When Cynthia Patterson was ordained as an Anglican priest in late November, it marked the first time, to her knowledge, that a priest has ever been married to a bishop in Quebec.

Her husband, Dennis Drainville, is the outgoing bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Quebec.

But Patterson's relationship to Anglicanism goes further back than her recent ordination or her marriage.

"We could use that silly expression, you know, 'cradle Anglican,'"  Patterson told CBC Quebec AM.

"But it was much more than going to church every week as a child and as a young person – it was much deeper."

Bridging faith and social justice

Patterson, who spent her early years in the Gaspé region, traces her strong faith back to her mother.

"Like so many families, we had our own share of dysfunctionality and challenges," she said.

"I saw in my mum's life that faith gave her the strength to endure many things and it also gave her a place to give thanks when life was wonderful."

Like so many who grew up in a religious household, Patterson strayed away from her faith in her teenage years – but not too far.

cynthia patterson

She was ordained as a priest of the Anglican Diocese of Quebec on Nov. 27 in a ceremony. (Yvan Bélanger)

"I still prayed personally – pretty much daily – but I wasn't part of any structured worship," she said.

Instead, Patterson devoted herself to social justice issues, co-founding Rural Dignity, a group that advocates for rural communities, in the 1980s after moving back to the Gaspé from Toronto.

"We were working with small communities, not only over post office closures and school closures, but also around the collapse of the fisheries, that devastation of the environment," she said.

It wasn't long before Patterson connected the dots between faith and justice.

"I didn't learn until I was in my early 30s that churches have a whole social justice component," she said.

"The gospel of Jesus is about justice, and for me, that was my big wake up moment, when I could bring the different parts of my work together."

Patterson brought those worlds together through her work continued work with rural and indigenous communities.

With the Anglican Church of Canada, she served as the co-ordinator for Indigenous Ministry's suicide prevention program.

As her justice work grew, so did her involvement with the church.

Patterson became a lay reader in 1990 and a deacon in 2011. 

While many begin to think of retirement, Patterson decided to continue her religious education by enrolling as an online student at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.

"I turned 61 and became a student in theology," she said.

That same year, the 'cradle Anglican' would become a priest.

Cynthia Patterson ordination

Patterson says she has no problem wearing two hats when it comes to her priest-and-bishop relationship. (Yvan Bélanger)

Dwindling numbers, smaller collection plates

Patterson's work as a priest of the Anglican Diocese of Quebec will come with many challenges.

Parishioners are fewer and farther in between for the church, which spans a jurisdiction the size of France, reaching from the Eastern Townships to the Gaspé.

"There are fewer people in the pews, that means less money in the plate, and many places cannot afford to have full time stipendiary priests," Patterson said.

That constraint has forced the church to try different approaches. 

Patterson served both Entry Island and Grosse-Île in the Magdalen Islands every other month. 

"I'm also serving a number of parishes in the larger Gaspé area," she added. "We're all just seeing how this is working and where things are going."

Cynthia Patterson

Patterson faces a few challenges as a priest, including lower attendance numbers. (Yvan Bélanger)

Approaching a 'tipping point'

Like her mother, Patterson relies heavily on her faith to face the challenges ahead.

"We are approaching a tipping point, we know this," Patterson said.

"A prayer that we say often in advent is from Isaiah: 'Wake up, Wake up!' As a planet, we really need to do that."

Patterson has already found an unexpected way of introducing Anglicanism to Quebecers.

The sight of a priest holding hands with a bishop has raised the eyebrows of many in the largely Catholic province.

"There's a lot of questions and I find that interesting and people are fascinated to learn more about Anglicanism."

Like her religious and social justice work, Patterson says she has no problem wearing two hats when it comes to her priest-and-bishop relationship.

"[There's] obedience in all matters of the church, and then there's your home life where you can argue as much as you like about whose turn it is to take the dogs out or do the dishes."

With files form CBC Quebec AM