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Canada United Church thins its ranks in a nation of fading faith

The Very Reverend and The Honourable Lois Wilson, a former moderator of the United Church of Canada (right) chats to Habeeb Alli from the Canadian Council of Imams in City Hall, Toronto on Thursday April 4, 2013, following a news conference attended by Faith Leaders in which they released an inter faith statement opposing casino expansion within the GTA.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

As the 2011 National Household Survey shows a sharp increase in the percentage of Canadians with no religion, one prominent faith is feeling the pinch.

The United Church of Canada, which has more than two million followers across the country – the second-most among Christian faiths – will be cutting 28 jobs from its General Council, which handles the church's national and international work. In addition, the church will be reducing its grant program, which helps fund Christian charities and ministries by $2.9-million starting in 2014.

The number of Canadians who identified as members of the United Church dropped by nearly 30 per cent from 2001 to 2011, according to the household survey.

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Nora Sanders, the general secretary of the church's General Council, explained that of the 28 jobs cut – all of which are based in Toronto – 14 were either vacant or soon to become vacant due to retirement, resignation or expiring contracts. The 14 other employees being let go will get a severance package at the end of the month.

The job cuts will reduce the General Council's staff by 17 per cent, bringing the total number of employees to 131.

"We need to live within our means," Ms. Sanders said. "Our annual givings are a bit down and we've been using money from reserves that we need to save for the future."

Ms. Sanders said the church is still determining how exactly the $2.9-million in cuts to the grant program will affect affiliated organizations around the world, however all of its "grant-receiving partners" were alerted of the reduction earlier this year. The United Church currently works with organizations in 27 countries.

"It doesn't mean they'll all be cut in the same way. Some of them are in developed countries and may not need the funding in the same way," Ms. Sanders said. "So we'll be looking to see if some can continue as partners without receiving funding."

In total, the budget cuts add up to about $5-million.

The church's sole source of income is donations from parishoners, and Ms. Sanders explained that while the number of donations isn't necessarily down across the country – it varies from congregation to congregation, she said – the amount that comes to the General Council has dropped.

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The reason, Ms. Sanders says, is simple.

"It's fewer people in the pews," she said. "We're going through something similar to many churches across North America: Many people no longer attend church. We're now in to kind of a second generation that has never attended church so they don't have the same connection."

Earlier this week, the release of the 2011 NHS results backed up Ms. Sanders claim, revealing that 23.9 per cent of Canadians –about 7.8 million people – say they have no religion, up from 16.6 per cent in 2001. Christianity remains the most widely followed faith in Canada, however the percentage of Canadians that identify as Christian has fallen from 76.6 in 2001 to 67.3 in 2011.

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