We Stand on Their Shoulders: The Growth of Social Concerns in Canadian Anglicanism


188 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-919891-56-X




Winifred M. O'Rourke was a writer and journalist in Saskatoon.


The first chapter of this book describes a public demonstration taking place in Vancouver, March 1981, in support of Nishga Indians who are trying to persuade the Canadian government to rescind the permission given in 1979 to a mining company, allowing it to dump toxic waste into Alice Arm near where the Indians live and fish. Standing with the Nishga leaders was Archbishop Edward W. Scott, primate of the Anglican Church in Canada (now retired). In June 1980, writes the author, the church’s General Synod adopted a resolution that, through the primate, the church urge the federal government to withdraw the “dumping” permission given to the company.

Edward Pulker, author of We Stand on Their Shoulders: The Growth of Social Concern in Canadian Anglicanism, by citing the above incident, shows where Canadian Anglicans are in relation to social issues in this latter part of the twentieth century. Pulker, a graduate from Trinity College, Toronto, and an Anglican priest, in 1974 received a Ph.D. for his work in Canadian history. His major interest has been social concern from a Christian perspective.

In the preface the author writes that the book assumes that being a Christian means being “concerned with the total welfare of one’s fellow human beings.” He acknowledges that many Christians do not consider changing society a direct concern for them. Pulker then takes the reader back to the nineteenth century and the rise of the “social gospel” to combat the problems of industrialization. Anglicans did not accept all that went with this but were concerned with the emphasis on the corporate nature of society. On the other side, Anglican evangelicals felt that involvement in social and economic issues would detract from the real work of the church-conversion of individuals.

Social and economic issues were high on the agenda at the gathering of Anglican bishops (including Canadians) at the Lambeth Conference of 1888. England was in an economic depression at the time and author Pulker says the topic could not be avoided. But more important was the encyclical that was published drawing attention to “the excessive inequality in the distribution of this world’s goods.”

Following the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican conferences in Canada united to form a Canadian General Synod. Statements and actions within the Church of England continued to influence Canadian Anglicans.

The author then continues, highlighting the work of different individuals within the church, and pointing out that through the Council for Social Service, Anglicans pressed for social and economic change through two world wars and the Great Depression. Co-operation between the different denominations gradually developed with the Roman Catholic Church joining the coalition body to form a united front, when making recommendations to governments and expressing a common viewpoint in relation to social issues.

Although the author is a historian (as well as a competent writer) this is a book that is very readable and should attract interest beyond members of the Anglican Church.


Pulker, Edward, “We Stand on Their Shoulders: The Growth of Social Concerns in Canadian Anglicanism,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 10, 2023, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34931.