A Church with the Soul of a Nation
Making and Remaking the United Church of Canada
"As Canadian as the maple leaf" is how one observer summed up the United Church of Canada after its founding in 1925. But was this Canadian-made church flawed in its design, as critics have charged? A Church with the Soul of a Nation explores this question by weaving together the history of the United Church with a provocative analysis of religion and cultural change. The story begins in the aftermath of Confederation, when the prospects of building a Christian nation persuaded a group of Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian leaders to set aside denominational differences and focus instead on shared beliefs. Phyllis Airhart traces the new church's struggle to save its reputation during a bitter controversy with dissenting Presbyterians who refused to join what they considered a "creedless" church. Surviving the organizational and theological challenges of economic depression and war, the future of the church seemed bright. But the ties between personal faith and civic life that the founders took for granted were soon tattered by the secular cultural storm sweeping through western Christendom. The United Church's remaking came with the realization that creating a Christian social order in Canada was unlikely - perhaps even undesirable - in a pluralistic world. A Church with the Soul of a Nation sheds light on the United Church's past controversies and present dilemmas by showing how its founding vision both laid the groundwork for its accomplishments and complicated its adaptation to the new world taking shape.
"A Church with the Soul of a Nation will establish itself as the starting point for any scholarly discussion of the United Church of Canada and its place in national history. Airhart writes history well and the story she unfolds flows in excellent prose.
“…a deeply engaging work … the book is a major achievement, remarkable for both its breadth of research and its interpretive insight. ” United Church Observer
“A massive addition to the religious history of Canada, this book should prove indispensable in the study of the [United Church of Canada]. ” British Journal of Canadian Studies
"In A Church with the Soul of a Nation, Phyllis Airhart provides us with a sweeping and valuable telling of a central Canadian institution, one that echoes powerfully through the last century. " Duncan McDowall, Department of History, Queen's University
"In A Church with the Soul of a Nation will stand for a long time as the most thoughtfully and thoroughly developed judgment and will be the gold standard against which other efforts to interpret the history of the United Church must be measured. " Mark Noll, Department of History, University of Notre Dame
“A Church with the Soul of a Nation is an excellent introduction to the history of one of Canada’s major social institutions. Accessibly written and engaging, it is a good choice for undergraduate courses in Canadian religious history. More broadly, Airhart’s interweaving of Canada’s religious story and larger themes of nationhood and culture makes this important reading for Canadian historians in general. It is a story worth telling, and Airhart tells it well. ” Canadian Historical Review