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Angus Cameron

Angus CameronAngus de Mille Cameron (June 9, 1913-November 23, 1996) was one of a small group of Canadian ministers whose introduction into Canada in the 1940s of the topics and issues promoted in the United States under the rubric of Unitarian Advance, began a period of revitalization for the Canadian Unitarian churches. He was an advocate of a Canadian Unitarian organization a decade before the Canadian Unitarian Council was formed. As minister of the Unitarian church in Montreal, Cameron prominently defended civil liberties and publicly supported innovative social service work and agencies.

Angus Cameron was born in Sussex Corner, New Brunswick. Inspired by Harry Emerson Fosdick, he became a Baptist preacher in New Brunswick at the age of twelve. Cameron attended the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, 1931-33, and Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia from which he received a B.A. in 1934. In his college days he served as student minister of Baptist and Presbyterian churches. A fellow student introduced him to Unitarianism.

He attended Meadville Theological School, 1934-37. In his first year he served as assistant to Von Ogden Vogt and as student minister of the Universalist church in Hoopeston, Illinois in his second and third years. After graduation he ministered to the Adams Memorial Church (Unitarian) in Dunkirk, New York, 1937-41. Letters he wrote from Europe in the summer of 1938 prompted the German ambassador to the U.S. to complain to Cameron's Congressional Representative, who in turn upbraided Cameron for his "impertinent remarks . . . expressing scorn for the great work of Adolf Hitler—the one man in Europe today who has to date prevented a World War."

Invited to change his career plans in 1940 and return to his native land when Canada was already at war and the United States was not, Angus Cameron at the age of 27 became the minister of Canada's oldest and then strongest Unitarian church, the Church of the Messiah in Montreal, Quebec. He quickly established a reputation as an eloquent speaker and clear advocate of liberal views in religion. In the postwar years the Montreal church flourished and more than doubled its strength; a second Montreal island congregation was gathered; and the Canadian Unitarian Council organized.

In 1946 Cameron became the first chair of the newly founded Montreal Civil Liberties Association (MLCA). That same year he and the MLCA were embroiled in what became known as the Roncarelli affair. Roncarelli was a Montreal night club owner who annoyed the authorities by posting bail for the unpopular Jehovah's Witnesses, arrested for distributing anti-Catholic pamphlets. The premier of the province, Maurice Duplessis, responded by revoking Roncarelli's liquor licence and thereby ruining his business. In his weekly radio broadcast Cameron denounced the actions of Duplessis. A few days later 1,000 people attended a public protest meeting which Cameron chaired along with Mme. J.G. Garneau, a francophone. Two petitions collected 1,126,477 signatures from across Canada. Roncarelli won the case in the Supreme Court of Canada, the MCLA being represented by noted constitutional lawyer Frank R. Scott.

In his later ministry Cameron was well known for his work in the fields of social work and mental health. He chaired annual conferences of clergy and social workers. He served as chaplain of the Children's Service Centre, the major Protestant social agency of its kind in Montreal. He was Vice President of the Mental Hygiene Institute. In 1955 he was elected the first president of The Marriage Counselling Centre, the first of its kind in Canada.

He was a popular public speaker, often engaged to address clubs and literary societies. He enjoyed a warm relationship with Reform Rabbi Harry Joshua Stern of Temple Emanuel, whose wife had organized the Booklovers Forum, for which he spoke often.

In 1944 Cameron gave a series of sermons based on the five principles of Unitarian Advance, enunciated that year by an American Unitarian Association committee to encourage Unitarian growth. The series was published in Montreal as Religion for Modern Man, 1945, and reprinted by the AUA as Unitarianism: A Modern Adventure.

Cameron was a philosophical naturalist. In a 1947 radio talk he rejected "the idea of God as a force to be placated or as an arbitrary ruler who interferes with the orderly sequence of events, to answer our individual or national petitions."

When explaining "a new conception of God," Cameron cited the words of Alfred North Whitehead who in Science and the Modern World had said, "The worship of God is not a rule of safety-it is an adventure of the spirit, a flight after the unattainable." Cameron taught that a person "must bear the burden of mystery, of the unexplained, in patience and faith" and "prove that he does not find real freedom a burden, but the highest privilege."

Many thought Cameron a humanist. He sounded like one much of the time. Yet he frequently drew illustrations from the Bible, often citing Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son and the story of the prophet Micaiah in 1 Kings 22. In a 1949 sermon, The Use and Abuse of Tradition, he made his Biblical roots clear. "We stand in the Christian tradition," he proclaimed. In it, Unitarians affirm "the essential unity of those who are united in the spirit of Jesus" and "the fundamental importance of truth in the religious life." In a later sermon, Rediscovering Christmas, he claimed, "Most of what you and I cherish most highly in our lives is the direct result of the life and influence of Jesus."

Cameron was Regional Vice President for Canada on the board of the American Unitarian Association, 1948-51; on the Council of Liberal Churches, 1953-55; on the Canadian Unitarian Council, 1961-63; and member of the board of the Unitarian Universalist Association, 1962-67.

In 1959 he resigned as minister of the Montreal church and thereafter served the Unitarian Fellowship of Fredericton as minister-at-large, 1961-63, and the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, 1963-67. He retired to his farm home on the Kingston Peninsula near Saint John, New Brunswick where he died on November 23, 1996.

Many Angus Cameron sermons, 1941-59, and radio talks, 1946-47, are in the archives of the Unitarian Church of Montreal. His most notable radio talks were those on the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, December 1, 1946, and the Roncarelli affair, December 8, 1946. Charles Eddis has conducted taped interviews with Cameron, his widow, his parish assistant, and his friends. Further information on Cameron can be found in Nevil Norton Evans, History of the Church of the Messiah Second Half Century (1892-1942) (unpublished manuscript); Edgar Andrew Collard, Montreal's Unitarians 1832-2000 (2001); Michel Sarra-Bournet, L'Affaire Roncarelli (1986); and Phillip Hewett, Unitarians in Canada (rev. ed. 1995).

Article by Charles Eddis - posted August 20, 2001


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