Is Dunedin losing its religion?

The number of religious Dunedin residents has decreased, according to the 2013 Census, but it may not mean the end of religion, as Greta Yeoman discovers.

More Dunedin people than ever are claiming to have no religious affiliations, but experts say it is part of a growing ''believing but not belonging'' trend throughout New Zealand.

The 2013 Census statistics show ''No Religion'' rose from 45,000 people to more than 55,230 of Dunedin's population.

Presbyterians held the highest faith percentage with 17,455 people, followed by Catholics (12,867), Anglicans (8496) and Christian (not further defined) with 4548.

In Dunedin there was a drop in those identifying with all religions except Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and non-defined Christianity.

The increase in those selecting No Religion in the Census was reflective of a nationwide trend, which saw a rise of more than 330,000 people nationally not identifying with any religion.

But religious experts say the growth in that category does not mean those people are necessarily non-believers.

University of Otago Department of History Associate Prof John Stenhouse said there had been a rise in people walking away from association with a particular faith due to the negative connotations with being labelled ''religious''.

Though the increase in identifying as No Religion in the Census was reflective of a nationwide trend, ''no religion'' did not necessarily mean ''atheist''.

''[It's] part of a broader trend,'' Prof Stenhouse said.

He said hate groups in the name of religion, such as the American church Westboro, had made people think ''if that's religion, I don't want a bar of it''.

The university's head of Religious Studies, Dr Will Sweetman, described it as ''believing but not belonging''.

Prof Stenhouse said those who selected non-defined Christianity in the Census were an interesting group, and also part of the shift away from being labelled under a particular belief, such as Anglican or Catholic.

''Most of these people are very committed Christians, but they believe their Christian faith is more important than their denomination.''

East Taieri Presbyterian Minister the Rev Dr Martin Macaulay agreed.

''It's about following Jesus, not becoming Presbyterian.''

The Presbyterians are the highest faith group in Dunedin, representing just over 14% of the city's religious affiliation, followed by the Catholic Church with 10.7%.

Mosgiel was the most religious Dunedin area, with the university the least. Mosgiel had the most Presbyterians (1011), most Christians (2082) and was the most religious-affiliated area (2127).

University of Otago Catholic chaplain Amy Armstrong said she felt people were attracted to Catholicism because of the ''huge tradition'' behind the faith as well as the acknowledgement of suffering and finding ''the God in every one of us''.

Dr Sweetman said the increase in people ticking the box for religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism was not necessarily people converting but an increase of migrants with those religions. The number of Dunedin residents selecting Islam in the Census grew from 597 to 864, while Hinduism rose 603 to 843 and Sikhism from 72 to 306.

Prof Jamin Halberstadt, who is chairman of the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group and a professor in the University of Otago's Psychology Department, said he found people were drawn to religious beliefs for similar reasons across almost every faith.

''I actually study people's motivations for religious belief, and I tend to think they are pretty similar across religious traditions - [a] sense of belonging and purpose; clarity of world view; answers to difficult moral questions; relief of anxiety about death, etc,'' Prof Halberstadt said.

The number of Anglicans in the city dropped by almost 2000 between census collections. The Archdeacon of Dunedin and vicar of St Matthews, the Ven Stu Crosson, said it was reflective of a trend across the country.
''Perhaps the church has failed possibly to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ as clearly as we could have in the 21st century - and that's the challenge for us,'' Archdeacon Crosson said. St Clair held the most Anglicans in Dunedin, with the largest age group in the religion aged 65-69.
Highest area: St Clair (354)
Total city-wide: 8496

Caversham Baptist's senior pastor, Roly Scott, has been at the church for 32 years and said Caversham's congregation came from across the city.
Though Caversham held the highest number of Baptists in Dunedin, Mr Scott said he thought there was probably only about a third or half of their congregation living near Caversham.
''The motorcar makes the whole city accessible,'' he said. ''People just go where they want to go.''
The largest group of Baptists in Dunedin were aged 20-24, though Mr Scott said Caversham Baptist's biggest age groups were children, their parents and those aged 65-plus.
''[The] older people here are fabulous,'' he said.
Highest area: Caversham (93)
Total city-wide: 1428

