Test of faith: Religion on rapid decline in Gladstone, data reveals
GLADSTONE is becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of not belonging to any particular religion.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday released a host of figures derived from the 2016 Census - something akin to a holy experience for the nation's data addicts.
And for the first time in the country's history, the number of people who ticked the 'No Religion' box overtook the number who identified as Catholics.
In Gladstone, the number of people who ticked 'No Religion' jumped from 24.3% in 2011 to 29.5% last year.
Combined with the 9.9% who chose not to select any of the options, this means almost four in 10 Gladstone residents chose not to identify with any particular religion - part of a movement away from organised religion that has been occurring since the 1970s.
Atheist Foundation of Australia president Kylie Sturgess said those who ticked 'No Religion' on the Census deserved more recognition in the public policy sphere.
"Politicians, business leaders and influencers take heed - this is an important milestone in Australia's history," she said.
"We will be making our opinions known, and there's power in numbers.
"Whether you're an atheist, agnostic, humanist, rationalist, a free-thinker or even someone who considers themselves spiritual but not religious, you're part of a powerful voting block that deserves to be heard."
The Anglican denomination recorded the largest drop in affiliation in Gladstone, going from 20.4% of the population (11,784 people) in 2011 to 17.5% (10,812) in five years.
Uniting (6.5% to 5.3%), Presbyterian (4.8% to 3.9%) and Baptist denominations (2.1% to 2%) also declined.
The one denomination which bucked the trend and retained its share of Gladstone's population was the Catholic church, which stayed the same at 21.2% (13,040 people).
Sister Noreen Dunne, a Marist missionary sister with the Gladstone Catholic parish, said the church had always had a "strong core group".
She said there could be a number of reasons Catholicism had managed to maintain its appeal to Gladstone locals, despite the nation-wide trend away from religion.
"(Myself and many of) the Marist fathers here have been missionaries," she said.
"It's that breadth of experience that prevents the Catholic community from becoming inward-looking. That cross-cultural experience... enriches your own understanding and the community becomes bigger of heart."
Sr Noreen said new arrivals from countries with high Catholic populations such as the Philippines and India had helped to boost the church's numbers, as well as what she called "the Pope Francis effect".
"He's somebody who is encouraging us to make sure the walls of the church have 'great big holes' in them, which allow people to flow in and around the church," she said.
"For people coming from other areas, it's hard to move into another community. "If you have a church affiliation as soon as you turn up, you're already accepted, you have friends, a whole network already established."
Sr Noreen said it was best to lead by example when reaching out to those that did not identify with a religion.
"I think not just as a church but as a community, we're always trying to respond in terms of how we can provide for the community - trying to find ways that we can support one another," she said.
"If we live well, pray well, if we reach out and do good things people will be attracted (to the church)."