Theologies of Mission and the Indian Residential Schools (Introduction)

The following is the introduction to the Second Part of my dissertation Unsettling Theology.

St. Michael's

St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, Alert Bay, BC, circa 1965. Operated by the Anglican Church of Canada on behalf of the federal government of Canada, the school opened in 1894. The building in the picture was erected in 1929. The federal government took direct control of the school in 1969, and it closed in 1975. The building was torn down in 2015.

What were the theologies of mission which informed the operations of the Indian Residential Schools?

This is a simple question which does not yet have a standard, well documented answer. I will not attempt to provide such an academic history, as this dissertation is an interdisciplinary work integrating philosophy, history, and theology, and a full history awaits the work of academic historians working in archives with fonds of primary documents. Given the interdisciplinary nature of this dissertation, the historical aspect is necessarily derivative of other scholars’ work. That said, I will provide a provisional suggestion of what those theologies are, which is grounded in an inductive study of some primary literature with some verification by a brief excursion into archival documents. This will also be informed by the secondary literature.

In an attempt to keep the dissertation at a manageable size, I will only consider the Protestant theologies. An primary resource in determining such theology in the Canadian context is Canada’s Missionary Congress: Addresses Delivered at the Canadian National Missionary Congress, Held in Toronto, march 31 to April 4, 1909, With Reports of Committees.[1] On a more global level the records of the World Missionary Conference of 1910, held in Edinburgh, Scotland, provide a comprehensive overview of the theologies in operation across the Protestant world. The World Missionary Conference of 1910 produced 8 volumes of reports sent to all of the delegates, and a ninth volume recording the proceedings sent out after the conference. [2] From these texts I will derive a number of characteristics of these theologies. As well, I will examine a handful of books written at that time in preparation or under the influence of the Conference. To verify that there is a congruency between what is said at Edinburgh in 1910 and what was happening in the schools I will briefly examine some of the reports of missionaries from 1870s to 1910s, and addresses and sermons given in missionary societies in that era. [3] This verification will be less an endeavor of proving the congruency than checking to see if there is a lack of similarity, thus disproving my suggestion that the theologies discerned from the nine volumes of reports reflect the theologies at work among the leadership of the schools. As there is a growing number of recent secondary works on the conference and Victorian protestant theologies in general, these will also be considered.

This chapter will work backwards, first with a summary history which examines the context of the interactions of Europeans and Indigenous peoples in the Americas, in general, as they related to issues of religion and colonization, and then becoming more specific as it considers the interaction of French and British in New France and colonial North America (including the British colonies in Atlantic Canada and the activities of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Rupert’s Land), down through the Conquest of New France by the British and the subsequent American Revolution and entry of Loyalists into Canada and the colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This brings us to the 19th century, where we can distinguish between two streams of English speaking Protestantism, namely the High Church/Anglo-Catholic tradition and Evangelicalism. After this summary I turn to examine the Edinburgh Conference of 1910, contemporary books, and the smattering of contemporary archival matter. I then make a theological summary of this excursion into historical texts. Finally, I submit these conclusions to the Levinasian matrix of Chapter One.

[1] Canada’s Missionary Congress: Addresses Delivered at the Canadian National Missionary Congress, Held in Toronto, march 31 to April 4, 1909, With Reports of Committees (Toronto: Canadian Council, Laymen’s Missionary Movement, 1909).

[2] The WMC Edinburgh 1910 produced 8 volumes of reports sent to all of the delegates, and a ninth volume recording the proceedings sent out after the conference: World Missionary Conference, 1910 Reports of Commissions I-VIII and vol. IX The History and Records of the Conference together with Addresses Delivered at the Evening Meetings (Edinburgh & London: Oliphant, Anderson, and Ferrier; and New York, Chicago, and Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1910). The standard history is Brian Stanley The World Missionary Conference 1910 (Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009). The chair of the conference, the American John H. Mott wrote The Decisive Hour of Christian Missions (Toronto: The Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, The Young People’s Forward Movement Department, 1910). Because of the centenary in 2010, a secondary literature contrasting missionary theology in 1910 and 2010 has emerged, including: Stephen Bevans, “From Edinburgh to Edinburgh: Toward a Missiology for a World Church” in Mission after Christendom: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Issues (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), pp. 1-11, and Ian M. Ellis, A Century of Mission and Unity: A Centenary Perspective on the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2010).

[3] For illustrative purposes I will draw on: Proceedings of the Church Missionary Society Annual Sermons and Reports from North-West Canada Missions and British Columbia Missions in 1869, 1894, 1897, 1903, 1915; Society for the Propagation of the Gospel The Mission Field 1862, 1863, 1870; George Hills (1st Bishop of British Columbia) Columbia Mission Special Fund (London, 1860) and Diary 1860-1861; Diocese of New Westminster Monthly Record 1889, 1890, 1893, 1894, 1895; The Bishop’s Address to the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster, 1902 Report of the Executive Committee to the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster, 1901.

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece. More about me at
This entry was posted in Anglican Church of Canada, Canadian Issues, Unsettling Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Theologies of Mission and the Indian Residential Schools (Introduction)

  1. Mary Louise Meadow says:

    Hi, Bruce.
    Good to see progress! In my increasing cynicism, however, I am beginning to distrust theologies as I think they are constructed, perhaps unconsciously, to rationalize and justify and protect the power interests of church and state. And we unwittingly perpetuate the constructs the such power in our liturgies, language and hymnology. Sunday I went to CCC at 9:15 to find the processional hymn was “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” There was no inclusive language in readings or prayers until the consecration. As long as we reference the Divine and Holy as Lord, we will never shift our relationships to focus on one another as exemplified by Jesus. The bishop can walk the Island all he wants, but as long as he does so in the absence of Indigenous women who are bearing witness to missing and murdered sisters, his gestures are not only hallow, but self serving.

    Carry on! We need another way in which to honour the trust the Holy One has accorded us to
    care for one another.

    Missing you!


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