Census result show Islington and Hackney losing religion

Ministers in Hackney and Islington have reacted to Census figures revealing one in three borough residents are Godless, a dramatic increase in the last 10 years.

The biggest jump was in Hackney, where the number of people without a religion rose nine percentage points, from over 38,000 in 2001 to more than 69,000 people last year. Islington’s atheist population rose by 20,000 people, or six per cent.

Reverend Andy Pakula, minister of two Unitarian congregations in Upper Street, Islington and Newington Green, said the census was just a reflection of an increasingly secular country where “religion is effectively gone”.

Despite the majority of borough residents still calling themselves Christians, the percentage has dropped substantially since 2001. While the proportion of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs has stayed about the same or increased in both boroughs in the last 10 years, there are about 82,000 Christians in Islington compared to 95,000 in 2001.

Although the number of Christians in Hackney has risen to over 95,000 from around 94,000 in 2001, there are proportionally fewer Christians because Hackney’s population rose from just over 200,000 in 2001 to nearly 250,000 last year.

Rev Pakula, who describes himself as an “atheist minister”, said: “Catholicism and Anglicanism have lagged behind. They’re not speaking a language people understand.

“There are certain kinds of religion I’m really glad we’re losing. I don’t think it’s helpful for people to have faith in, for example, Jesus being the son of God because I’m not convinced that’s making our society a better place, which is what matters.”

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But Anglican vicar Simon Harvey, of St Mary’s parish in Upper Street, Islington, disagreed that the Church of England is not forward-thinking. He said: “Some people would say the church is not progressive but I find people are surprised by how relevant they find the church. They assume it’s out of touch. I’ve seen significantly more people active in their faith and going to church.”

Sixty-five percent of “census Christians” said they were not religious and 72 percent said they only called themselves Christian because they had been christened.

Shoreditch parish vicar Paul Turp hasn’t seen any evidence for a Godless Hackney. He said: “If I stand on the roof of Shoreditch Church, I can see 27 other Church of England churches, a cathedral and countless chapels, as well as three mosques and two synagogues.

“I have no fears about the supposed lack of religion in Hackney. With all our social problems and difficulties, I see so often generous acts of pure goodness even from the non-religious. I encounter true holiness even in derelict street people. Religion is here to stay.”

The ethnic make up of Islington and Hackney has changed. There are proportionally fewer white people despite an increase from over 120,000 in 2001 to nearly 135,000 in Hackney last year, and from 132,000 to 140,000 in Islington in population.