Monday, 17 July 2017

Religion in My Parish

A while back, for my theology degree, I had to write an essay on the changing religious landscape in my parish. In that I looked at past census data to get a sense of the trends going on in the local area. I also looked at wider Australian trends and postmodernism. You can download this essay here. My teacher for this subject was Tom Frame. He has written quite a good book on the religious landscape in Australia called Losing My Religion.

In light of the new census data being released, I thought I could update the table that was in my essay.

Just so it doesn't get lost in this post I'll put my bottom line here: If you live within my parish, there is more than a 60% chance that the person you bump into at Erindale, or your next door neighbor, is neither hostile or opposed to Jesus and Christianity. This should at least give us some confidence and boldness to talk to people around us about Jesus.

Below is the table (fingers crossed it looks ok on this blog) and then some caveats and observations

Religion% of parish Raw Number (30,259)% of parish Raw Number (30,977)% of parish Raw Number (31,028)
No Religion31.479,52120.176,24813.794,279
Not stated7.942,4048.852,7419.022,800
Christian, nfd2.457411.92594--

Christian, nfd: There is no number in 1991 for "Christian, not further defined” because the ABS didn't collate religions under that category. When they first did in 1996, for my parish it put 1.3% (426 of 32,780) in this category. This category includes those who simply put down “Christian” as well as other smaller church such as “Apostolic Church, so and so”, “Church of God, so and so”, “Australian Christian Churches, so and so.” It is a little interesting that this group is on a small incline, this may indicate people are less wedded to a denomination. I know lots of people in my Anglican church who said they were "Christian" and not "Anglican". Heck, I did that in the 2006 census.

The issues of looking at a parish: My parish consists of the following suburbs (2017 population in brackets): Wanniassa (7,512), Monash (5,431), Isabella Plains (4,405), Bonython (3,786), Fadden (2,949), Gowrie (3,056), Oxley (1,693) and Macarthur (1,427).

Now is looking at a parish area even useful? Yes and no. You have to draw the line somewhere as to what area you are going to look at. Looking at the stats for all of Canberra while easier may not be as indicative as just these 8 suburbs near the church. The Anglican church make parishes with the idea of a defined missionary boundary. In theory, suburbs outside of my parish are looked after by other Anglican churches. My church is primarily tasked with a specific area so it should at least learn about that area. Of cause this idea doesn't work that well today because we all have cars and Anglican churches (all types of churches?) can sometimes be a mixed bag so people now travel to their preference. When I wrote my essay in 2012, I noticed in our church directory that only half our members actually live within our parish borders.

I do think there is an ethics of proximity that the local church should work on, along with the pragmatic point that it's easier to do mission next door than in suburbs 20km's away. This doesn't mean the local church shouldn't care about overseas missions, international and national disasters or social concerns on a state level. But their resources should primarily be use to bless the local people around them. Having a boundary helps define where to use theses resources. If people do travel in, and become members, then yes they should be cared for as they become part of the church community/family. Members who live anywhere can of cause invite their neighbors to church, they could even car pool (I've done this when I was in Sydney). However, the church as institution will primarily invite people in their parish, for that is their defined task when the parish was established in the first place.

No Religion: This is now the biggest "religion" on the census. I don't think this is the end of the world, I think people are just being honest. There are about 4,000 Anglicans in my parish but based on current church attendance I think some of them are lying - at least the "no religion" people are obeying one of the ten commandments in this instance. It should be noted that just because someone says they have no religion doesn't mean they are a hard core materialists who wares Richard Dawkins T-shirts to funerals. A lot of the "nones" say they pray and are "spiritual". In a survey conducted in 2009 only 33% of people who said they had no religion said they did not believe in God!

Not stated: Like the "nones", with this category we shouldn't be too negative. We can't say one way or another if they have a religion. I have heard of anecdotal stories of close Brethren and some Jews who do not want to tell the government what they believe. This may point to the fact that my parish only has 29 Jewish people in the area.

I find it interesting that there are more Buddhists than Muslims, and yet I hear more about Islam in my church than Buddhism. We recently just finished a series on "Understanding Islam", I am yet to see a course or short book promoted on Buddhism at church (Spectators Guide to World Religions by John Dickson is worth a read and is probably the exception). Maybe we talk about Islam so much because it is disproportionately mentioned in the media so much. I find it interesting that Matthias Media have produced Islam in our Backyard and Can we talk about Islam?, but don't have a book on Buddhism.

The census data also collates the total amount of Christians to arrive at a number of 16,202 (53.54%) for my parish. This number includes the 57 Jehovah's Witnesses and the 50 Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Taking those out, this includes a fair wack of the people in my area who at least identify with Christianity in some way. Taking into account that not everyone who said they have "no religion" are hostile (I would say they would be quite tolerant and polite about Christianity), I think this means there are opportunities to tell people about Jesus who aren't confrontational or "scary".


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