Less than half of Church of Ireland members in Cork attend services

Clergy must reach out to those not availing of services, says bishop

Bishop Paul Colton said he was not surprised at the 2 per cent decline in the number of Church of Ireland members nationally. Photograph: Mark Kelleher

Bishop Paul Colton said he was not surprised at the 2 per cent decline in the number of Church of Ireland members nationally. Photograph: Mark Kelleher

 

Census figures on the level of Church of Ireland worship in Cork highlight a real challenge for local clergy as less than half of those declaring themselves members of the church in the diocese attend services.

That’s according to the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton who was commenting on a detailed breakdown of 2016 census data published on Thursday.

Bishop Colton said he was not surprised at the 2 per cent decline in the number of Church of Ireland members nationally – down from 129,039 in 2011 to 126,414 last year – and he attributed this to a general increase in secularisation.

But Bishop Colton, whose diocese covers all of Cork city and county as well a tiny area around Ardmore in Co Waterford, pointed out that the Church of Ireland in Cork, Cloyne and Ross had in the same period undergone an increase of about 1,000 people, or 7 per cent, bucking the national trend.

“We would attribute that increase to an influx of people into Cork but we would need to look at the exact breakdown in terms of occupation and nationality to get a more accurate explanation,” he said.

The Church of Ireland population for the diocese now stood at 14,818, he said, while the census showed the average age of Church of Ireland members was 40.3 years, nearly three years above that of the general population.

‘At the edge’

“I’m not surprised that at the age of Church of Ireland members being older because the anecdotal evidence supports that and it’s true too of England and the rest of Europe that church adherents are largely ageing,” he said.

“In our case, it’s probably accounted for by the fact that many of our young people are away. Church of Ireland young people are no different to young people generally and are more mobile with many heading to Australia and New Zealand for a period of time.”

According to Bishop Colton, the challenge for him and his clergy is to reach out to members of the Church of Ireland who currently don’t avail of their services and perhaps only come to their attention at times of personal crisis or challenges.

“They may be at the edge of the church and not regular practitioners but they still define themselves as being Church of Ireland. They define themselves as belonging but practicising their faith in another way and they have existed for as long as I have been looking at censuses,” he said.

“We have people we come across in various places and the clergy tell me that they never met them until perhaps they are admitted to hospital or find themselves in some other situation. The challenge for the clergy is to find out who they are and where they are and to look after them.”