Dhargyey Buddhist Centre events organiser Joe Llewellyn said he was drawn to Buddhism after searching for happiness and watching his friends find happiness, but finding that happiness was never sustainable.
''I suppose what attracted me is you're encouraged to explore things with a critical openness,'' he said, mentioning he had been disinterested in other religions due to many drawing only one conclusion from any idea.
Buddhism fell by 93 people in Dunedin between the 2006 and 2013 censuses, sitting at just under 1200. The largest percentage of the Buddhist community lives in the Dunedin CBD, while the biggest age group for the faith is aged 20-24, making up 20% of the Buddhist population in the city. Mr Llewellyn, who has lived at the centre for just over two years, said Buddhism was ''kind of like my hypothesis in life''.
Highest area: Dunedin CBD (117)
Total city-wide: 1197

The highest percentage of Catholics in the city live around the university. Catholicism is the third-highest religious affiliation on Census forms, behind the non-religious and Presbyterians, respectively.
University of Otago Catholic chaplain Amy Armstrong said they had a mix of Kiwis and international students in CathSoc, the university's Catholic students' group.
Highest area: University of Otago (608).
Total city-wide: 12,867.

Growth in census participants ticking ''Christian NFD'' (not further defined) is a reflection of a wider trend, according to an University of Otago history professor. Associate Prof John Stenhouse said the increase came from people growing wary of being titled ''religious'' due to bad connotations around the word, while they still wanted to have a faith.
''Christian NFD'' was the only Christian religion to increase in number in Dunedin, with more than 300 new affiliates.
Highest area: Caversham (171)
Total city-wide: 4548

The Hindu religious population in Dunedin rose by 240 between Census 2006 and 2013.
The highest numbers of Hindus live around the Dunedin CBD and the University of Otago, while the largest age group for the faith was aged 20-24.
Dunedin Hindu Social and Cultural Organisation founder and co-ordinator Kala Grebneff said the reason the largest age and area groups were the way they were was because of the high Indian and Fijian Indian student population.
However, there was actually a large number of Hindu families in the city, she said.
As Dunedin does not have a Hindu temple, there are few chances of Hindu gatherings - so Mrs Grebneff has organised her own.
Founding the organisation in the early 1990s, she organises catch-ups a couple of times a year. With food, music, prayer and dancing, she said the events ''make people very happy for the evening''.
The Hindu religion is different from many faiths as it has no single founder or scripture, nor do Hindus share many common beliefs. With a diversity of beliefs under the one religion, some people believe in a God or gods, others an impersonal or personal God and some recognise the sacred ancient texts, the Vedas, while others may not.
Highest area: Dunedin CBD and University of Otago (108 each)
Total city-wide: 843

The number of Jewish people living in the city rose slightly, unlike most of Dunedin's other religions.
Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group chairman Prof Jamin Halberstadt said with just a nine-person increase he would not want to read into the rise, though he acknowledged the numbers seemed steady compared with other groups. He said he would attribute the difference to the way Jews and Christians defined themselves.
''Jewish' can be both a statement of one's religious beliefs or a description of one's genetic/cultural lineage, or both,'' he said.
''People usually consider themselves Jewish for life, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.''
He said the fact the highest concentration of Jewish Dunedin residents were aged 15-19 and lived in Northeast Valley was likely due to the student population. As to what attracted him to Judaism, he said though he was actually an atheist, he liked to acknowledge and celebrate his Jewish cultural heritage.
''Also, as religions go, I like Judaism's focus on education and active questioning of doctrine - people are encouraged not to take what the rabbi says as gospel, so to speak, at least in modern/liberal strands of Judaism.''
Highest area: Northeast Valley (15)
Total city-wide: 171

The Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormons, have just under 300 followers across the city, according to Census 2013.
The highest area for the faith is Caversham, while the 15-19 and 20-24 age groups still holds the most affiliates.
The Latter-Day Saints Dunedin meeting house is based in St Clair. Though Mormons believe in Jesus Christ they also recognise the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible.
According to, the Book of Mormon contains the history of God's dealings with the people who lived in the Americas between about 600BC and 400AD.
Highest area: Caversham (33)
Total city-wide 294

Maori Christianity was a stand-alone figure in the Census, while also being split into three sub-religions, Ratana, Ringatu and "Other Maori Christian''. The
highest area for Maori Christianity overall in the city was South Dunedin, which also held the most people associated with Ringatu. Wakari and Halfway Bush
were equal for the highest numbers of Ratana Christians, both with 15. The biggest age group for Maori Christianity city-wide was 45-49.
Highest area: South Dunedin (24)
Total city-wide: 270


