An overview of a church meeting in Uppsala. Photo:Staffan Claesson/Scanpix

Church members leave in droves at election time

Over half of the Swedish population will have received cards in their post asking them to vote in this Sunday's church elections. However, as an unintended consequence, the voting cards have reminded some Swedes that they pay an annual fee to the Church of Sweden, and they are cancelling their membership.

It's Church of Sweden election time with five and half million people in the country allowed to cast their vote on Sunday. But election time has an unwanted knock-on effect for the largest Christian Church in this country.

Every year in September, 7,000 people leave the Church of Sweden, according to its own statistics. But once every four years when it's time to vote for who sits on all the decision making bodies within the church, those figures are doubled.

In election year 2005, a little under 15,000 people cancelled their church membership, four years later in 2009, 16,984 left the Church of Sweden, and this month, more of the same is expected.

Hans Olof Andrén is politically active in the church and is leader in POSK, a non- party nominating group working within the Church of Sweden. He tells Swedish Television, that voting cards in the mail is the big reason for thousands leaving the church.

He says instead of voting cards for Sunday's election acting as a positive advert for the church, it "triggers people to leave the church", something he believes is "an ironic consequence".

In fact, in a non election year, September is not even the worst month for cancelled memberships, that's October, which comes four weeks before people must pay their annual fee, which calculated on income. The money is collected by the state and handed over to the church to finace all its operations, including the upkeep of buildings.

Since 2001, when the church took over from the state in organising its elections, the number of people casting their vote has lowered considerably. In 2009, 12 percent of church members, around 700 000 people, voted in the elections. In the same year, a Gallup poll on behalf of the church found that 17 perent of the Swedish population considered religion as an important part of their life, while two percent of church membership regularly attend Sunday service.

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