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Religion

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Germans/Gerhard Bassler

The population of West Germany in the post–World War II era, like that of the German states prior to 1871, was almost equally divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants. From 1871 to 1938, however, and in the reunited Germany since 1990, it has been predominantly Protestant. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 had officially recognized only the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed (Calvinist) creeds as state churches. Nonetheless, until the nineteenth century, there were significant refugee movements in and out of Germany of such religious dissenters as Anabaptists, Schwenkfelders, Huguenots, Pietists, and Moravians. Frequently, such groups sought refuge from persecution first in other German states (for example, Austrian Protestants in Prussia, Swiss Mennonites in the Palatinate, and Moravians in Saxony), then in Hungary and Russia, and finally in North America. Until 1781 the Habsburg rulers selected only Roman Catholic Swabians as settlers along the Hungarian Danube, while Russia from the outset solicited all religious dissenters and encouraged homogeneous Mennonite, Hutterite, Baptist, Lutheran, and Catholic colonies.

Since Canada has received immigrants from all areas of German-speaking settlement, these incomers have transplanted a variety of religious creeds, many of which had survived only in the east European diaspora. From colonial America, Germans brought new variants of Anabaptism and Lutheranism to Canada. In the process of opening new districts in Alberta, German settlers imported ten new German-American religious denominations. The most popular denomination among Germans in Canada has been Lutheranism, to which, in 1991, 111,000 Canadians whose mother tongue was German professed adherence. The other faiths represented were Roman Catholics (102,000), Mennonites (91,000), United Church (17,000), Baptists (15,000), Pentecostals (9,000), Anglicans (6,000), Jehovah’s Witnesses and Presbyterians (3,000 each), eastern Orthodox (1,000), and Jews (915).

Since the Lutheran churches in Europe were not ministering to German adherents overseas, three synods rooted in the United States claimed Canada as a missionary field. The largest and oldest is the Lutheran Church in America. It served Germans in Nova Scotia as early as 1749 and now has two-thirds of its members in Ontario. The second largest, the conservative Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), dates to 1854 and is concentrated in central and western Canada. The third group is the American Lutheran Church and its western-based offspring, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada. In 1934 the United Lutheran Church counted 53,000 members in Canada, the American Lutheran Church 26,000, and the Missouri Synod 38,000.

The church – the focus of community life in the rural homelands of the immigrants – has remained the strongest influence on community formation and maintenance in Canada. In the eighteenth-century Lunenburg and Upper Canada congregations, Germans stubbornly clung to their Lutheran and Reformed faiths in the face of pressures from the Church of England to claim the newcomers. Lutheran ministers acted as a focal point for social cohesion and the preservation of the language and cultural heritage. Roman Catholic clergy ministered in the German language to Germans and Swiss at the Red River colony in 1820. They named the settlement Saint-Boniface in honour of the patron saint of Germans.

In the denominationally homogeneous block settlements that were the typical pattern for German-speaking Roman Catholics in western Canada, lay organizations and clergy cooperated in selecting the land, negotiating with government, and filling the colonies with settlers. In pre–World War I Winnipeg, clergy of the Oblate order purchased a large piece of suburban land and sold it piecemeal as building lots to German Catholic immigrants to create a homogeneous residential neighbourhood around St Joseph’s Church. Lutherans, Baptists, and Moravians also formed denominationally homogeneous settlements through chain migrations, transplanting entire congregations from Hungary and Russia to Canada, where the churches facilitated adaptation to the new environment. The Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum), founded in 1727 in Herrnhut, Saxony, provided the missionaries who worked among the Inuit of northern Labrador from the late eighteenth century, and Moravian congregations were also established near Edmonton by settlers from Volhynia.

German-speaking congregations and religious communities have traditionally functioned as the chief agents in the retention of the mother tongue past the immigrant generation. According to a 1985 survey, church services in the German language were being offered in 532 Canadian congregations by the following denominations: Lutheran (92), Roman Catholic (12), Mennonite (115), Amish (29), Hutterite (225), Moravian (1), Methodist (2), United Church (2), Baptist (21), Church of God (16), and Pentecostal (17). Not all of these churches had weekly German services, and some were bilingual. The congregations were predominantly in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba. Representing an estimated 86,530 parishioners, they included natives of Canada, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Analysts have noted that adherence to ethnic German denominations is declining and that German-language services are fast disappearing, even among the Mennonites, who have traditionally been the most tenacious retainers of the German language and culture.