My Irish Times headlines by e mail this morning included one about growth in the Church of Ireland from Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent. Since I was not prepared to invest the 2 euro needed to find out what he said, I’ll have to surmise …
I expect he’s talking about the Church of Ireland in the Republic – which is just under 3%. I’m old enough to remember points at which there was real concern for the future, particularly in parts of rural Ireland. He’s probably pointing to at least two major factors as sources of growth – the inflow of migrants who now make up 10% of the population and the problems of the Roman Catholic Church. Take a look at St George and St Thomas in Dublin where the Rector is a former colleague, Katharine Poulton. They have a Discovery Gospel Choir and a U2 Eucharist ..
Beyond that I’m still pondering the future of churches in secular societies – like modern Ireland and Scotland. ++Rowan’s recent lecture in Westminster Cathedral included the interesting line that ‘we generally prefer these days to be patrons rather than subscribers’ We tend to assume that the churches which make headway in these conditions are conservative bodies of one kind or another. +Rowan suggests that our society now sees spirituality as good and religion as bad. Maybe there’s space after all for small, liberal churches which invite people to explore.
Meanwhile I’m off tomorrow to represent the SEC at the Church of Scotland Assembly. Once I’ve got over my agoraphobia, I hope to report back on what it’s like to be a big, big church!