. Furthermore, church was no longer at the
centre of social life, nor was belonging to a church necessary for social
status, as it had once been. And, as Bernard Barrett points out (in his
article The Future: Celebration, Repentance and Vision in Anglicanism
in the Ottawa Valley), the church wasn't sure how to respond to the sexual,
political and social changes that were taking place in Canadian society
and, too often, simply did not respond. Church attendance was falling
off across the country.
But, as more than one critic has pointed out, Anglicans are very cautious.
While, gradually, women were being ordained and there was a new prayer
book in the '70s, most parishes were doing their best to keep the faithful
within the fold by responding only in small ways to the changing times.
Very slowly, priestly authority was giving way to more lay involvement
- lay people were chairing annual vestry and advisory board (now called
the parish council) meetings - and parish councils were including women.
Clubs and associations were being encouraged. At Ascension, there was
a branch of Chi Rho, the Bible Society branch was still active and so
was The Church Year Fellowship with its Advent Service of Light. There
was a senior citizens' club, in conjunction with The Church of the Canadian
Martyrs and the Wesley United Church, called the Wednesday Club. John
and Priscilla Copeland and Bill Brook were leading active Boy Scout troops
and wolf cub packs at Ascension. There was a Married Couples Club whose
members made gifts to the church (among which were dishes for parish suppers)
and had evenings of religious films and card parties.
Social events included swimming at the Chateau Laurier pool and a Valentine
Dance in the church hall at which 29 people showed up for ballroom and
square dancing and a smorgasbord (served by Betty Service).
The church hall was renovated in 1966. Then, in 1967, the parish celebrated
Canada's 100th birthday and its own 90th. Ascensiontide 1967 brought forth
a commemorative booklet, a week of social evenings and special Eucharist
and Evensong services preached by visiting priests, two of whom, Robert
Jefferson and Arthur Caulfield, had served at Ascension. On the evening
of May 4, the Feast of the Ascension, Bishop Reed celebrated confirmation
and dedicated the "light- weight, pre-fabricated spire with cupola,"
which the parish had bought to mark the anniversary. The dinner afterwards
was held in Canadian Martyrs' parish hall.
There were 115 families and 84 individuals and 60 Sunday school students
enrolled in the parish that year, but, by 1970, the rolls were way down.
(However, the congregation was active enough in 1969, when the city planned
to take down the Pretoria Bridge and create wider roadways, that, with
Canadian Martyrs, it sent a letter of opprobrium.) Evensong was discontinued
because of poor attendance, and a year later, church membership was so
low that the vestry was actually talking about possibly uniting with Wesley
United. In fact, church attendance was so poor throughout the diocese
that, in 1971, for the first time in its history, the diocese had a budget
At a vestry meeting that year, Mr. Robert Phillips (a hospitable man
who always opened his summer home in the Gatineau for church picnics)
suggested that, since other churches were doing it, a "half an hour
get-together over a cup of coffee [after the Sunday morning service] will
have far-reaching benefits." Vestry considered it "a splendid
idea," the experiment was successful, and coffee hour at Ascension
became, for a brief time, an accepted practice.
Church attendance continued to decline. Coffee hour was abandoned. There
were only five children left in Sunday school, so Ascension children joined
with Wesley United Church's children for their weekly teaching. The guild
room was rented to Carleton University for French classes twice a week
at a fee of eighty dollars a month, and some of the church's parking space
was rented out. At the annual vestry meeting, Mr. Allsopp exhorted his
parishioners to" search your hearts to see how you can help the church."
On Ascension Day in May 1971, the Church Year Fellowship celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, and Bishop Robinson celebrated a Eucharist of thanksgiving. Later that year, the church chimney was struck by lightening (for which nobody was thankful). In spite of the poor church membership, money was found to repair the chimney, to contribute to church work in Africa, India and the Diocese of the Arctic and to share the $750 cost of landscaping between the church and Carleton University. (Carleton was then where Immaculata high school is now.)
Edwin Allsopp retired in September of 1972. His replacement, Gerald Shaw,
presided briefly over a not only declining, but aging congregation. A
chartered accountant before his ordination, Mr. Shaw had been secretary-treasurer
for the diocese of Calgary and parish priest in Winnipeg. He was a good
manager, fiscally prudent and, by all reports, a good priest, a man with
strong spiritual direction.
He tried to steer his congregation towards a greater spirituality. In
one sermon, he echoed the criticism so many outside the church were leveling
at it: "We are constantly confusing commitment to Christ and his
Church with what we think is loyalty to tradition..." He wanted to
add an outdoor Eucharist to the annual picnic, and he wanted every third
Sunday (at least) to be a celebration of the Eucharist, instead of the
once-a-month celebration which was conventional in Anglican churches at
Mr. Shaw's private life was not as well regulated or as spiritual as
his public one, however. There was a scandal, then a divorce and, after
only two years, the bishop decided that Gerald Shaw had to go.
During the brief Shaw sojourn, there were a significant number of accomplishments:
the rectory was renovated; a new roof was put on the church; the vestry
phone was installed; the ambry light was donated; the parish bought the
new red hymn books (although fifty old prayer books and hymnals were kept,
"just in case..."); there was a daycare in the hall during the
week; and there were no more "special" envelopes. Mr. Shaw did
not want his parishioners to allocate their money for specific purposes;
he felt that, if the church was important to them, then all of its work
should be equally important.
Their priest was very well liked at Ascension, and the parish was loath
to give him up, but the bishop was adamant. Ascension's congregation had
dwindled to twenty or thirty souls, and the few children in Sunday school
were still with the children at Wesley United Church. Before he left,
Mr. Shaw advised his parishioners to consider where they were, "in
their spiritual walk," and, because there were so few of them and
so many were already past middle age, to think hard about what sort of
a man they were looking for in their next priest.
(After leaving Ascension, Mr. Shaw took a four-year leave of absence,
then had a parish in Gaspe and later served in an Episcopalian church
In 1974, Bruce Olsen was appointed priest, possibly to oversee the closing
down of the church. An American, Mr. Olsen had started his ministry as
a Baptist and worked in New York among street people. He had come to Ottawa
to study theology at St. Paul's University, and he was still a deacon
when he came to the church. (He was priested at the Cathedral during his
incumbency). He was both a triumph and a disaster for Ascension. He was
a splendid - if long-winded - preacher. He performed exorcisms, encouraged
glossolalia and, according to one parishioner, "kept the church in
such an uproar that the noise from the singing and shouting could be heard
across the canal." He held two services every Sunday morning, a special
charismatic service on Sunday evenings and a Friday night Bible study.
He established a permanent "office of evangelism" with Geoffrey
Blake, the rector's warden, as chair, and invited missionaries to the
church to "evangelize" (with not everyone in the parish in agreement).
Parishioners who disliked the charismatic services left the church. Others,
who had left the church earlier, came back. And people came from all over
the city for the charismatic fellowship. The pews were not long enough
to hold them all, and chairs had to be set up in the aisles. Church attendance,
in the mid-1970s, was regularly around 200 people, and there were usually
between 100 and 150 people at the Sunday-evening services.