Sunday, 24 February 2013
Counting the Sheep
Every year the Church comes up with new questions to ask us. I was astonished by this year's effort. For the first time I was challenged to give figures for how many people were part of 'the whole worshipping community', and break them down by age (as one of our churchwardens commented, 'That's me - broken down by age'). What does that mean? Are the hundreds of people who come to the Cribbage on Christmas Eve part of the 'worshipping community', or who attend services with the Infants School in church, or who come to weddings or funerals? Does showing your face once a year count? Does coming into the church to light a candle and pray, but not actually doing anything else? I guessed that it meant 'people who actually attend ordinary Sunday services at some point during the year' and made a rough guess, but then remembered Messy Church which, we are constantly told, is a legitimate expression of 'church' in its own right and so must be included too. My final guesstimate was 30 children, 5 11-18s, 75 under-70s and 75 over-70s, in the end.
Even rougher was my guess for the next section. I was asked to put down how many people had joined the church over the past year, and how many had left. I can just about list the handful who have left because they have either died or moved, and you tend to notice that. But trying to work out, as I was expected to, whether those who have joined have done so because they've moved in to the area, begun attending church for the first time ever, or come back to church after a gap, and detail which age category they fell into, is completely impossible. I have no idea. I have a hard enough time keeping any tabs on them at all. In an age when monthly attendance counts as 'regular' the pastor stands little chance of noticing when someone becomes a regular attendant or when they cease to be. I am aware of new faces, that's about it (and it's better than not noticing any). But what about the young mother who came a couple of times eighteen months ago when her marriage was rocky, but hasn't been through the door since; or the man who, conversely, turned up this morning for the first time in nearly two years? How do I characterise either of them?
The form gave me the option of putting 'none/unknown' in each box if I couldn't provide a figure, so I did. When I tried to save the data, though, the program demanded I put a figure in! I'm afraid what the Church has ended up with is a whole series of boxes which don't add up at all, so I await the phone call from the Diocesan Secretary to ask me what the hell I mean.