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Thousands of people leave churches in Scotland every year

15 June 2018

Church Times

A view over Edinburgh, where the Scottish Episcopal Synod took place. The Church accounts for 3.4 per cent of church attendance in Scotland

A view over Edinburgh, where the Scottish Episcopal Synod took place. The Church accounts for 3.4 per cent of church attendance in Scotland

Mission board. Scottish Churches Census.

ABOUT 13,000 people are leaving churches of all denominations in Scotland every year, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church heard last Friday afternoon.

The 2016 Scottish Church Census was presented by the Revd Alastair MacDonald (Aberdeen & Orkney), a member of the mission board, to show the challenges facing the Church, and the importance of investing in mission and evangelism.

The good news, he said, was the 61 per cent response rate to the census: 12,511 people. The bad news was that it suggested that 390,000 people attended all churches in Scotland: a decline of 32 per cent in the past 14 years.

The Scottish Episcopal Church reported a decline of 29 per cent in this time, a loss of more than 5000 churchgoers.

More women than men were leaving churches. And, while there had been only a small decline in congregations (nine Episcopal churches had been closed, and three opened, since 2002), decline in attendance meant that congregation sizes were decreasing.

The age profile was also a problem, Mr MacDonald said. “It is very difficult to attract a younger generation if you are part of a small, older congregation.”

The average age of Episcopalian churchgoers was 56, and the average age of the priests was 59, and more than half of whom (54 per cent) were responsible for more than one church. Only five per cent of Scottish Episcopal churches had a youth worker, of which two per cent were full-time.

“Ignoring the challenge will not make it go away,” Mr MacDonald said.

The Revd Jane Ross, who introduced the motion, said that there were positives, too. The influx of ordinands would shift the age of priests in the right direction, and there were strengths in midweek services. “If we face the challenges honestly, knowing our strengths, then mission may just be different, not impossible.”

Motion 12, to welcome the report, was carried. The Synod was then shown a short video on discipleship, and discussed the subject in tables.

Institute Council. Mixed-mode training.

A NEW form of “mixed-mode” ordination training was introduced at the Synod last Friday afternoon.

The report from the Institute Council was introduced by its convener, the Bishop of Argyll & The Isles, the Rt Revd Kevin Pearson, who said that mission was the heartbeat of the Church, and that the Institute was the pacemaker.

Vocations must be “realistic, informed, and obedient”, and these goals had been translated into the report, he said. The College of Bishops was working towards a collaborative ministry to identify forms of training that helped ordinands and curates to fulfil their potential.

The new director of mixed-mode training, the Revd Richard Tiplady, explained that it combined placement experience with library and classroom study, and ministry experience.

But a new emphasis had been placed on placements in churches. “Placement is king,” Mr Tiplady said. “We are going to be putting a lot of demands on the placement.”

The institute would be “learning from mistakes” as it went; but it was an investment that resulted in a rapid return. Field-work placements would get “intelligent, keen, and informed” ordinands, not interns, he said. “They are an asset to the placement very quickly. We are equipping ordinands to be future leaders of mission from the off.”

Three students a year would be placed on the pathway; the first three were due to start in September, for which placements had been set up across the dioceses. Mr Tiplady said that he was looking for placement charges for the next two years.

Read further coverage of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church here.

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