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Baptism of Deacon Curtis Harmon’s Granddaughter
"Salt of the earth" church attenders seek to maintain their saltiness
Are Australian Christians maintaining their reputation as being the "salt of the earth?" |
BOBARCPICS / FLICKR
This is a guest post written by Dr. Ruth Powell, Director of National Church Life Survey Research in Australia. Ruth has worked with NCLS Research since 1991 when the first National Church Life Survey was conducted, and became Director in 2007. She also holds a position as Associate Professor at ACU, located within the Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research).
Being described as "the salt of the earth" is generally a good thing. Such as person is kind, honest, decent and reliable. They are distinctive. They stand out. They make the world a better – tastier – place. This phrase is found in the Bible, used by Jesus to his disciples – perhaps as a goal to aspire to.
With headlines screaming of the failings of religious institutions, what about followers of Jesus in Australia today? Do they still deserve this description?
Is there another story that does not make it into the headlines? Do local church attenders in faith communities scattered across the nation, stand out when compared to "average Aussies"? Do they make a distinctive contribution that makes the world a better tasting place?
In Australia, churches are major providers of community services, such as aged care, child care services and counselling or basic support services. There is also a high demand for church-based schools, even though the broader community does not flock to church on Sunday.
These community services make an important contribution, but what about church attenders? Even though there has been a decline in recent decades, a lot of Australians still go to church. Around 15% of Australians go to church at least once a month. While it is hard to generate exact comparisons, this monthly involvement could well rival attendance over a whole year at another great Australian religion, Australian Rules football.
So, what do we know about these church attenders? Given declining participation in congregations, are they all too busy running worship services, meeting with each other for Bible studies and fellowship, or repairing the leaky roof and keeping the lawn mown around their worship facility?
The Australian National Church Life Survey (NCLS) provides an overview of who goes to church, why they go and also collects data on their views and activities. The NCLS is one of the largest research projects in Australia and is the largest project of its type in the world. It has run every five years for more than 20 years. Some 23 Christian denominations take part. In 2011, surveys were completed in around 3000 local churches by 260,000 adult church attenders, 10,000 child attenders (aged 8 to 14) and 6,000 leaders.
The good news is that Australian church attenders do bring extra flavour to the wider community. Individually, church attenders are much more likely to be volunteers in their communities than the average Australian. They are involved in visiting the sick and elderly, as well as asylum seekers in detention. They are organising "backyard blitzes" for people in need and raising funds for charities of all stripes. They go in groups to plant trees and clean up the environment, and get involved in campaigns for justice. They loan or give money to people in need and sit on committees and boards.
It appears that being in a church gives motive, opportunity and support for people to get involved in this kind of action, whether individually or in groups. Furthermore, church attenders are even more likely to be involved in acts of care, welfare and justice than they were a decade ago.
So who goes to church? Six out of ten adult church attenders are female. Four out of ten are younger than 50 years of age. They are well-educated; a third have university degrees (compared to just under a quarter of all working-age Australians). The average age is 55 years, pointing to a long-term ageing trend.
Why do they go? Of course there are many reasons. Many attenders are turning to churches for community, having high hopes for a place to belong and to make a meaningful contribution using their own gifts and skills. Most (75%) report a strong sense of belonging to their local church. Furthermore, church attenders have higher levels of subjective wellbeing that the wider population.
They also want spiritual growth – and are finding it. Some 86% have grown in their faith over the last 12 months. They value the practices of the faith within the context of a faith community.
The NCLS showed that, across a range of qualities of church health, churches have either grown stronger or held their ground over the past decade. They are clearer about future directions, and more open to new possibilities. Don't be surprised when you see churches trying new approaches for communicating their age-old message.
Australians live in religiously diverse nation, and compared to other nations, have largely managed to sustain a high level of tolerance of those who hold different views about religion.
Jesus cautioned his listeners that if the salt lost its saltiness, then it was no longer good for anything except to be thrown out. There is no doubt that things are changing. Whether they like it or not, the place of Christian churches in public life is being renegotiated. How successful the followers of Christ in Australia are at retaining their 'saltiness' is yet to fully unfold.
Fast facts about Australian spirituality
- 61% identify with the Christian religion in the 2011 National Census.
- 69% believe in God, or some kind of higher power
- 57% pray
- 38% say religious faith or spirituality is important in shaping their life's decisions.
Fact facts about Australian church attenders
- 60% female
- 34% have a university degree
- 44% have a leadership role in their church
- 67% strongly agree their church is always ready to try new things
- 75% agree their leaders are focused on future directions
Gay marriage campaign has cost Scotland dearly, not just the Church
07 February 2014 by John Deighan
The legalisation of same-sex marriage this week represents a watershed moment where a new social movement will triumph over the previous orthodoxy around human relationships and human sexuality.
