Craig Butt and William Ton, The Age
In the city’s north-west, something of a ‘Bible ring’ has formed in the suburbs surrounding Melbourne and Essendon airports, where about two thirds of the population are Christian.
With 71 per cent of its population adhering to Christianity, Keilor is Melbourne's most Christian suburb. It's surrounded by suburbs with a similarly high proportion of Christians, such as Taylors Lakes (70 per cent), Keilor East (68 per cent) and Gladstone Park (63 per cent).
The new parish priest of Gladstone Park’s Church of the Good Shepherd, Fr Dishan Candappa, said he was becoming used to the much larger congregation sizes in the north-west.
‘We get an average of 1300 to 1400 people coming to Masses over Saturday and Sunday,’ he said. ‘That’s compared to 320 at my previous parish in Blackburn South.’
Demographer Glenn Capuano said the inner north-west had a high proportion of Christians because it was home to a large number of migrants from Orthodox Christian and Catholic backgrounds.
Fr Candappa, who has been at the Gladstone Park parish for three months, said he had been blown away by the area’s community spirit.
‘This parish has been exceptional. The warmth and acceptance has been pretty much immediate,’ he said. ‘If you have a community that you belong to in your church, then you are more likely to keep coming back and spend extra time to help the church yourself.’
But a high proportion of people identifying as Christian in the census in an area does not necessarily translate to large numbers attending religious services, says Philip Hughes, a research fellow at Alphacrucis College.
‘In the western and northern suburbs, you tend to get high levels of identification, but comparatively low levels of involvement,’ Dr Hughes said. ‘In the eastern suburbs, you get much higher levels of involvement, but lower levels of identification.’