Read by email

One of the surprises for me in keeping the blog over the last year or so has been how many people have taken up the opportunity to read by email.

I’d kind of thought that email was old fashioned technology and in many ways it is. But lots of people use old fashioned tech all the time. Just look at the number of people gazing with love at the vinyl records in any charity shop.

The people who have megablogs tend to be quite keen on keeping a mailing list. Those who are making serious money from blogging always say that you need to grow your mailing list and then sell things to people in order to make your dough.

Even though I’m not in the business of making megabucks from the blog, I took the trouble of inviting people to subscribe to receive posts by email quite a while ago. There are now somewhere between 300 and 350 people who receive the blog by email. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not huge. Very many bloggers have huge lists. However, it is far more than I had guessed would be interested. To put it into perspective, that’s higher than the number of people who come to St Mary’s on most Sundays.

There was a trend some years ago to depart from pulpits and preach sermons wandering amongst the people. I tend to think that preachers should see pulpits everywhere.

Anyway, here’s a shoutout to those who receive by email. Thanks for taking the trouble.

Anyone wanting to join them can do so right here and right now.

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Statistics and the Church

There’s a reasonably prominent article in the Sunday Times today on page 4 in Scotland highlighting the numerical decline of the Scottish Episcopal Church over the last five years.

There’s quite a few quotes from what they expect the Primus to say when he opens this week’s General Synod and there’s an old recycled quote from me into the bargain.

The headline figure which they quote is a decline in membership of 15% over the last five years. That figure should make people sit up and take notice.

The pattern on the ground is more mixed of course. There’s good news to report in Argyll and The Isles and also in Moray, Ross and Caithness.

I think it is interesting that the two dioceses which have invested most in Mission Action Planning are not doing as well as I think might have been hoped for. That isn’t surprising to me. I expect to be told that it just hasn’t had time to work yet. The time is surely coming when it will¬† have had time to work though.

There’s a quote from me in there which I think they’ve lifted from something I said a few weeks ago. I’m quoted (as “one of the Anglican Church’s most prominent clergy”) as saying that I look forward to “an Easter Day when I can celebrate new marriages for gay members of my congregation just as I can for straight couples”.¬† The implication, which the paper makes on behalf of its readers, is that churches which drift far away from common sense, public goodwill and what most folk think of as decent morals don’t really deserve new members. It is a fairly obvious thing to say though my suspicion is that most church folk still think that churches are highly regarded in society and haven’t realised that with a huge number of people they are not. Pitching themselves on the wrong side of the gay marriage debate is not the only reason that churches are in decline. However, it is a factor and one that needs to be thought about.

Those of us going to General Synod this week are going to have the chance to think about the statistics. There are several short sessions where we will get the chance to talk about them. It is more than timely.

A few years ago we agreed a mission strategy called the Whole Church Mission and Ministry Policy. It puts a greater emphasis on dioceses and less on the province (ie Scotland-wide organisation). In some ways it seems like common sense to make decisions as locally as possible. However, there are a number of reasons why that is quite a hard path to follow. I voted against that strategy when it was proposed at Synod a few years ago. It was obvious to me that unless the dioceses were better resourced than they are then it would be too difficult to bring about the changes that are needed. I also think that the Scottish Episcopal Church is capable of having an identity that can be promoted. I don’t think any diocese is capable of that nor do I think they should try. Identity matters hugely these days. Deprecating the national identity of the church in favour of diocesan identities is a policy almost designed to promote decline.

The best example of “Whole Church” thinking which is struggling at the moment is the report on TISEC, the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church. That institution is found wanting in some areas, not least those which are most devolved to dioceses.

It remains my view that there are significant things that we can do better together than we can do apart. By that I mean things that we need to do on a provincial, Scotland wide basis. TISEC is the most obvious of those things.

The statistics that we have to look at this week are interesting. They are mixed and not universally poor across the board. Notwithstanding that, they are very serious indeed. The obvious reality is that although some places are doing better than others, some are doing significantly worse and they include some areas that we’ve always regarded as Episcopal heartlands.

The statistics seem to suggest that some of the ideas that we’ve been promoting are not currently working. The Sunday Times today seems to imply that the longer we prolong the debate about whether or not to accept that gay people should have the same rights and responsibilities in the church as anyone else, then the longer the slide will go on. I happen to agree.

Not all statistics are bad, of course. Some of those which we don’t regularly gather are rising significantly. Take the readership of this blog, for example. In the last five years, it has risen by 24%. Indeed, it has more readers now in a year than the number of people who belong to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Significantly more in fact.

Makes you think, that, doesn’t it?