Mothers’ Union General Meeting in Belfast a ‘delightful and memorable’ occasion
The General Meeting of Mothers’ Union – held in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, on Saturday 21st June – and the Eve of Meeting service of celebration in St Anne’s Cathedral on the Friday evening were “delightful and memorable occasions”, MU’s Chief Executive, Reg Bailey CBE, told the Gazette last weekend.
Mr Bailey went on to say that the large number of people worshipping in the cathedral, together with the contribution of the cathedral choir, had “raised the spirits” and the “warmth of welcome and affection” evident throughout the two days had greatly added to “a time of togetherness”.
Over 1,300 MU members, supporters and friends arrived in Belfast from all over Ireland, Great Britain and beyond – with one delegate present from Lagos, Nigeria – for the General Meeting, an annual event in the MU calendar, at which delegates receive updates on the organisation’s current work and future direction and see practical examples of how members put their faith into action in communities all over the world.
THE CHURCH CENSUS
Statistics on their own are never straightforward in conveying meaning, because they are numbers and not narrative. Yet, statistics invariably lead to discussion of their meaning, their implications for how things are and how they might be in the future. Perhaps a classic example of this is the intense analysis that goes on in the media while results of national elections gradually come into studios that become more and more heady as things progress. Experts are brought in to say what the percentage ‘swing’ in particular constituencies could mean if it were replicated throughout the country, and then more experts come in to discuss what appears to be the emerging result. It can all be quite captivating. Such analysis and discussion is the narrative that follows the numbers.
Interpreting statistics is a whole academic discipline in itself and everyone who is faced with a set of statistics must first of all suspend judgement, listen to the narrative and pay particular attention to what different people say about what the numbers mean. Indeed, it is not unlike a court case in that what can appear to be an ‘open and shut’ matter can in fact take a surprising twist when new insights are brought to bear on evidence that has been presented. There can be unlikely explanations that immediately shatter what originally seemed to be the obvious. Yet, rather than being a recipe simply for endless debate and speculation, statistical information, duly considered, should be allowed to lead to new policies and practices that are aimed at helping towards countering any identified trend that is undesirable. If that doesn’t happen, the whole exercise of counting will in fact have been a quite grand waste of time, effort and expense.
A Church census brings an added dimension to the narrative and that is precisely what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church, and how the Church is following the Spirit. So, statistical information such as has now been presented to the Church with the results of last November’s Church-wide census (details, page 10) requires that those concerned should listen to, and even engage in, the emerging narrative, not only analysing the numbers but also reflecting on just how open we all are to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
The figures presented to the Church last week will give rise to much discussion, trusting that returns were in fact reasonably accurate. One can look at the statistics with a ‘glass half full’ or a ‘glass half empty’ approach. For example, we can observe that not very far off half of all who were recorded as worshipping were 45 years of age and under (42%), while we can also observe that the large majority of people claiming to belong to the Church of Ireland did not in fact attend (85%).
At the more challenging end of observations is the fact that the percentage attendance of those in the 19-30 age group can only be described as alarmingly low (6%). As far as the large number of ‘nominals’ is concerned, the Church will certainly have to find new and better ways both of identifying who they are and of reaching out to them in Christian ministry. Then again, of course, how the overall Church percentages quoted in the report compare with individual parochial experience will vary greatly, so the Church’s response to the statistics will need to take account of the fact that there is a huge range of attendance experience from place to place.
The numbers attending Church are important for very many reasons, not least of which being, first, that the Church has a mission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28: 19) and, second, that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes that Christians should not stop “meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (10: 25) because, the text continues, meeting together is an important encouragement.
The census results having been published, the Church must study, listen and plan, but equally, the Church must pray, and pray again, in the words of the beloved hymn: ‘Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire’.
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A video of the one and a half hour event is online at www. youtube.com/watch?v=CyehH_SjHzM&feature=youtu.be