Christianity still strong in Southland

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2014
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2013 census data shows Southland has the highest proportion of Christians in the country. Are you a church-goer?

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While some Southlanders have ditched the Bible, Christianity is still the faith of choice in Southland.

The latest 2013 census data released yesterday shows Southland has the highest proportion of Christians in the country.

With 51.9 per cent of Southlanders identifying as Christians, religion is still a strong part of Southlanders' lives, but at the same time, the region has experienced the largest increase in the proportion of people with no affiliation with religion at all.

In the 2006 census, 32.9 per cent of Southlanders had no religion but in the latest census, that number had increased to 42.9 per cent.

Despite the strong faith in Christianity, many of the conventional churches were losing parishioners while more uncommon religions were gaining followers.

Religious leaders, however, were not surprised by the numbers.

Nationally, the statistics mirrored those in Southland, with many Christian religions declining in numbers and a 5.5 per cent decline in the number of New Zealanders affiliated with religion.

The Anglican church in Southland lost about 1000 believers, according to the census data, while Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Latter-day Saints, Methodist and Pentecostal also decreased in numbers.

Anglican Diocesan manager Graeme Sykes said the Anglican church had closed some churches recently and he was not surprised by the drop. However in the past 12 months, numbers had been steady, he said.

The change in farming in rural Southland had contributed to the loss of parishioners, with rural churches suffering the most, he said.

The Presbyterian, Congregational and Reformed churches in Southland took the biggest hit with numbers plummeting by more than 5000 people affiliated with those religions.

Southern Presbytery Otago/Southland executive officer Alan Judge said in the past two years church attendees had remained stable but the number of children attending had increased.

"Some of our churches are growing and some of them are not, it's the way it's always been."

The number of followers in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism/Jewish and Spiritualism and New Age Religions all increased.

Only nine people associated with the Sikh religion in 2006 but last year that number had jumped to 60.

Southland Muslim Association president Reza Abdul Jabbar was not surprised by the increase in the number of Muslims in Southland, and he believed there were more than the 186 recorded in the census.

The mosque, based in Invercargill, was experiencing a steady increase in the number of attendees, with some Southland families choosing to convert to the religion, he said.

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Also released yesterday were statistics on marital and relationship status.

The number of married people in Southland has dropped slightly, moving from 35,163 in 2006 to 34,788 last year.

The number of smokers in the region had also increased, with the number of female and male smokers increasing by about 1000 people to 37,848 and 36,279 respectively.

Statistics on occupations in Southland were also released, showing there were 3000 more men in managerial positions than women and 3000 more men working in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

The median household income also increased from $44,200 to $57,400.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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