Church of England health check
Further to our post of 31 January 2014, we now note the appearance of the second and third instalments of the ‘Church Health Check’ series being run in the Church Times. In the issue for 7 February 2014 (pp. 21-8) there were various essays by academics and insiders focusing on the leadership and structure of the Church of England. Those which had a particularly quantitative dimension were by:
- Professor Linda Woodhead who examined (pp. 21-2) the Church’s statistics of ministry for 2012, concluding that ‘there are no longer enough troupers left to keep the show on the road, and the show will have to change’ – see further the BRIN post of 24 October 2013 at http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/2013/from-st-george-to-prince-george/
- Professor Leslie Francis who summarized (pp. 26-7) his research into psychological type profiling of Anglican bishops, to determine whether the Church has the right sort of episcopate – see the BRIN post of 30 November 2013 at http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/2013/st-andrews-day-and-other-news/
- Professor David Voas who reported (pp. 26-7) on the importance of clergy leadership qualities to church growth, noting ‘there are strong associations between growth and personality type, but none between growth and attendance on leadership courses’ – see the BRIN post of 18 January 2014 at http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/2014/anglican-church-growth-and-other-news/
The same issue of the Church Times also contained (p. 2) two shorter reports quoting further findings from the newspaper’s 2013 readership survey, which attracted 4,620 self-selecting respondents. They revealed that 73% expressed confidence in the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury (7% disagreeing), but just 23% had confidence in the General Synod (37% disagreeing and 41% undecided), and 37% in the Archbishops’ Council. Sub-nationally, 69% (71% among laity) had confidence in their local clergy and 63% in their diocesan bishop. On matters of sexual morality, Anglo-Catholics and Broad Anglicans were shown to be more liberally disposed than Evangelicals, suggesting that the Church of England’s internal strife over homosexuality is far from over. Among Evangelicals, 63% disapproved of ordaining practising homosexuals as priests and 65% as bishops, while 75% were opposed to same-sex marriage in church and 51% to the blessing of such relationships. There was more sign of consensus on another historically contested issue (but now with just one final hurdle to clear in July’s General Synod following this week’s debate), that of women bishops, with support running at 76% for Anglo-Catholics, 77% for Evangelicals, and 93% for Broad Anglicans. These two reports are freely available online at:
The third instalment of the ‘Church Health Check’ can be found in the current issue of the Church Times (14 February 2014, pp. 21-7) and is devoted to the social impact of the Church of England. This has a rather limited quantitative element. However, the lead article by Professor Linda Woodhead (pp. 21-2) draws upon her 2013 Westminster Faith Debates surveys to illustrate how people still connect to the Church in ways apart from regular attendance at public worship, while also noting that take-up of all three church-based rites of passage has diminished. Some of the Opinion Research Business polling for the Church of England over the last decade or so is also relevant in this context, a couple of examples of which can be viewed through the Research and Statistics link webpage (which, incidentally, is in desperate need of an overhaul and update to consolidate the archival material) at:
The same issue of the Church Times (p. 3) carries further results from the 2013 readership survey, revealing that 67% of this sub-set of Anglicans are currently involved in some form of unpaid community work (volunteering), with 35% active in two or more fields. Education (19%), local community action (18%), cultural activities (18%), children’s work (12%), and social welfare services (10%) were most frequently mentioned by the self-selecting sample. Volunteering by these clergy and lay churchgoer respondents is said to be at least twice as great as by the population at large, as recorded in Government surveys. See further:
Finally, the issue of 14 February 2014 contains a full page (p. 17) printing nine letters from readers in response to the first two instalments of ‘Church Health Check’.
Catholics polled on family life – the sequel
On 8 November 2013 BRIN reported on the Roman Catholic Church’s global consultation of the views of the faithful on family life, including vexed issues such as contraception and same-sex relationships, in preparation for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, to be held in the Vatican on 5-19 October 2014. The consultation, by means of a 40-question survey instrument, attracted significant attention, not to say controversy, inside and outside the Catholic Church. It was criticized in some quarters for its inadequate methodology and theologically opaque content, although the Vatican was at pains to point out that it was not an opinion poll and that the Church’s teaching is not determined by majority popular vote.
Notwithstanding, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales took the lead in putting the questionnaire online and received a healthy response (albeit small in relation to the size of the Catholic population). According to the Catholic Herald (7 February 2014, p. 2) and The Tablet (8 February 2014, p. 28), the Conference received some 16,500 completed questionnaires. The bulk of these (12,266) were filled in online, mainly by laity (80%), with 69% being married and 38% parents. One-fifth of respondents were in ‘positions of responsibility within the Church’, including priests, teachers, and pastoral assistants, while 24% were aged under 45 years and 30% 65 and over. The figures exclude 1,163 responses from 57 other countries, which were forwarded to the relevant Church authorities.
In deference to the Vatican, the Conference has declined to publish its report on the results of the English and Welsh consultation in advance of the Extraordinary Synod (as have the bishops in the United States, Canada, and Australia), despite the fact that both the German and the Swiss Bishops’ Conferences have already published their respective national reports, containing a strong message on the need for ‘reform’. It would be surprising if any different message emerged from England and Wales, given that polling of Catholics in Britain during recent years has demonstrated a wide gulf between opinions in the pews and the Magisterium of the Church. Newly-released polling of 12,000 Catholics worldwide (excluding Britain) by Univision (the television network serving Hispanic America) has revealed similar disaffection, with the partial exception of Africa, as have national surveys by Catholic media and institutions in France, Belgium, and The Netherlands. There is a helpful summary of some of this international research in The Tablet for 15 February 2014 (p. 30).