The largest number of Methodists in Dunedin live in Caversham, while the biggest age group for the denomination is aged 65-69.
The number of Methodists living in Dunedin dropped by more than 500 between the 2006 and 2013 censuses.
The Rev Rod Mitchell, who is the minister at both Mornington and Glenaven Methodist churches, said his congregations came from across the city.
He said the fact the largest age group was aged 65-69 was not a surprise; he thought it may in fact be even higher. Mr Mitchell said the fact numbers had dropped to 1590 was ''always a bit of a concern'', but especially now with an older congregation and repairs needed to a number of buildings. He said he had found two main drawcards of people to Methodist churches.
''I think the Methodist Church, certainly in Mornington, has a tremendous interest in music and justice,'' he said.
Highest area: Caversham (84)
Total city-wide: 1590 

The area with the most Muslims in Dunedin is around the University, while the largest age group for the faith counted 213 people aged 20-24.
Muslims in Dunedin are celebrating Ramadan at present, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar when Muslims will fast from dawn until sunset for 30 days.
Because New Zealand is in winter and the daily sunlight hours are short, the daily fast is much shorter for Kiwi Muslims than for those in northern hemisphere countries with long, sunny days. describes Ramadan as a time to be educated ''in spirituality, humility and patience.
It is a time to cleanse the soul, focus attention on God, and put into practice selflessness''.
Highest area: University of Otago (135)
Total city-wide: 864 

The Pentecostal Christian churches in the city often draw large crowds to their services, in contrast to declining numbers of Christians indicated in the 2013 Census.
Elim Church Dunedin, Dunedin New Life and the recently opened Dunedin branch of Arise Church are all Pentecostal churches.
Arise is based in Wellington but now has churches across the country. The Dunedin branch meets in the Glenroy Auditorium.
Lead pastor of Arise John Cameron said while there might be a drop in the number of people indicating Christianity as their religion, this did not seem to represent a drop in the number of people engaging with the Christian faith.
''When the Christian message is presented in a contemporary way, it clearly resonates with people,'' Mr Cameron said.
Arise Dunedin campus pastor Ray Moore has been a Christian for eight years, previously ''living for Saturday night''.
''I thought that I could find fulfilment by doing this, but I then began to realise that this wasn't the case at all - I was left feeling emptier than ever at the end of every weekend,'' Mr Moore said.
A friend invited him along to Arise Church, where he was struck by the genuine faith of people he met.
Highest area: Brockville (66)
Total citywide: 1236

Though Mosgiel held the largest number of Presbyterians and Christians in total and the highest number of religious-affiliated people in the city, the number of Presbyterians across the city dropped by more than 4800.
East Taieri Presbyterian Church's senior pastor the Rev Dr Martin Macaulay said it was reflected in the increase in those selecting No Religion in the Census, with people no longer wanting to identify with a particular belief. He said he found that with his church.
''It's about following Jesus, not becoming Presbyterian.''
He said the fact Mosgiel was the most religious-identified area was something he had found to be true, with the community open to partnering with churches and other religious groups in the area. Highest area: Mosgiel East (1011)
Total city-wide: 17,455

The Sikh community rose from 72 to 306 between Census 2006 and Census 2013.
Though it is still a reasonably small religion in the city compared with many, it now holds a larger faith population than the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Jewish and Maori Christian faiths.
The largest group of Sikhs live in the Dunedin CBD, while the 20-24 age group was the largest for the faith.
Highest area: Dunedin CBD (18)
Total city-wide: 306

The Dunedin Spiritualist Church President Margie Mockford has been involved in Spiritualism for just over two years, and said she had been honoured to be asked to become president of the Dunedin church. Growing up in a Presbyterian church, she had tried many different religions over the years, from Baptist to Jehovah's Witness, but settled on Spiritualism after her doctor suggested meditation and her friends brought her along to the church.
She said though the Census recorded the largest number of New Age/Spiritualists in Dunedin were aged 20-24, she did not see that reflected in her church.
"I think it's the new way that people are identifying with Spiritualism, but turning that into a church-going spiritualist is probably a different step.'' She said the word "spiritualism'' meant a lot of things to different people, but also thought a lot of people identified with the belief.
The Dunedin Spiritualist Church meets on Sunday evenings, with spiritual healing, meditation and singing taking place. Their songs include Let It Be by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash.
Highest area: Caversham (39).
Total city-wide: 651.




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