Belfast Telegraph

Continued trend of dwindling membership could bring institution to an end: scholar

By Alf McCreary

As the row continues in the Presbyterian Church over same-sex marriage, the latest figures reveal that membership has fallen by 160,000 in the past 42 years.

The figures, outlined in the 2018 Presbyterian Blue Book, show that, in 1975, the Church had 370,000 members.

However last year, the total had fallen to 210,000.

The number of communicants fell from 135,000 in 1975 to 90,000 over the same period. There was also a significant drop in the number of baptisms - 4,750 in 1975 to 1,250 in 2017.

There is also a shortage of candidates for the ministry and a appeal was made to members of the 2017 General Assembly to encourage people to consider a clerical vocation.

The Presbyterian Church said: "We were encouraged by a ministry tasting day that we held last December and which was attended by more than 60 people.

"Some had their calling to the ministry confirmed, some felt a confirmation that God had not called them to ministry and others found it useful in working towards a decision.

"We don't know as yet if this has had any effect, as new applications are not due until September, but we do hope that it has." Currently, there are well over 400 male ministers, serving in 535 congregations throughout Ireland. There are only around 20 female ministers, some 5% of the total, and three are understood to be retiring this year.

The Church added: "Many women are studying for degrees, but there are no female students for the ministry in the current year and we will wait to see the applications.

"Our last female student was at the college in 2016 and she is eligible to be called for the ministry this September."

Currently, there are no female lecturers at Union College, which trains a large number of ministers for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Professor Laurence Kirkpatrick from Union College told the BBC's The View this week that the Presbyterian Church is losing 3,900 people each year.

He said: "If that continues, we have 55 more years until the last Presbyterian switches the light off - it's as bad as that.

"It will all end in 2073 if the trend over the last 20 years continues. That's pretty shocking for any organisation."

The Presbyterian Church is not alone in losing members. The 2016 census in the Republic showed that the number of professing Catholics had decreased by 134,543 between 2011 and 2016. The 2011 total was 3,831,187 compared to 3,696,644 in 2016.

The number of Anglicans in the Republic dropped by 1,833 in the same five-year period, from 124,445 in 2011 to 122,612 in 2016.

Methodists dropped from 6,280 to 5,847.

There are many reasons for the drop in numbers, including ageing populations, increasing secularism and the inability of the Churches to attract new members, including young married couples.

Belfast Telegraph

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