Bishop links fall in religion to big changes in society
Church of England leaders in the Westcountry said they were "challenged" but not alarmed by the latest Census figures showing a decline in religion.
As reported in the Western Morning News on Wednesday this week, the number of people professing to be Christian in Devon and Cornwall has fallen dramatically compared to figures recorded ten years ago.
At the same time the number of people ticking the "no religion" box on Census papers has soared. The 2011 Census revealed a marked shift in Devon and Cornwall amongst those who follow organised religions which included the Church of England, Catholic and all other Christian denominations.
Some 63.3% in Torbay said they were Christians, 61.5% in Devon county, 59.8% in Cornwall and 58.1% in Plymouth.
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Looking back to the 2001 Census in Torbay 76.2% declared they were Christian meaning the 2011 figure is down 12.9 percentage points.
In Devon county the figure was 74.8% indicating a fall of 13.3 percentage points – in Plymouth a recording of 73.5% shows a fall of 15.4 percentage points).
And in Cornwall the 74.3% shown ten years ago equals a dip of 4.5 percentage points.
The Right Reverend Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter said the church would take note of the findings but it was important to highlight the difference between religion and faith in God.
He said: "It's very interesting to consider the question of religion and faith.
"I meet a lot of people who say they do not follow a religion but they have faith.
"Had the question (on the Census) been about faith I think we would have got a different answer."
Bishop Michael said changes in western society generally had affected church attendance.
He said: "A lot of people see religion as an organisation and a lot of people have lost faith with large organisations including political parties and trade unions, so it's all part of a broader change in our society I feel.
"Modern life is of course so busy people might not have the time they used to, to commit to religion – they don't have the time or space to sit back and reflect.
"However, the Church of England in Devon has seen figures (church attendance) going gently up over the past five years."
Bishop Michael said it was possible for people to believe in God without necessarily belonging to a church.
He said: "There are those who choose to slip into a Cathedral anonymously rather than commit to a small village church.
"I'm not alarmed by these figures but I am challenged and I think we need to be.
"At a risk of sounding pious God does not always speak to us through the church – sometimes he speaks to us from outside, for example through the media and we must listen and see what we can learn."