With a religious menu of more than 80 faith groups in Manitoba to pick from, a growing number of citizens are choosing none of the above, according to figures recently released by Statistics Canada.
The 2011 National Household Survey released earlier this month reports more than 311,000 Manitobans, roughly one-quarter of the population, as having no religious affiliation.
"Maybe people who are leaving organized religion are not declaring themselves part of a religious faith," suggests Donna Harris, president of the Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba. "There are people growing up without a religion or changing their mind."
About 7.8 million Canadians have no religious affiliation, representing 23.5 per cent of the population, up from 16.5 per cent a decade earlier.
The increased number of unaffiliated folks concerns Rabbi Alan Green of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, but the trend toward "spiritual not religious" doesn't surprise him.
"I find that non-religious individuals remain deeply concerned with moral and spiritual issues," he says by email.
"It's just that they are far less likely to discuss these issues with me or other institutionally identified types, and far more likely to turn to the multitude of alternative resources."
The latest figures, gathered by a voluntary survey after the ruling Conservatives scrapped the long-form census in 2010, shows higher numbers for mainline churches than those denominations are seeing in the pews on Sunday mornings.
Although the census reports 130,000 Manitobans identifying with the United Church, membership in the denomination stands at about 30,000, says Rev. Bill Gillis of the Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference.
"The census data also tells us that there are many more out there who claim United Church affiliation who we do not know," says Gillis, adding that the lower number doesn't include people who attend but are not members.
Anglican statistics are also higher than Sunday attendance, but Bishop Donald Phillips sees the numbers as an incentive to reach out to those who claim the faith but have not found a way to engage with the church.
"It is simply a poignant reminder to us of both the opportunity and the responsibility to find ways to build relationships with these people and at least make them aware of our church's opportunities for spiritual nurture, faith exploration and interpersonal community," explains Phillips, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Rupert's Land.
The 2011 figures show an increase in the province's Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist communities, mostly due to immigration, presenting an ongoing challenge of integrating the newcomers while still preserving their faith and cultural traditions.
"What we are teaching our kids is follow our faith but respect the land," says Narendra Mathur, past-president of the Manitoba Hindu Society.
"Be Hindu, but adapt to the new conditions."
That's also the advice Shahina Siddiqui of the Islamic Social Services Association provides to newcomers trying to find their place in Winnipeg's Muslim community, which has people from more than 40 countries.
"Every time a new wave of immigrants come we have to restart the education and integration programming, not just for them to adjust to the new country but also in how Islam is expressed in Canada," explains Siddiqui.
Now numbering more than 12,000, the Muslim population in Manitoba has more than doubled in the last decade, says Siddiqui. The median age of Muslims in Canada is 28.9, compared to a median age of 51 among Anglicans and 42.9 for Roman Catholics.
"It is obvious from the stats youth services will be the focus of our future plans," Siddiqui says.
What is also obvious is Manitoba is increasingly diverse. The majority of citizens identify with Christianity in its various expressions, but significant numbers belong to other faith groups or no religion at all.
"The landscape of religious denominations in Canada is changing," says National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
"I think this information should be an encouragement to many denominations to increase our work in the area of multi-faith dialogue and partnerships."
Let's converse, not convert
Donna Harris has a challenge for a reader of the faith page: She would like to have a serious face-to-face discussion with you about God.
"I think one of the things I'd like to do is sit down and talk to a person of faith and see what they believe," says Harris, president of the Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM).
Baptized Roman Catholic, Harris describes her family as not terribly religious and she would like a better understanding of why people of faith, particularly Christians, believe in God.
"My rational, science-based mind doesn't include belief in a supreme being," says Harris, who recently spoke to a confirmation class at Windsor Park United Church about atheism and humanism.
"I no longer see any evidence for a deity (because) this world is too random or too neutral."
But she is curious about why -- and how -- others come to a different conclusion and she's willing to have a discussion with someone who wants to converse with her about faith without setting out to convert her.
I'm happy to facilitate that discussion. But I've got a few ground rules: Come prepared to listen, be respectful, and most of all, please don't condemn. Send me an email and I'll set up a conversation with Harris, one that I may share with the readers of the Faith page at a later date.
And I wish I didn't have to say this: No hate mail, please. Let's have a dialogue, not a diatribe.