From Iceland — National Church Continues To Shrink In Membership

National Church Continues To Shrink In Membership

Published January 17, 2017

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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New figures from the National Registry show that Iceland’s national church is still losing more members than it is gaining, and this trend has been ongoing for years now.

Vísir reports that, according to the latest figures, about 2,500 people deregistered from the church last year, while only about 700 people joined up. As such, only about 70% of Icelanders are now registered as members of the church, which will receive an operating budget of about 2 billion ISK this year – an increase of about 100 million ISK from the year previous.

In 2015, 73.8% of Icelanders were registered in the church, and that year saw a record-breaking number of deregistrations, when over 2,500 people left the church.

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir has had her own theories to explain why more people are leaving than joining – namely, immigration.

“One explanation I mentioned earlier is that when people move out of the country, they are automatically de-registered from the church,” she said at the time. “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 2013 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, 2013 had 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.

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