*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Leader comment: Census reality

by
02 December 2022

THE national Census is a hugely valuable exercise, assembling people’s own descriptions (it must be remembered) of their identity, relationships, living conditions, and employment. It is the envy of many governments around the world, apart from the ones who prefer to promote national myths rather than facts, and who certainly wish to keep such information from their populations.

It is a reminder that even raw facts have a political power. Perhaps the most powerful are the ones that are least welcome: evidence of poverty, maybe, or deviations from assumed values and behaviour. A 13-per-cent drop in the past decade of people in England and Wales who describe themselves as Christian is unwelcome, certainly. Commentators who describe this as a shedding of labels rather than a mass loss of faith are plausible. None the less, there is genuine loss even if the statistics mean that fewer people want to be identified as Christians. Anglican churches have always been happy to embrace the nominal, the half-hearted, the uncertain, and the occasional, welcoming them whenever they choose to show up to something — perhaps too happy, hence the recent attempts to promote the notion of discipleship, currently making only very limited inroads in parishes.

The advantage of national sampling is that it is hard to manipulate. The disadvantage is that it is also hard to interrogate. There is no space for nuance or explanation on a Census form; so there are few limits to speculation about causes and remedies. Those who believe the drop to be caused by a general perception among the public that the Church is irrelevant and out of touch with present-day concerns can argue keenly with those who say that the Church has lost its distinctiveness and thus the incentive for people to explore it.

Allies of the first group might campaign for more modern, accessible liturgy; of the second for traditional austere beauty. Both should take more heed of the many other bits of research that draw attention to, for example, the lack of intergenerational pass-on; the number of former attenders who have left unnoticed; the general anti-institutional trend; the association of church with abuse; and so on.

But out of the many individual reasons why fewer people see themselves as Christians, the most worrying for the Churches is ignorance: too many people now simply do not know what a Christian looks like — and thus, what Christ looks like.

As an aside on the theme of unwelcome facts: it is surely time for the Anglican Communion statistics to be revised. The often-quoted figure of 85 million Anglicans worldwide includes 26 million “members” in England, and a further half-million in Wales. Going by this week’s Census total, that leaves exactly one million spare Christians to be claimed by the other denominations in the country, such as the Roman Catholics (4-5 million), Non-Conformists (2-3 million) and unaffiliated “Christians” (8-9 million).

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times Month

March 2024

For the whole of March, Church Times is offering completely FREE online access, so you can share stories without a paywall.

We are also asking our readers to spread the news of the Church Times among their friends, acquaintances, and fellow churchgoers (and non-churchgoers).

Find out more

 

Keeping faith in Journalism: a Church Times Webinar

11 March 2024 | 6pm GMT

An expert panel discusses trust between the media and the public

Online Tickets available

 

Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

You are able to read this for FREE as part of Church Times Promotional Month, where for the whole of March, we are offering unlimited web access to the newspaper.

From next month to explore the Church Times website fully, you will need to sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers will return to only being able to read four articles for free each month.