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Crisis for Church of England as older female churchgoers pass away

Crisis for Church of England as older female churchgoers pass away

By James Macintyre
April 3, 2017

The Church of England is facing a demographic time bomb as an entire generation of active lay women is starting to pass away, according to new research.

The research found that the unpaid work in cleaning, furnishing, catering, fundraising and supporting midweek services by 70,000 older women effectively keeps the church from collapse.

There is no evidence that younger people are coming up to replace them.

In a new book, The Religious Lives of Older Laywomen, the sociologist Dr Abby Day of Goldsmiths at the University of London outlines how the financial and social structures of the Church of England are kept afloat by a shrinking band of committed women who are now entering their eighties and nineties.

Dr Day, who worked closely with laywomen in Britain while researching her book, identifies the dying generation as 'Generation A': the parents of the baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s, and were the last generation whose values are centred on nation, family and God.

Devotion to organisations like the Church has in subsequent generations been replaced by other forms of identification and activism, leaving a void of new recruits to form an active laity.

'The prognosis for the Church of England is grave,' said Dr. Day. 'While elderly laywomen have never been given a formal voice or fully acknowledged by the Church, they are the heart, soul and driving organisational force in parishes everywhere. Their loss will be catastrophic.

'Irrespective of one's religious viewpoint, it's impossible to deny the role the Church of England has played in providing informal social care, and a unique unconditional space for those who often have nowhere else to go.

'As the church itself vanishes through lack of organisational support, it's inevitable that addicted, homeless, bereaved or socially isolated people will lose out.'

The Religious Lives of Older Laywomen: The Last Active Anglican Generation is out now, published by Oxford University Press.

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