“Keeping the Faith? Not in Vancouver”

Philadelphia Inquirer examines the secular city.

Vancouver, on closer inspection, lacks a common feature of most other North American cityscapes:

Church steeples.

In fact, this modern, secular, increasingly Asian-flavored city is missing more than the steeples. Churches and churchgoers are in short supply, too.

The reasons for those shortages – architectural, cultural, regional, historical – are as varied as this cosmopolitan community’s population.

Some of Vancouver’s oldest, most distinctive churches were torn down in the real estate boom that remade its downtown. Wood, so plentiful in the surrounding forests, is the building material of choice, not brick or stone. Asians who have come here recently by the hundreds of thousands are building temples, not churches.

And, most significant, Canadians, particularly those in British Columbia, just aren’t very religious.

In 1946, a Gallup poll found that 67 percent of Canadians attended church at least once a week. By 1998, the number had fallen to 22 percent, by 2001 to 20 percent.

By contrast, 35 percent of Americans call themselves regular churchgoers.

“Canada looks more like the thoroughly secular countries of Europe than it does its closest neighbor,” said Mark Noll, a Notre Dame religion professor who taught at the University of British Columbia.

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