2011 census: Church of Scotland parish profiles
Overseen by Revd Fiona Tweedie, the Statistics for Mission Group of the Church of Scotland has now completed the task of preparing parish profiles of selected data from the 2011 census of population for Scotland. The profiles, which take the form of attractive 12-page PDF documents comprising charts and tables, include details of religious affiliation. They are available to download through the ChurchFinder on the Church of Scotland website (using the ‘Parish statistics’ link from the table of search results) at:
Speaking of the Church of Scotland, Steve Aisthorpe (the Kirk’s Mission Development Worker, North) has recently written an interesting 26-page preliminary report on Investigating the Invisible Church: A Survey of Christians who Do Not Attend Church. It is based on a survey of a random sample of 5,523 people in the Highlands and Islands contacted by telephone in the autumn of 2013, 2,698 of whom gave a short interview. Of these 934 identified themselves as Christians who do not attend church and agreed to take part in a more detailed study, and 430 (46%) eventually completed and returned the online and postal questionnaire, comprising almost 80 items. Critical Research oversaw the recruitment of participants, data entry, and statistical analysis, while funding came from the Church of Scotland’s Mission and Discipleship Council and three other partners. The report is at:
The headline finding from the study was that 44% of the population of the Highlands and Islands, representing some 133,000 individuals, are professing Christians who are not currently engaged with a local congregation, although only 15% had never attended church regularly in the past and 23% had attended for more than 20 years (with a further 27% for more than 10 years). Inevitably, a good proportion of these are ‘cultural Christians’, but a surprisingly large number (50%) scored highly (more than 30 out of 50) on the Hoge Intrinsic Religiosity Scale, which aims to measure the extent to which faith underpins everyday life. Disillusioned respondents may have been with the Church, and their reasons for church-leaving were explored in detail, but 72% were not disappointed with God, with 50% regarding themselves as part of a worldwide Christian community and 41% as on a spiritual quest beyond religious institutions. There was no simplistic partition into ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ here.
The areas explored in the quantitative phase emerged from a previous qualitative phase in 2012-13, in which 30 Christians not attending a local church were interviewed in depth. The report on this qualitative phase (dated July 2013) is also available at:
The Community Security Trust (CST)’s 32-page Antisemitic Incidents Report, 2013 was published on 6 February 2014. It revealed that the number of such incidents recorded in the United Kingdom in 2013 was, at 529, 18% lower than in 2012 and only just over half the post-1984 high of 931 incidents in 2009. CST believes the fall in anti-Semitism since 2012 to be genuine and to reflect the lack of anti-Jewish ‘trigger events’ in 2013, such as had caused two temporary spikes in 2012. However, CST still reckons there is ‘significant underreporting’ of anti-Semitic incidents both to itself and the police, and that the true figure is considerably higher. Of the 529 recorded incidents in 2013, over three-quarters took place in Greater London and Greater Manchester, with 69 categorized as violent assaults, although none constituted ‘extreme violence’ (amounting to grievous bodily harm or a threat to life). The most common category, with 368 incidents, was of abusive behaviour, including verbal abuse, albeit these were 23% down on 2012. One-quarter of all incidents were assessed as having far right, anti-Israel, or Islamist motivations. In the minority of cases where a physical description of the perpetrator could be obtained, 62% were white and 25% South Asian. The report, including a profile of incidents by category and month for each year from 2003 to 2013, can be read at:
Values profile of Britain
The January 2014 issue of Modern Believing (Vol. 55, No. 1) is a special theme issue, devoted to ‘What British People Really Think’, and guest-edited by Professor Linda Woodhead. Using data from a variety of sources, but especially from her January and June 2013 YouGov polls for the Westminster Faith Debates, it depicts what the British think about abortion (pp. 7-14); women bishops (pp. 15-26); same-sex marriage (pp. 27-38); euthanasia (pp. 39-48); God, religion, and authority (pp. 49-58); and society, politics, and religious institutions (pp. 59-67). There is also an introduction (pp. 1-5) and conclusion (‘A Values Profile of Britain’, pp. 69-74) by Woodhead. Non-subscribers to the journal, and non-members of subscribing institutions, may struggle to access these articles. The new publisher (Liverpool University Press) does not appear to be offering the option to buy a print copy of this special issue only, while downloads cost an eye-watering £25 per (shortish) article via the following link:
POSTSCRIPT [18 February 2014] BRIN has now ascertained that single copies of this entire issue can be purchased for £15.00, more cost-effective than the article download option. To order a copy, contact Liverpool@turpin-distribution.com
Faith under fire
Do soldiers turn to God when they are on the front line? Some provisional answers to this question are apparently contained in a postgraduate thesis submitted to the Cardiff Centre for Chaplaincy Studies by Revd Peter King, who was chaplain to the Queen’s Royal Hussars during a bloody tour to Helmand province between October 2011 and April 2012, during which 23 British soldiers were killed and dozens more severely wounded. The research was featured in The Sunday Times, 9 February 2014, Main Section, p. 20 in an article by the newspaper’s defence correspondent, Mark Hookham. King surveyed more than 200 men in his 400-strong battle group, finding that 80% professed some religion and 63% reported that they were more likely to frequent religious services while on operations than when in barracks. An Easter service held by King in a cookhouse in Afghanistan had been attended by about 100 men, of whom one-quarter received Holy Communion. Almost half (46%) of the soldiers interviewed by King said they had prayed in Afghanistan, and the same proportion carried or wore a symbol of faith. An awareness of the presence of God had been felt by 17%, and a few even described a religious experience at the front.
POSTSCRIPT [7 April 2014]: The research has now been published as Peter King, ‘Faith in a Foxhole? Researching Combatant Religiosity amongst British Soldiers on Contemporary Operations’, Defence Academy Yearbook, 2013, pp. 2-10, freely available online at: