New beginnings

Hans Rollmann
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Entering a new year and decade, we may find hope in a vision of new beginnings, just as others must have found a century ago, in 1910, or even four centuries ago, in 1610, dates of lasting significance for our province.

'The Lady Who Came'
One hundred years ago, in 1910, a schoolteacher from New England arrived in Newfoundland in the company of an older couple. Eventually, she impressed herself indelibly on the religious landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador.
"The Lady Who Came," as Burton Janes called the first volume of his biography about the teacher and preacher, was Alice Belle Garrigus, founder of Newfoundland Pentecostalism.
Directed by what she understood to be a message from God, Alice came to Newfoundland and established a new church near today's K-CafÉ on New Gower Street in St. John's.
The experiential message that Miss Garrigus brought fit well with the religion of feeling and revival that local Methodists had already preached, and some even longed for, now that Newfoundland Methodism had become a more relaxed and established religion.
With the help of energetic young men and women, the Pentecostal message about the relevance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for 20th-century Newfoundland spread, especially in new mill towns and industrial areas of Newfoundland, where churches often provided a home away from home for uprooted workers from the outports.
After 100 years, Pentecostals have contributed so significantly to the province's religious profile that their remarkable strength compared with the rest of Canada is one of the demographic and also cultural distinguishing marks of the island, and of Labrador.
Today, the denomination counts nearly one-tenth of the province among its members, and faces its own challenges as an established religious community. For the first time since 1910, Pentecostals decreased in numbers in the last decennial census, and the upcoming new decennial census in 2011 should tell us more about the demographic vitality of the province's Pentecostals.

First English-speaking colony
Another anniversary commemorates an even more collective beginning for our island, since we celebrate in 2010 the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first colony in English-speaking Canada.
In 1610, John Guy and his colonists arrived in Cupper's Cove and started their settlement in a promising Conception Bay harbour that today bears the name of Cupids.
While this settlement was driven primarily by the economic motives of a company that sought profit for its London and Bristol shareholders, we cannot but notice how religious language shaped the rhetoric and thinking of the founders.
As they formulated the charter for the new colony, members of the Newfoundland Company enshrined in it the hope of religious conversion for the aboriginals of the island, and also the strict Protestant nature of the settlement. One of "the principal effects" of their project was, in the mind of the settlers, both the desire and expectation of "the conversion and reduction of the people in those parts (if any there inhabiting) unto the true worship of God and Christian religion."
Such language, which in today's pluralistic world sounds very divisive, was taken for granted in a culturally self-confident 17th-century European nation.
Conversion, for the Newfoundland Company, meant baptism into the Church of England. To exclude Roman Catholics from such settlement, these Protestants avidly guarded against those whom they "suspected to affect the superstitions of the Church of Rome."
"We do hereby declare," the charter read, "that it is our will and pleasure that none be permitted to pass in any voyage from time to time to be made into the said country, but such as first shall have taken the Oath of Supremacy." This oath required by the Newfoundland Company Charter was, as one Newfoundland historian declared, "unambiguously obnoxious to Roman Catholics."
How different, instead, is the more general and less polarizing language of the later charter of Avalon, George Calvert's colony
in Ferryland, a beginning for religious
tolerance and accommodation in North America, where Roman Catholics and Protestants merely promised to be law-abiding citizens.
Religion, then, was significantly on the minds of our forebears as they made new beginnings that still affect us one and four centuries later.

Hans Rollmann is a professor of religious studies at Memorial University, and can be reached by e-mail at

Organizations: Newfoundland Company, Church of England, Church of Rome

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, New England, Canada New Gower Street St. John's Cupper Conception Bay London Bristol Ferryland North America

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