7th December 2022

Commentators, news editors and the general press have had a field day this week following the
release of the 2021 census results. If you have caught it, you will now know that we are ‘no longer a Christian nation’ with just 46% of respondents indicating that they identify as ‘Christian’. That fact is then placed against small, but eye-catching snippets that reveal a rise in Satanism (now totalling 5,054) but that the Jedi Knights are in decline with none now left on the Isle of Wight!

The press has got itself worked up about all this; that it spells the end of the church, Christianity and even the Church of England, or so they say. But let’s not be too hasty. I thought the Archbishop of York’s response was a measured one – just in case you didn’t see it (and why would you, very few bothered to report it), here it is:

‘The Christian church exists to share the good news of Jesus Christ, serve our neighbour and bring hope to a troubled world. That’s what we’ve done for 2,000 years – in times of war and peace; hardship and plenty; revival and decline and it’s what we must do now more than ever.
It’s not a great surprise that the Census shows fewer people in this country identifying as Christian than in the past, but it still throws down a challenge to us not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth but also to play our part in making Christ known.
We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by.
This winter – perhaps more so than for a long time – people right across the country, some in desperate need, will be turning to their local church, not only for spiritual hope but practical help. We will be there for them, in many cases, providing food and warmth. And at Christmas millions of people will still come to our services.
At the same time, we will be looking beyond our immediate surroundings, remembering we are part of a global faith, the largest movement on Earth and its greatest hope for a peaceful, sustainable future.’


This helpfully gives some wider context that snapshots and the search for dramatic headlines inevitably misses. But I’d like to add three points to what he said:

(i) Being a Christian, following as a disciple in the way of Jesus Christ is much more than a box-ticking exercise. The Christian church is growing strongly in many parts of society with people of all ages coming to faith rather than just expressing an inherited and often nominal one.

(ii) I think we need to bear in mind God’s time in all this which is bigger, greater, longer than our obsession with short-termism and the immediate. We focus on ‘chronos’ – the seconds and minutes of life because we fear its loss and it slipping through our fingers. God is all about ‘kairos’ time – in fact, he made time and takes a much grander perspective both in and out of time. Jesus says he will
build his church and I can relax that my (and our) at times puny efforts isn’t the sum total of what’s really happening.

(iii) I also wonder whether this obsession with time running out is part of the problem. The theologian, Ronald Rolheiser writes in his book ‘Domestic Monastery’ about ‘our pathological busyness…we know that life is passing us by and we are so reoccupied with the business of making a living and the duties of family and community that only rarely is there any time to actually live’. He talks about the ‘sacredness of time’ and how slowing down allows us to see and be different – which might well be what is required for people to look deeper what life is all about.

Maybe the census is a challenge is us about how we live, what people see in us and how we are
using our time to be and share Good News. We will certainly want to do more of that in 2023.
But in this season of Advent – which is all about waiting and watching, lifting our eyes to ultimate
outcomes – let’s rest in the assurance God is there for us, even as, the Archbishop says we too will
be there for them in the coming season of Christmas.

Revd Paul