The Winnipeg Scheme

the Rt. Rev. Machray Primate of Canada

Although Canada claims the earliest North American prayer book service held at Frobisher Bay in 1578, the Canadian church itself was relatively late in making, not formed on a national basis until 1893. In between these dates, Canadian Anglicans struggled in the back-woods as a wilderness church. When Bishop Robert Machray arrived from London in 1865 at Rupert’s Land,  he confronted the problem of ordering Hudson Bay colonial churches in such a way to best “secure the ground for the Church of England”. Bishop Machray’s reforms began at the Red River camp where a model for greater British North America developed. Church order increasingly gained ground, and by 1890 the Winnipeg Conference proposed an episcopal structure for Canada. Crucial to this proposed national church was Machray’s Solemn Declaration of 1893. The Declaration would be the capstone of Machray’s work, and from its example Anglicans who face a similar tundra of vacuous faith and order today may gleam valuable pointers.

Ordering a Wilderness:  Robert Machray was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. While studying at Cambridge, Machray’s dislike of free church presbyterianism in the 1840’s convinced him to leave religious Dissent altogether and confirm his faith as Anglican in 1853. Machray entered Holy Orders in 1855, serving as a curate at Ely Cathedral. First promoted to chapter Dean, in 1865 Machray was called to the Bishopric. His consecration at Queen Victoria’s Palace Chapel symbolized a life-long identity with the English Crown that not only gave him a high regard toward common authority backed by statute, but it would eventually garner him the Prelature for the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

Machray’s immediate pastoral responsibilty upon his bishopric was the ordering of British colonials settled in Rupert’s Land. Along the Red River settlement, Canadian Anglicans were accustom to Presbyterian “free” forms of worship. Machray’s passion for the Prayer Book and episcopal establishment informed the reforms he would introduce. Machray’s successor, Archbishop Matheson, would credit his passion for Common Prayer upon the reformation of Red River:

“I rarely ever met anyone who loved and valued our Book of Common Prayer as he did. To him it was the vital vehicle which carried the worship of the heart to a holy God in temperate, stately and beautiful language.”

Red River was first required to follow the prayer book rather than Methodist or Presbyterian patterns of devotion. They were required to have Holy Communion at least once per month with the offertory returned to “the usual place.” The Calendar was restored for normal liturgical use, and its associated holy days observed.  Other Sundays, evening and morning prayer were conducted, accompanied by regular catechism, and surplice with gown worn by ministers for the liturgy.

On the normal administration of the district, Machray then set up vestries with wardens elected solely by the men of the same parishes. Constitution and canons were adopted, archdeacons appointed, and soon a cathedral w/ college emerged. Tithes were regularly collected, allowing parishes to become gradually self-supporting. From these humble beginnings the Manitoba diocese emerged not only as an active mission center for the Northern Territory, but the new diocese also proved an example for re-establishing doctrine and worship throughout the nation generally.

The Solemn Declaration: By 1890 Canadian provinces began moving toward a national church. While Eastern and Maritime provinces feared loss of autonomy, Machray calmed these concerns by defending the national against the local church principle, namely, how ‘general synods’ and archbishoprics have historically complimented the ordinary polity of the diocese. Curiously, Machray alleviated, British American skepticism by proof of English and USA archbishoprics that successfully existed alongside diocesan government. As chairman and primate of the 1890 Canadian synod, Machray finally proposed three resolutions promising a federal structure for Canada, otherwise known as the Winnipeg Scheme:

1) A Solemn Declaration that the Church of England in Canada desired to continue an integral part of the Anglican Communion, adhering to and upholding all the distinctive tenets and features of the Mother Church.2) The General Synod, when formed, did not intend to, and should not, take away from or interfere with any existing rights, powers, or jurisdiction of any Diocesan Synod within its own territorial limits.

3) The Constitution of a General Synod involved no change in the existing system of Provincial Synods, but the retention or abolition of the Provincial Synods was left to be dealt with according to the requirements of the various Provinces as to the Provinces and the Dioceses within such Provinces seemed proper.

The last two points were sureties for provincial and diocesan co-existance. But the scheme’s first point is most relevant, “A Solemn Declaration that the Church of England in Canada desired to continue as an integral part of the Anglican Communion, adhering to and upholding all the distinctive tenets and features of the Mother Church“. On the first point, Bishop Machray wrote in a manner much like his earlier counterpart, Samuel Seabury, assigning a ‘high’ status to England as an example for doctrine and discipline, wishing to depart in minimal ways. This in itself was a refutation of revivalism, more common to Red River before Machray’s arrival. Perhaps it was also typical of some southerly American colonies like Virginia. However, unlike the States the Canadian church was not incumbent to appease Dissent by watering down ties to England by calling themselves merely “episcopalian”. Even up to the 1890’s  Canadian Anglicans referred to themselves as “the Church of England in the dominion of Canada”.