The campaign to legalise gay marriage has been marketed as a recognition of freedom, and the spirit of a free society rightly prizes a wide tolerance for personal autonomy. But what we have witnessed is the ability of an elite to use the power of the state to enforce a moral vision on all of society, even to the extent of crushing the conscience of those who get in the way.
A symptom of this has been how the public debate has been conducted. Those who have wished to make a claim for retaining the status quo on marriage have been responded to not by reasoned argument but by being labelled intolerant, obsessive or bigoted.
A free society has an inevitable tension between the common good and the freedom of the individual. But the same-sex marriage debate has given rise to a degradation of both conscience and free debate.
Equality laws have given a powerful framework for the imposition of particular state-endorsed moral views. We are not talking just of the supposed liberty to redefine the natural institution of the family or to live as one wishes despite the consequences. There is now a legal requirement that a new moral vision be endorsed and promoted.
Already as a result of the Public Sector Equality Duty, which came into force in Scotland, England and Wales in 2011, livelihoods and family futures are already being affected for small but not negligible numbers of people – principally those wishing to adopt or foster who are found to hold the “wrong” views on same-sex marriage, or chaplains who have voiced Christian views on marriage too plainly. Last year Revd Brian Ross, a Church of Scotland minister, was forced from his post as chaplain to Strathclyde Police after airing his opposition to gay marriage.
Far from living in a society that fully recognises freedom of expression and its importance for robust debate, citizens can now face the prospect of criminal charge for causing offence in a broad range of circumstances. The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications law passed in 2012 slips in five new transgender categories for special recognition.
The same-sex marriage law will threaten freedom of speech and belief of public sector workers if their views are at odds with the state’s vision of the family.
Scottish politicians have shown an increasing willingness to interfere in the private lives of its citizens. Under the 2005 Sexual Health Strategy children can obtain abortifacients and contraception without the knowledge or consent of their parents.
And to further undermine the role of parents, this week the Scottish Parliament is also expected to pass a provision for every child in Scotland to be given a government employee as a “named person” with a remit for ensuring a child’s welfare in an ambitious eight categories.
At the same time, the state has weakened the rights of conscience that should act as a bulwark for freedom. The passage of same-sex marriage may be looked upon with indifference by so many, but its consequences are far-reaching. The exhilaration of being part of a supposed fight for a new liberty has blinded activists to the damage they have inflicted on the foundations of our democracy.
John Deighan is the parliamentary officer for the Catholic Church in Scotland
Mass Stipends at St. Mary Magdalene Parish - Fr. Kelly
Mass stipends are offerings given by the faithful when they request that a Mass be offered for a specific intention. They are intended as part of the faithful’s direct support of the priest, and are not tax-deductable donations to the parish. The faithful do not have to give any money to the priest for the celebration of a Mass for their intentions. But custom and good manners suggest that some mark of appreciation be made.
1. Only one stipend can be taken for each Mass, and the Mass must be offered for that intention, alone. A priest is only allowed to retain one Mass stipend per day, unless he has permission to celebrate three Masses on any Sunday, in which case he may retain two Mass stipends.
2. The pastor here at St. Mary Magdalene parish will never refuse to offer a Mass because a small amount of money is offered for the stipend.
3. Pro populo Masses. In each parish, the pastor has the obligation to offer one Mass for the people of the parish on every Sunday and holy day of obligation, for which he should not receive a stipend.
4. The appearance of trafficking in sacraments is to be avoided; and access by the poor to have Masses offered for their intentions is to be preserved. However the custom of $10 per Mass should be followed as a guideline.
5. Where a priest celebrates a Funeral Mass, it is considered appropriate for the family to give a gift to the priest. That gift may be given through the funeral home or directly. That gift is normally in the range $50-$150. It is a gift rather than a fee. Families are free to make their own decisions.
6. Where families have a baptism, the custom is that they would give a gift to the priest or deacon. That gift is normally in the range $50-$100. It is a gift rather than a fee. Families are free to make their own decisions. They may also make a donation to the parish.
7. I have often been asked if people from outside the parish can get baptized or married here. Of course they can. But they are expected to make a donation to the parish of $300. It is also custom that they give a gift to the priest or deacon who presides.
8. For the celebration of a quincinera, families from the parish do not need to make a donation to the Church. But if the family does not come to Mass here at St. Mary Magdalene parish on a regular basis, then they must provide a donation of $100 to the parish. It is also expected that the family will make a gift to the priest or deacon.