Cen­sus data high­lights chal­lenge for Church of Ire­land, says bishop

The Irish Times - - Home News - BARRY ROCHE South­ern Cor­re­spon­dent

Cen­sus fig­ures on the level of Church of Ire­land wor­ship in Cork high­light a real chal­lenge for lo­cal clergy as less than half of those declar­ing them­selves mem­bers of the church in the dio­cese at­tend ser­vices.

That’s ac­cord­ing to the Church of Ire­land Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton who was com­ment­ing on a de­tailed break­down of 2016 cen­sus data pub­lished yes­ter­day.

Bishop Colton said he was not sur­prised at the 2 per cent de­cline in the num­ber of Church of Ire­land mem­bers na­tion­ally – down from 129,039 in 2011 to 126,414 last year – and he at­trib­uted this to a gen­eral in­crease in sec­u­lar­i­sa­tion.

Buck­ing trend

But Bishop Colton, whose dio­cese cov­ers all of Cork city and county as well a tiny area around Ard­more in Co Water­ford, pointed out that the Church of Ire­land in Cork, Cloyne and Ross had in the same pe­riod un­der­gone an in­crease of about 1,000 peo­ple, or 7 per cent, buck­ing the na­tional trend.

“We would at­tribute that in­crease to an in­flux of peo­ple into Cork but we would need to look at the ex­act break­down in terms of oc­cu­pa­tion and na­tion­al­ity to get a more ac­cu­rate ex­pla­na­tion,” he said.

The Church of Ire­land pop­u­la­tion for the dio­cese stands at 14,818, he said, while the cen­sus showed the av­er­age age of mem­bers was 40.3 years, nearly three years above that of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

“I’m not sur­prised at the age of Church of Ire­land mem­bers be­ing older be­cause the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sup­ports that and it’s true too of Eng­land and the rest of Europe that church ad­her­ents are largely age­ing,” he said.

Dif­fer­ent

“In our case, it’s prob­a­bly ac­counted for by the fact that many of our young peo­ple are away. Church of Ire­land young peo­ple are dif­fer­ent to young peo­ple gen­er­ally and are more mo­bile with many head­ing to Aus­tralia and New Zealand for a pe­riod of time.”

Ac­cord­ing to Bishop Colton, the chal­lenge for him and his clergy is to reach out to mem­bers of the Church of Ire­land who cur­rently don’t avail of their ser­vices and per­haps only come to their at­ten­tion at times of per­sonal cri­sis or chal­lenges.

“They may be at the edge of the church and not reg­u­lar prac­ti­tion­ers but they still de­fine them­selves as be­ing Church of Ire­land. They de­fine them­selves as be­long­ing but prac­ti­cis­ing their faith in an­other way and they have ex­isted for as long as I have been look­ing at cen­suses,” he said.

Bishop Paul Colton: not sur­prised at the de­cline in church mem­bers

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