Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Losing Our Religion


Tonight is 'census night' in Australia, when all households are meant to complete a form which provides basic population data to the government. Q19 on the census form is 'What is the person's religion?'. I noticed that 'Lutheran' is still listed as an independent category in response to this question, although it is ninth in a list of ten which concludes with the catch-all category 'Other'*. Given that the number of nominal Lutherans over the last generation or so has shown only minimal growth, I wonder how much longer before 'Lutheran' is overtaken by some faster growing religious group and disappears into the 'Other' category? If 'present trends' continue, and barring an influx of Norwegian boat people to swell our numbers, I wouldn't be surprised if this happens by the time the next census comes around in five years. Who knows, maybe the Jedi will replace us on the list?

The next largest Christian denomination would surely be the 'Assemblies of God', with c. 225 000 adherents and growing, although curiously they are not listed separately in the Australian Bureau of Statistics data, but are presumably included in the category 'Pentecostal'. Come to think of it, there must be considerably more than 250 000 Pentecostals in Australia (which would put them ahead of Lutherans numerically); I can only speculate that many of them either don't answer the question or use their independent church name instead of the category 'Pentecostal'.

Be that as may, I've been wondering what impact losing the 'Lutheran' option from the census form might have on our church, given that so much that has driven the Lutheran Church of Australia in recent times seems (to this Anglo observer anyway) to stem from the desire of Australian Lutherans of German descent to be recognised by the Anglo-Australian majority as 'mainstream'?

Maybe 'losing our religion' from the census form could be a good thing for the LCA? It might symbolically free us from the need to seek recognition and approval from the majority and allow us to be unapologetically 'Lutheran' again?

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* The possible responses listed are:
'Catholic
Anglican (Church of England)
Uniting Church
Presbyterian
Buddhism
Greek Orthodox
Islam
Baptist
Lutheran
Other - please specify'

There are c. 250 000 Lutherans in Australia out of a total of 22.5 million, so we are a little over 1% of the population nationally, although in some areas the proportion would be much higher - the original Lutheran migrants, being shrewd German peasant farmers, tended to settle closely in good agricultural areas, of which there are few in Australia, which means there are some pockets of the country (e.g. the 'Barossa Valley' in South Australia, the 'Darling Downs' in Queensland, the 'western district' of Victoria, the 'Riverina' of New South Wales) where Lutherans probably outnumber the Anglicans, Uniting and Presbyterians, the three largest historically Protestant church bodies in Australia (of these, only the Presbyterians hold unequivocally to their Reformation heritage). The Roman Catholics are the largest single church body, due to Irish migration in the 19th century and post-WWII southern European migration (and, I suppose, their high birth rates). The Greek Orthodox became more numerous than Lutherans here some time in the 1980s, again due to post-war migration, and most of the other autocephalous Orthodox churches are present here in lesser numbers too, along with various 'non-canonical' groups. The Buddhists and Muslims overtook Lutherans sometime in the 2000s as a result of South-East Asian and Middle Eastern immigration.

The Lutherans first settled in Australia in 1838, one group establishing a small colony at Moreton Bay (now Brisbane) under the auspices of 'Father' Gossner in Germany, with the aim of evangelising the local indigenous people, while a second group fled to South Australia from Prussia, where their Lutheranism was increasingly under pressure from a state sponsored church union with the Reformed.

--+--

Q43 asks 'What are the main goods or services provided by your employer's business?'
I've answered 'Salvation.'
That will give them something to think about!

13 comments:

Terry Maher said...

Interesting list. Here, of course, "Uniting Church" would draw a totally blank stare, though Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational would not.

Given what has become of "mainstream" religion here or there, I have no desire whatever to be accepted by them and would wear their non-acceptance as a badge of honour.

When asked to supply "religion" on a form, I never write or answer "Lutheran" but "Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod".

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Terry,

Yes, the 'Uniting Church' is a 1977 union between Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterians. Some Presbyterians stayed out, while some Uniting folk still identify as Presbyterians. It has become quite liberal.

christl242 said...

Pastor, is the LCA the main or only Lutheran body in Australia now?

I'm wondering what was in place when my family and I were there in the early 50's although I believe we worshipped with a congregation made up largely of German immigrants such as ourselves.

Good advice from Terry, I must remember if I ever have to fill out any forms that ask for my religious affiliation to write "Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod." I don't want an ELCA clergywoman coming to visit!

Christine

Terry Maher said...

Yeah -- in the RC hospital, in whose chapel I served 0600 conventual Mass for years pre Vatican II and in which my RC convert dad worked for decades, on his deathbed who showed up but an ELCA clergywoman, Roman collar and all!

It was like pulling teeth to get her to admit to an affiliation -- we're all one you know.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Christine & Terry,

The LCA is really 'the only show in town'. There are a couple of smaller church bodies, but all together I would say they number no more than 10 congregations nation wide.

The LCA was formed in 1966 in a union of the ELCA (Missouri aligned) and the UELCA (old Iowa Synod-American Lutheran Church aligned). To facilitate the union, those overseas connections were terminated. The LCA has c. 500-600 congregations nation wide. I guess 99% of Lutherans in Australia would be LCA.

christl242 said...

To facilitate the union, those overseas connections were terminated.

Perhaps the day may come when some LCA Lutherans may seek to reinstate those ties?

Christine

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Christine,

We are associate members of the LCMS sponsored International Lutheran Council and associate members of the Lutheran World Federation. To go further than that at this stage in either direction would generate unease in the church. We do have fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Canada, which has close ties with the LCMS. Personally, I'd be happy to be in fellowship with the Missouri Synod. When LCMS folk come here they are accepted.

Terry Maher said...

LCMS folk are accepted if they come there? Good -- got any good pizza joints out your way? Schuetz always talked about these pizza parties, but I don't think I'm on the A List for guests.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Pizza? For sure - wood fired even!
With all the good stuff on 'em, and none of that orange 'cheese' you have in the States :0)

christl242 said...

The pizza does sound great, but what I remember most was the Fish and Chips sold wrapped in newspaper when we went to the beach.

Haven't tasted anything like it since we left Australia.

Good to hear the positive thoughts about the LCMS!

Christine

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Christine,

Yes, you can still get delicious Fish 'n' Chips just about everywhere, even a long way from the sea, but it is mostly wrapped in butchers' paper now rather than newspaper (butchers' paper is basically newsprint paper without the print!). I understand from a friend that it is almost impossible to get real Fish 'n' Chips in the US - he had to go to Vancouver to find it!! It's part of our British heritage.

Schütz said...

Hi, Mark, Terry and Christine. Heard my name mentioned, and thought I would join the party...

Mark, do you know if there are only ever ten categories for religion on the Census?


I didn't fill out the census this year - Cathy did it online while I was lying in bed, so I didn't see this. I had the impression that there were usually far more options? Is this something new in this year's census?

It is an important issue. If you actually put up an option for people to tick, you will get a different response than if you leave it up to them to name their religion. One difficulty is that it is left to the ABS people then to decide how to categorise the various religious identities that people give. It isn't really very accurate.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

David,

From memory the list has always been select and limited to about ten. Over the years, of course, the groups listed has changed. You're right - the nature of the list will effect the data collected. One would think that the on-line form could have more options by virtue of a drop-down menu. Anyway, I'm sure there are more 'Pentecostals' than there are Lutherans.