All of us count

All of us count

March 7 was Census day in Aotearoa, our five-yearly opportunity to (according to the 2023 census website) “represent ourselves, our families, whānau, communities, and cultures.”

I’m reminded of the Bible censuses, especially the one early in Luke providing the reason that Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem.

In recent years our NZ national census process has struggled, partly because of our difficulty with digital formats but perhaps more significantly because of a well-intentioned move towards politically correct but often vague wording.

This year in the religion question, people are advised, “The question is about the religion(s) you have now, rather than any religion(s) you used to have. It is up to you to decide what religion(s) you feel you have now.”

This comment subtly encourages people who are entitled to choose the first option (confidently naming their religion of baptism and belief) to choose option two (no religion) or three (object to answering).

Statistics from the religion questions of recent censuses reveal what we already know: that most of those who are baptised as Christians have little regular connection with the faith community of their upbringing.

Many church communities make the mistake of measuring parishioners’ commitment based only on Sunday worship attendance.

However, a Christian is one who is on a journey towards practising the presence of God 24-7.

Some may begin their journey to 24-7-practice with a weekly Sunday hour, while others start by labouring for justice on behalf of the broken-hearted, yearning for personal or family healing and forgiveness, or a quick prayer when feeling anxious or burdened in sleepless dark night hours.

There’s a great little invitation hidden in today’s first reading, which has led me to redefine practising Christianity.

The Christian is one who responds to Jesus’ gentle invitation at any hour of the day or night: “Come now, let us talk this over…”

Now there’s a great start for Christian practice: conversation (talking and listening) with Jesus.

I’m delighted when I hear Christians who may not have been near a church for decades proudly name themselves as Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian or Catholic.

These people have understood that while our response is important, Christian baptism marks us for eternity as people of God and gives us the right to name ourselves as a part of our Christian family.

I’ve quoted before the inspiring message of Pope Benedict at his 2005 inauguration Mass: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

That sounds like the motto for this year’s Aotearoa census: “All of us count.”

A few days ago, we heard of the death of prominent New Zealander Georgina Beyer, who in 2005 became the world’s first openly transgender Member of Parliament.

I recall her being verbally attacked and abused by a group carrying a Christian banner soon after her election. She responded with equal passion telling the group that they had misunderstood the Christian message.

Of course, she was right.

Well-meaning Christians often voice concern that many people have left the church. It is also helpful to consider the ways in which the church may have left the people.

I would love to have had that conversation with Georgina.

In 2020 Georgina Beyer was appointed to the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to LGBTIQA+ rights. My prayer today is that she receives with merit the ultimate award, the eternal abundance of life for which she lived.

May She Rest in Peace..  because all of us count.

  • John O’Connor is a priest in the Christchurch diocese, New Zealand.
  • First published at Food for Faith. Republished with permission.
Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment, Great reads.

Tags: ,