The Solemn Declaration of 1893 was approved by Toronto’s first general synod. It would be the linchpin to a distinctly Anglican identity proving a cornerstone not only with liturgy but doctrine as well.  Its first half is a reiteration of the 1888 Lambeth Quadrilaterial, passed eight years before the Winnipeg Conference, designed for purposes of ecumenicalism with other churches rather than serve as complete articles of faith. The Quad portion of the Solemn Declaration covered the “Church of England in Canada” as being 1) creedal; 2) ruled by scripture; 3) sacramental; and,  having 4) of apostolic ordering. This half of the Declaration read as follows:

WE, the Bishops, together with the Delegates from the Clergy and Laity of the Church of England in the Dominion of Canada, now assembled in the first General Synod, hereby make the following Solemn Declaration:

WE declare this Church to he, and desire that it shall continue, in full communion with the Church of England throughout the world, as an integral portion of the One Body of Christ composed of Churches which, united under the One Divine Head and in the fellowship of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, hold the One Faith revealed in Holy Writ, and defined in the Creeds as maintained by the undivided primitive Church in the undisputed Ecumenical Councils; receive the same Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as contain mg all things necessary to salvation; teach the same Word of God; partake of the same Divinely ordained Sacraments, through the ministry of the same Apostolic Orders; and worship One Cod and Father through the same Lord Jesus Christ, by the same Holy and Divine Spirit who is given to them that believe to guide them into all truth.

The second half of the Declaration was more specific, proclaiming the particular faith of England and is credited to Machray himself. Following the terms of subscription set by Whitgift in 1584, the declaration affirmed those same three formulas definitive of the Tudor Settlement, namely, “prayer book, ordinal, and 39 articles”. Here, the Solemn Declaration vowed to “hold and maintain the doctrine, sacraments, and Discipline of Christ” as ‘set forth and received’ by the same three standards. Also noted was the perpetual nature of this public vow, “and to transmit the same unimpaired to our posterity”. The last half of the Declaration read thusly:

And we are determined by the help of God to hold and maintain the Doctrine, Sacraments, and Discipline of Christ as the Lord hath commanded in his Holy Word, and as the Church of England hath received and set forth the same in the “Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the use of the Church of England; together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in Churches; and the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons;” and in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion; and to transmit the same unimpaired to our posterity.

Anglican Realignment: It would be nice to see a realignment toward Reformation standards rather than ‘ancient-future’ or ‘three-streams’ Anglicanism. Given the 1890 Winnipeg Scheme was borne the same spirit as the 1865 Red River reforms, we see the basis of Anglican government not merely as a ‘recognition’ that historical formulas have existed– “bcp, 39 articles, and ordinal”– but a holy oath to “maintain and uphold” England’s reformed-catholic faith and discipline. The language of the Declaration might be contrasted to the ACNA’s statement of faith which seems less confident about the relation between apostolic faith and Anglicanism, using weak language like “we receive” while sparing stronger terminology– “affirm” and “confess”– for points normally given to the Quadrilateral. In contrast, the 1893  Declaration employs the same consistent wording throughout the entire document, namely, to “maintain” and “hold” in both halves. Perhaps older Anglicanism exuded with a confidence regarding the catholicity of Settlement standards that modern convergence churches like ACNA too often hesitate upon?

A more detailed story of Bp. Machray’s life and history of the Declaration might be read at the Canadian PBS: The Legacy of AB R. Machray

4 responses to “The Winnipeg Scheme

  1. Hi Charles,

    I like your thinking regarding the Solemn Declaration as a beginning basis for Anglican reformed renewal in North America. The church needs to “confess” and “affirm”, as you rightly note, and not just give a historical “tip of the hat” to its doctrinal heritage. Remaining vague ultimately only ensures a quixotic quest for unity at the expense of doctrinal truth.



    • Hi Jack,

      Very true. Robin Jordan, probably the most prolific Anglican blogger on the internet, identified the problem well in a recent article at Anglicans Ablaze, describing the ACNA’s doctrinal pluralism as “theological inclusiveness”. He compares this against the classical ‘comprehension’ as given in the 39 articles. We can imagine a similar kind of ‘orthodox’ comprehension with the prayer book. The Canadian Solemn Declaration would be a good start, certainly stronger than the Jerusalem Declaration 2008, and, what’s more, there seems to be some interest stirring in quarters previously considered unlikely. Let’s keep this one in prayer, my friend.


  2. Something I came across today. I did not know the name changed in 1955. From the Rev. Canon Gordon Baker on ‘A rose by any other name’, Anglican Journal, March 22 2011 :

    “So I raise the question, “Is it time for a name change from The Anglican Church of Canada?” After all, we changed it once before, in 1955, from The Church of England in Canada to The Anglican Church of Canada. This was done to recognize and proclaim our existence and autonomy as something other than a colonial religious outpost. However appropriate the use of the word “Anglican” was at that time, it is now more than 50 years later, and our church has changed in its understanding of itself and its mission in a greatly changed Canadian social context.

    Today we are developing new mature relationships with the aboriginal peoples of Canada and they are our sisters and brothers in faith and mission. Our clergy in Quebec are becoming totally bilingual so as to work comfortably within a French culture. The tag in western Canada of being the “English Church” no longer holds true.

    I submit that it is time for us to be fully grown up and give thanks for all we have received from the Church of England, and others, but have a name that more truly expresses who we are. I believe that the name, “The Episcopal Church of Canada,” would do just that.

    Many other churches in the Communion use such a designation—Scotland, Jerusalem and the Middle East, the United States, Cuba, Philippines, Sudan. By this change we declare our church’s autonomy with its own form of governance and our readiness to respond wherever the Holy Spirit may lead us. And that includes a readiness to share mutual responsibility and interdependence with all other churches that would share with us. The spirit of renewal is that we move on from where we’ve been.”

    Wow. The Church of England abroad is really falling apart at the seams…


  3. I was going to post because I felt that the Canadian declaration was inadequate and that what happened in the United States was, for all of its inadequacies, a much better way than having the Church imposed from above. But then I read your last comment and was appalled at the very choice of name. When the Continuum finally comes together in our country I would like to see us do what was anciently done and call ourselves “The Church in the United States.”


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