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."