The Rector Writes – Census question; church attendance and response; parish ‘Great Commission’ survey

Census Day 2016 was Sunday 24th April. Information such as accommodation, age, employment status, religious affiliation and education achievements is being sought. All households are obliged by law to complete their forms and have them available for collection by the Enumerator over the coming days and weeks. To demonstrate how seriously this exercise is being taken, according to the Form, ‘any person who fails or refuses to provide this information or who knowingly provides false information may be subject to a fine up to €44,440.’ The vision is that with accurate demographic and cultural information, appropriate future planning and service provision to meet the needs of our society going forward can be facilitated. This is, of course, not only true of State institutions, but also of the Church.
In this regard it will be interesting to see the Census results under the heading of ‘What is your religion?’ The most recent Church attendance Census carried out in the Church of Ireland relates to November 2013. This included the whole island of Ireland and its results made for some sobering reading. As previously reported, there are a number of common trends throughout the Church. On a positive note, there would appear to be a slight increasing number of those who identify themselves as belonging to the Church. However, more worryingly, when it comes to regular Church attendance, the percentage of those who regularly attend now stands at just around 15%. Furthermore, the age demographic of those who regularly attend worship has moved substantially upwards. But this is not universal.
There are parishes which have bucked this trend with vibrant all-age family congregations and a high percentage regular attendance. These parishes tend to have a strong commitment to an external mission focus which is clearly understood and accepted by all in equal partnership. In particular, the apparent success of these communities has been grounded on a concerted effort to re-engage those who claim affiliation but no longer see the relevance of traditional regular worship.
It is here that the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan ‘Come&C’ Church growth initiative is intended to be of assistance. It invites individuals and communities to undertake outreach programmes and to commit to reforms which demonstrate the vibrancy and relevance of their Church life and worship. It deliberately  challenges and encourages parishes to consider how they do ‘Church’ and to explore the reasons for their existence, including for whom their mission and ministry is intended. Having undertaken this exercise it is hoped that a deeper understanding of the need for fresh and innovative practices which have a wider and more inclusive appeal will be developed.
Over the coming twelve months the Select Vestry has been asked to reflect on aspects of our parish life outside of the usual three headings of Finance, Fabric and Furnishings. In particular, it has been invited to work out how best to apply the Great Commission of Matthew’s Gospel, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ Matthew 28:19-20.
However, this exercise is by no means limited to members of the Select Vestry and the input of all is encouraged and invited.
With every blessing,
John.
Rev’d John Tanner. 289 3174 / 086 302 1376
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