Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir believes people leaving Iceland and foreigners coming in contribute to the high numbers of people deregistering from the National Church.
“One explanation I mentioned earlier is that when people move out of the country, they are automatically de-registered from the church,” she said. “So one explanation [for the decrease] are the number of people leaving the country.”
However, this is incorrect. People who leave the country are not automatically de-registered; they have to fill out the necessary form to do so. In addition, even if people were de-registered upon leaving Iceland, recent data from Statistics Iceland shows that only 400 more Icelanders left the country than moved to it – at the same time, about 2,000 people de-registered from the National Church in the past year alone.
The Bishop then speculated that there is a particular type of person who de-registers from the church. Namely, the type of person who would rather drop out of society altogether.
“Another presumable explanation is that some people do not want to belong to this society anymore, and so de-register from the church,” she said. “It is not possible to quit society, amongst other things, but it is possible to quit the church, if you want to.”
The Bishop added that it was likely the number of people de-registering was also because of immigrants.
“The nation has grown, and people who practice a different faith than ours have also moved here from abroad,” she said.
By the same Statistics Iceland data cited earlier, the past year has only seen an influx of 860 more foreigners entering the country than leaving it. By contrast, some 12,000 people have de-registered from the church since 2010. Further, registrations in other religious organisations have actually increased.
Chairperson of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association Sigurður Hólm Gunnarsson told reporters in 2013 that the Bishop finds herself in the difficult position of wanting to perhaps liberalise the church, but to do so without upsetting more conservative parishioners.
“In reality, the church is in trouble because they can’t take a clear position on anything while they’re trying to appeal to everyone,” he said at the time.