Religious trends..

Nosedive This morning in the post I receive the report of the 2005 English church census together with the latest copy of Religious Trends which looks at how this compares with the last 3 census surveys made over the last 25 years. It makes for fascinating reading.  You can actually look at trends in church attendance borough by borough by denomination, gender and age. What it shows is that the church in the UK is mutating faster than any of its leaders can really grasp.

If you read the papers you would still think the Jacobeans have it. They don’t – they’ve gone off to drink tea in National Trust properties muttering about Grade 2 listings and the old Prayer Book. The bulk of white middle class Christianity in mass collusion with materialism, keeping crime figures low and GCSE’s high will continue a steady decline. 50% of the clergy being appointed now are women – even if they won’t let the girls take a turn being team captain. Though I think they are on equal pay now.

What the census shows is that the emerging church is urban, black and English isn’t the first language. Fundamentalism is on the rise. Earlier this summer I spoke to a professor of anthropology who had attended a hearing with testimony from women who by day keep the NHS going and away from work by night lay on hands for healing and to cast out demons.  The privatisation of faith is a peculiarly white concern. It was brought in 2 centuries ago to stop European Protestants and Catholics killing each other. It is no longer relevant and the Islamic community has been notable in bringing matters of religious faith into every day life without embarassment in a way which is unthinkable in the English suburbs. The church set to decline for a few years but it is down but not out. What emerges will be multicultural, vibrant and not very English. What would George Herbert make of it?

Sentamu_1 If you don’t believe me then look at the biggest religious story of the summer before the Pope got into hot water. The second most senior churchman in the UK, who came to this country as a refugee from Idi Amin, cancelled his summer holiday and spent a week living in a tent in front of the altar in York Minster, praying and fasting for peace in the Middle East. I give you George Sentamu Archbishop of York.

Most people in this country have taken a look at Christianity and have found it wanting. The really interesting thing is how they will respond to a Christianity we have never seen before in these islands. We are moving into unmapped territory.

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