The Last Sunday after Pentecost – yesterday’s Day of Reckoning. It’s when we are asked to take a snapshot of congregational numbers: how many attending the Sunday services. These are ultimately published for all to see (well, for those interested enough in Synod reports).
And, of course, you hope that there will be a good showing, so that everyone will notice how good your ‘numbers’ are. My heart sank when I got the notice that Albert Place, where Holy Trinity is, would be closed on Sunday 21st for roadworks. I gave notice of it myself in church with a plea not to stay away, however halt and lame you were.
And people were very good, and turned up in surprising numbers. This year, we were asked to count males and females separately, as part of an ongoing gender audit in the Scottish Episcopal Church. For years, there has been the assumption that churchgoing has become a female occupation, and that the Church is becoming ‘feminised’ in some way. However, Callum Brown argued in The Death of Christian Britain that the decline of Christianity was partly due to liberated women in the 1960s ceasing to go to Church.
So I was interested to calculate that at Holy Trinity, last Sunday, 46% of the congregation was male and 54% female. Not so big a gap after all. Of the children who come more or less regularly, 10 are boys and 4 girls. What, if anything, does that tell us?
Maybe it’s dangerous to make too much of the numbers. Ministry is such an undefined thing that it’s tempting to grasp at any markers of ‘failure’ or ‘success’. On the other hand, it does matter that people are there. Just as sometimes you need to be clear that ‘stewardship’ is not just about gifts in general, but money, so ‘growth’ is not just about deepening faith, but numbers.
And yet, and yet … What do I make of those profound moments of ministry when ‘2 or 3 (literally) are gathered together’?