Tue Sep 16 2003 13:32:37 GMT-0400 (Eastern Standard, Time)
Drifting away from church
By AMI HUMPAGE
THE number of people affiliated with the mainstream Christian churches in the Glenelg Shire is declining, Australian Census data has revealed.
A document entitled "People of Australia", comparing the 1996 and 2001 Australian Census data indicated there was a 3.6 per cent drop in the shire's total population (from 20,424 in 1996, to 19,685 in 2001), while the number of people with religious affiliations had fallen by 3.95 per cent (from 16,887 to 16,219 although this included more than 2000 people who did not state what, if any, their religious affiliations were).
The reductions among the four major religions Ñ Anglican, Catholic, Uniting and Presbyterian churches Ñ totalled 1082 (from 12,753 to 11,671) or -8.49 per cent.
In 1996 the Anglican Church had 4186 parishioners, but in the 2001 census, that number had dropped by 472 or 11.3 per cent.
Father Ken Hagan of St Stephen's Anglican Church in Portland said he believed the drop in numbers had come mainly from other parts of the shire, not just Portland.
He said there were a lot of people moving out of the shire, especially in the Merino/Digby area, where timber plantations had decimated farming communities.
Fr Hagan said it was these types of areas that had suffered quite a significant population decline, not just an Anglican church affiliation decline.
He said the church had, for many years, had an older congregation and a number of deaths throughout the years had also contributed to the massive decline.
Fr Hagan said he was surprised the decline was not higher, with the number of people moving and dying, he expected it would be, but claimed the publication figures were fair.
He said while the decline was irreversible in terms of the deceased and those who had left the area, the church was trying to encourage other people into its parish.
Fr Ken said the church was trying different ways to reach out to people, providing different activities and ways of visiting and encouraging people, but it was harder to make contact these days with many other activities around that once upon a time didn't rival the church.
He said since 2001, he believed the congregation numbers had remained the same.
The second highest decline for the shire was in the Uniting Church which dropped from a congregation of 3315 to 3032 (a decrease of 283 people or 8.5 per cent).
Portland Uniting Church Reverend David Parker said this decline was consistent with what was happening all over Australia and overseas.
"In most mainline churches, people are starting to drift away from organised traditional religion," he said.
"Figures like these provide, for some churches, a wake up call about the way their message is presented and how to engage with people."
Reverend Parker said when he came to Portland one of his tasks was to rethink what message was being used here and how it was used.
"Since Christmas we have started a new young families congregation every second Sunday and we have also sold our south Portland property with a vision of developing a family friendly complex around the church with a playground and family friendly facilities."
The Presbyterian Church also recorded a significant decline, by 15.4 per cent or 254 people, from 1654 to 1400. However, Reverend Ian Johnstone said the figures did not reflect the real number of people attending church or those affiliated with the church.
In the Catholic Church, the decline was by two per cent, from 3537 to 3466.
A number of categories showed increases, with the highest increase in the Glenelg Shire, at 102.1 per cent, being recorded for "Other Religions" which includes Buddhism, Baha'i, Islam, Hinduism, Australian Aboriginal traditional religion, and many other religions.
©Copyright 2003, Spectator-Observer (Australia)
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