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Scots need greater numbers ‘to pay the rent’

14 June 2013

Pat Ashworth reports from the meeting of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church


Looking for fuzzy: the Scottish Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, addressing the Synod in Edinburgh

Looking for fuzzy: the Scottish Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, addressing the Synod in Edinburgh


MEMBERSHIP and attendance figures in the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) have to be taken seriously, and addressed, the Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, warned the General Synod meeting in Edinburgh last week.

There has been a fall in attendance of 15 per cent over five years. Membership now stands at 34,916 across the seven dioceses Communicant numbers are 24,650, and the total attendance figure, on one Sunday, was 14,126.

There was no room for complacency, or for any sense that it was "somehow unworthy to think about numbers," he said - "I can produce all sorts of good news stories, but it is the institutional life which pays the rent."

But the mood was upbeat, and the picture was of a province in good heart. Statistics did not capture particular aspects of the institutional life of a Church, and could not measure its missional life, its aspiration, or its faith, the Primus said, noting "modest successes" in church life sustained and growing in Argyll & The Isles, and Moray, Ross & Caithness.

The Church was moving to a point where there was more growth than decline. "Across our Church - in the centre of Glasgow, for instance - we have sustained vibrant congregations in places where many other local churches have closed. There are local 'good news' stories about our Church. They happen because of good local leadership and deeply committed people," he said.

"And they happen because there has been a mood change in this Church. Many remember a period when our Church lost confidence - too many buildings which we now need were let go in that period. The Scottish Episcopal Church is now a story of confidence regained, of missional challenges embraced, and a growing sense of our place in Scotland today and in the future."

Secularism is on the rise in Scotland. Both the Kirk the Roman Catholic are declining in membership, the latter suffering a crippling loss of confidence after recent scandals

The Provost of St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, believed that the altered field gave more scope for episcopal voices to engage with public issues and public life in Scotland. "There is space for us to do that," he said, noting increased and generally positive press coverage of the SEC, which was once considered "a soft touch for journalists".

Many Synod members felt that the statistics bore no resemblance to the life and activity of the Church. The Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, the Rt Revd Mark Strange, voiced a common experience of the many "adherents", drawn to the Church through its offices and activities, who could not be classed as members or communicants. The task was to move these from adherence to membership, the Bishop said, something the Primus also touched on during the debate, though he added: "We do not do sheep and goats. We do fuzzy."

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