Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Church of Iceland in membership freefall

11% decline over last three years

The Church of Iceland and its bishop are facing a crisis of public confidence with surveys showing overwhelming disapproval of the leadership of the church while state registration figures show sharp declines in enrollment in the state Lutheran church.

A Gallup poll released last week found only 14 per cent of the nation approve of the Bishop of Iceland, the Rt. Rev. Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir’s leadership of the state church, while 44 per cent of those surveyed stated their outright disapproval.

The Gallup poll found confidence in the Church of Iceland, the Þjóðkirkjan, had fallen sharply in recent years. Last year 43 per cent of Icelanders said they had great deal of trust in the church, but this year’s poll found only 33 percent trusted the church — a decline of over 50 per cent since 1999.

The survey results found young people were the most alienated from the church. Only 17 per cent of those aged 18-30 had a great deal of trust for the church, compared to 47 per cent of those older than 60. There was no noticeable difference in levels of distrust between those with high and low incomes, but rural Icelanders expressed more confidence overall in the church, 38 per cent, than those living in Reykjavik, 30 per cent.

The decline in trust in the church by Icelanders comes in the wake of the 2015 decision by the annual Church Council, the Kirkjuþing, to remove legal protections for clergy who opposed same-sex marriage. After authorizing clergy to solemnize same-sex marriages, in 2007 the Kirkjuþing adopted a statement respecting the conscience of clergy who opposed gay marriage. However, in 2015 the church council rescinded this protection, holding the conflict between religious freedom and human rights must always be decided in favor of human rights.

On 28 Oct 2015 Bishop Sigurðardóttir (pictured) read a letter to the assembly she had written to the Minister for Home Affairs Ólöf Nordal, saying that she said there was no basis in Icelandic law for a minister to refuse to solemnize a same-sex wedding.

The 2015 council meeting also lamented the decline in church membership with only 73.6 per cent of the population registered with the state Lutheran church, compared to 84.6 per cent in 2005.  As of the start of the fourth quarter 2018 the Church of Iceland’s share of the population declined to 233,062 members, 65.6 per cent of the population.

The Catholic Church of Iceland counts 13,799 members (3.9 per cent), The Free Church of Reykjavík 9,866 members (2.8 per cent), the Free Church of Hafnarfjörður 6,946 members (2 per cent) and Ásatrúarfélagið, the Pagan Association of Iceland, with 4,349 members (1.2 per cent).

Bishop Sigurðardóttir also made headlines in December 2017 and January 2018 when she complained her salary and perks of office were inadequate.


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