Thinking Anglicans has the story that all of us in the Scottish Episcopal Church should be thinking about at the moment. One of the most important stories that concerns Episcopalians in Scotland for quite a while.

It is to do with the recent release of figures from the last census – the one that was conducted in 2011.

The figures are absolutely fascinating.

Firstly, there are a lot more people who claim to think of themselves as Anglicans in Scotland than might have been expected. However, the majority, the vast majority of them don’t think of themselves as Scottish Episcopalians.

Here are the figures:

Church of England 66,717
Episcopalian 21,289
Scottish Episcopal Church 8,048
Anglican 4,490
Church of Ireland 2,020
Church in Wales 453
Total 103,017

Now there is a lot to say and I’ll probably not say it all today.

Firstly, notice how many people in Scotland claim to be Church of England.

If we add together those making a claim on an identity that thinks of itself as Episcopal we get 29 337. That is less than half of those who claim to be Church of England.

We’ve got a wee identity crisis and we need to start to think about it.

Now, note the number of people who were actually turning up at church in the same year (drawn from the Annual Report of the Scottish Episcopal Church). This was 14 126. So about 14% of those who claim to be Anglicans in Scotland are turning up on a typical Sunday in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

We’ve got a wee turning up problem and we need to start to think about it.

Now, take a look at the number of people whom the church claims belong to it – again from the Annual Report. That same year we claimed that we had a membership of 34 916 whilst we had a communicant membership of 24 650.

For a church which is in so many places primarily a Eucharistic church (that’s what we do) then we’ve got a wee faith problem and we need to start thinking about it.

I was very keen that we discuss the church’s statistics at last year’s General Synod. We did talk about them but I’m not entirely sure we did as much with them as I had hoped we would. The Primus tried to be upbeat about them and say that you don’t learn everything about a church by its statistics and that he found things to be hopeful.

For myself, I only partly agree with him. I think there is a lot of hope about in the Scottish Episcopal Church – far more than amongst my presbyterian friends whose church, despite being many times bigger than my own, seems to be collapsing at a local level all across the country. However, I think we can learn things from numbers and I wish these census statistics had been available at Synod. I think that reflecting creatively on the numbers is something that we need to do at every synod.

Disappointingly we don’t have census figures that we can apportion to dioceses – if we did we could see positions of relative strength and look at where the church was doing least well at attracting people who not only ought to be connected to it but actually claim to government that they are connected.

Here are some hunches:

  • We’ve a significant branding problem. There’s only one church of the Anglican Communion in Scotland yet even the census report (based on write in responses) has six different lines relating to us.
  • Some of the people who claim to be Church of England will make their way to the Church of Scotland and never know the difference. This infuriates Episcopalians but we should be thinking about why we are so invisible to those people.
  • The various diocesan mission schemes that are underway are not working terribly well and not likely to work terribly well. They all seem to have been devised by people who are living in an age before the internet began. None are using particularly well, the central tool that people use to drive trade, create impact, generate conversation. Until we start to get this right we are going to decline. Individual churches which opt out of this are opting out of survival.
  • We need to talk about our identity in terms relating to various levels of debate about Scotland and England. A long time ago, Canon Alice Mann (who helped us so much as a Province) said that we needed to do a lot more work on this. We’ve not done it and we are suffering from not having done it.
  • Our corporate identity (motto, visuals and name) are such that they always need explaining and are used badly. I’ve been to churches recently who have described themselves (in every font and style imaginable) as:
    • Scottish Episcopal Church
    • Scottish Episcopal Church (Anglican)
    • Scottish Episcopal Church (Anglican Communion)
    • Scottish Episcopal Church (In full communion with the Church of England)
    • A member church of the Anglican Communion and Evangelical Alliance
    • and with no denominational affiliation at all. (eg my own congregation).
  • Numbers matter hugely
  • We need to work very hard on our national profile. Bishops have a special role to play here and though they’ve been doing a lot better at being local voices in the press recently we are not really creating much Scotland-wide impact.
  • We’ve changed our corporate identity before and at least have to talk about doing so again.
  • The Mission and Ministry Board cannot focus on anything because its remit is too large. It needs to be split in two and there needs to be a rethink of which committees go with which boards. For example, maybe Communications and Mission (or even better Outreach or Evangelism) have something to do with one another.
  • Mission is a word that is so widely and inappropriately used that it now means nothing except when one is applying for a diocesan grant.

Our identity crisis is revealed by asking people from outside the church what they think we are. “Oh, are you the Church of Richard Holloway?” say the intelligensia. (Yes, still they do).

“Oh, aren’t you just the English Church?” say a whole bunch of others.

Now we need to think about these things. What should our next step be?

Who we are

Right, here is a little verbatim to get you thinking.

The scene is a concert given by a famous jazz musician a few weeks ago in an American cathedral. I’ve been nudged to the front to sit with the bigwigs. As we sit waiting for the music, I hear this conversation going on somewhere behind me.

Person 1: Wow, isn’t this space amazing. I never knew it was so beautiful.

Person 2: I know, I’ve never been in here before either.

Person 1: What is it anyway? What kind of church?

Person 2: It is the Episcopals

Person 1: Well, it is really special, the building and all. Which ones are the Episcopals again? Are they the ones that have divorce?

Person 2: Yes, they do. And women priests. They’ve got one here!

Person 1: Really? Wow! All this, and divorce and women priests. Maybe I should give them a try…

Now, how does that exchange make you feel? Does it lift the soul or not?  Can you flesh out your feelings with some further thoughts?