Christian Direction head retires after 30-plus years at the helm
Reflections on what’s next for Quebec
from the 1976 Montreal Olympics to the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, Glenn Smith has witnessed most of Quebec’s religious and cultural changes as head of Christian Direction.
The Montreal-based ministry partners with congregations and social service agencies for the social and spiritual transformation of youth, families and their communities. In 1974 Smith became involved with the ministry, which dates its beginning to April 1967, the start of Expo ’67. Smith, a university chaplain, co-ordinated the Christian Direction outreach ministry for the 1976 Olympics. He was hired as executive director in 1983 when founding executive director Keith Price retired.
Working alongside Smith was his wife Sandy, who trained and mentored many of Christian Direction’s team in the principles of being spiritually present in the neighbourhood. “She has taught us how to speak in the public square, live in diversity and stay connected to others,” writes new executive director Tim Keener in a media release.
Reflecting on the early days, Smith notes, “The mandate I was given was to help the organization rethink its purpose and existence,” as Quebec experienced significant changes, including the 1976 Parti Québécois election, the anglophone exodus, the cloud of the
October Crisis, the economic boom from Expo ’67, and the 1976 Olympics and economic bust of the late 1970s.
“What we didn’t realize was the incredible expansion of the francophone Protestant church that was underway,” says Smith. “Nobody had quite figured out that the Protestant church was in full expansion while the Roman Catholic Assembly of Bishops was documenting an incredible decline.”
Christian Direction took on a new focus as a multifaceted, multilingual, multicultural, ecumenical urban ministry partnering with churches and social service ministries.
“Most significant in my mind is how [Smith] has helped us know how to live faithfully within society,” according to Keener. “This has equipped Christians to live benevolently, yet distinctly, and it has provided a tenable platform for the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel.”
Smith sees secularity and individualism as some of the current challenges for Quebec churches. “There are parts of the province where libertarianism is deep into the culture.” Another challenge is the “inequality of the social progression of Quebec” – the separation between the educated and uneducated, the rich and poor.
In retirement, Smith will keep teaching practical theology at the Presbyterian College at McGill University and Institut de théologie pour la francophonie, along with leading the small group ministry at his local church La Chapelle.
Glenn Smith has retired from Quebec’s Christian Direction after more than 30 years.