Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O Adonai - survey non-responsiveness

I've just received a database of the responses to the Spiritual Capital survy questionnaire, about a 25% return on those sent out, and astonishingly to me, such a dearth of replies from fellow Anglican clergy in parishes acrosss the city that the content of the survey would give a totally unrepresentative portrait of our kind of church life in Cardiff.

Having said that, it was also notable that only half of the member churches of the City Centre Churches Together, the sponsoring body of the research project had returned their forms.

Anyway, I sat down and wrote an email attaching the questionnaire, appealing to my two dozen or so colleagues across the city to fill one in and return as soon as possible - the deadline is already nearly a month past.

Within half a day, I received three positive responses. Nothing more.

Sure I can sympathise with being too busy to bother, fed up with being pestered with questionnaires, because for the most part clergy don't have secretaries or people keen to share their burden of paperwork. But, this also serves to explain why local government and others find it so difficult to obtain an authentic picture of churches' life and participation in local community building. It's an excuse for not taking the totality of religious communities seriously at all. It's also an excuse for only paying attention to any religious group that shouts loudest and turns threatening.

Churches think they do a lot to serve local communities and to promote social inclusion. Our Bishops have this week issued a public statement in response to a new Welsh Assembly Government strategy paper on social justice and inclusion, in which they offer our civil leaders the resources and experience of the church in the service of common aims.

Clergy and churchgoers aren't often that good at responding to their leaders' exhortations. Some even resist on principle. Communication top-down, despite the paper and the procedures is rarely as good or effective as it desires to be. The same is true of communication from the outside in, as the non-response to our University-led survey has shown. It seems to me this is due to believers being so turned in on themselves, preoccupied with survival at different levels. Even being 'church for others' is reduced to reaching those within close range, those who are like me. We seem to have forgotten that those who seek to save their lives will lose them.

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