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Church of England numbers continue to fall

Church of England numbers continue to fall
Mother church of Anglicanism follows in the footsteps of her American daughter with falling numbers

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
Nov. 8, 2016

There are 63.7 million people living in England, 25 million of them claim to be members of the Church of England, yet according to the recently released CofE Statistics For Mission (SFM) report, fewer than one million Anglicans show up to church on Sunday.

In fact, in 2007, the British media reported that more English Roman Catholics attend Mass than Church of England Anglicans. Then it was noted that 861,800 Catholics go to weekly Mass compared to 852,500 Anglicans. The latest 2015 SFM stats show that attendance at Sunday services has dropped to 752,000, or a dismal 2.3% of all Anglicans and just a little more than 1.4 % of the entire population of England, of which 32,757,000 claim to be Christian -- Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Calvinists, Baptists, Orthodoxy, Salvation Army members ...,

The Church of England's motto is: A Christian presence in every community. England boasts about 1,200 incorporated towns, of which 50 are cities. To help meet its goal of having "a Christian presence in every community", the Church of England has 15,685 churches -- including 42 cathedrals -- scattered throughout the country in 40 domestic dioceses. These churches are the local parishes for at least 55 million people of which 32 million are Christians. Not all small burgs and unincorporated villages have an "official" Church of England presence in town. But, since the Church of England is the established state religion, all Britons have an automatic access to the Church of England for life events -- baptisms, weddings, and funerals -- regardless of their religious affiliation.

The Diocese of Sodor & Man is an offshore Church of England diocese with 40 churches on the Crown dependency Isle of Man, and the Diocese of Europe, based in Gibraltar, is a foreign CofE diocese encompassing continental Europe, coastal northern Africa, parts of the Middle East and the area comprised of the former Soviet Union. The Diocese of Europe serves Anglicans, and other English-speaking Christians, in 42 countries on three continents -- Europe, Asia and Africa -- while holding regular services in 270 locations, with a growing "worshipping community" of more than 15,300 souls.

The Church of England's Diocese of Europe is far more reaching than TEC's smaller Convocation of Episcopal Churches, which has a baptized membership of 2,788 souls worshipping in 15 congregations mostly in Europe, but with one small house church in Kazakhstan.

The few Anglican churches in the Crown dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey located in the Channel Islands are scooped into the mainland Diocese of Winchester.

The Church of England's American daughter, The Episcopal Church, has 6,500 congregations in 99 domestic dioceses and another 500 churches in 10 foreign jurisdictions spread across 16 countries. In a nation of 325 million, fewer than two million -- 1,779,333 -- claim to be Episcopalian, translating into less than one half of one percent of the entire American population. Of that number, 579,780 show up on a Sunday. Both churches, Mother CofE and Daughter TEC, are hemorrhaging parishioner numbers, while the Anglican churches planted in Africa are spiritually healthy, thriving and growing.

The English church has several ways of counting parishioner participation from a "worshipping community" (congregation or parish) of 1,142,000 souls of whom 1,033,100 are on parish electoral rolls, meaning they are adult baptized communicants qualified to participate and vote in their annual parish meeting. The electoral rolls are purged on a yearly basis.

The 2015 CofE counts include: Usually Sunday Attendance (752,000); midweek parochial school services (165,000); Christmas attendance (2,526,450 with 893,500 receiving Holy Communion); Easter attendance (1,284,660 with 908,000 receiving Holy Communion); and the yearly October count (961,000). In addition there were 2,326,700 who attended Advent services and another 2,732,000 Anglicans participating in special services at civic organizations and schools.

The domestic dioceses of Lincoln and York have the largest landmasses, with each claiming 2,670 square miles. The Diocese of Lincoln is in the CofE Province of Canterbury and its 30 dioceses are headed by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, while the Diocese of York is in the Province of York, and its 12 dioceses are headed by John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York.

Excluding the Isle of Man (220 square miles), the Diocese of London is the smallest domestic CofE diocese, encompassing 280 square miles. However, London is also the most densely populated diocese, with 4,242,000 souls living within its 280 square mile perimeter, of which 1,848,000 claim to be Christians.

The Diocese of Norwich boasts the most church buildings -- 642. However, there are fewer than one million people inhabiting its 1,800 square miles, of which 543,000 call themselves Christian.

The Diocese of Carlisle is the least populated domestic diocese, with 496,000 souls living in 2,570 square miles, of which 357,000 are Christians.

The Church of England breaks down church attendance by age. Of the 752,500 who usually attended church services on a Sunday, 647,900 were adults with the remaining 104,600 being children.

Overall, the Diocese of Hereford shows an almost across the board highest participation as the percentage of the population for the average weekly church attendance (3%); usual Sunday attendance (2.3%); Easter (4.7%); and the largest population percentage of its worshipping community (3.8%). The Diocese of Gloucester had the highest Christmas (8.8%) attendance.

On the other end of the scale, the Diocese of Birmingham had the lowest percentage of church participation of the population for the average weekly church attendance (1.1%); usual Sunday attendance (.8%); Easter (1.3%); and the smallest population percentage for its worshipping community (1.2%). Only the Diocese of Manchester shows a lower percentage for Christmas (1.8%) attendance.

The latest Statistics For Mission report shows that 1,142,400 who comprise the overall Church of England worshipping community is made up of 20% children (birth to 17 years old); 50% adults (18 to 69 years old); and 30% senior elders (70 years old and older). The "worshipping community" is considered to be those who regularly attend Church of England services at least on a monthly basis.

The Diocese of Gloucester has the perfect 20-50-30 demographic makeup. Although the Diocese of Truro has the largest elder population -- 48% -- and the smallest youth population -- 11% -- with adults making up the other 41%. On the other hand, the Diocese of London has the largest adult church population at 63%. Elders make up a scant 13%, with the youngsters filling in the other 24%.

Both the Diocese of Birmingham and the Diocese of Durham have less than one percent of the general population usually attending church service on Sunday. Birmingham shows a 0.8% attendance and Durham shows a 0.9% attendance. Over all, the Usual Sunday Attendance rate hovers around 1.4% of the general population or 752,460 attending an Anglican church out of a nationwide population of 63.7 million souls.

Christmas saw 4.6% of the population going to church either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. A total of 2,526,450 Britons again welcomed the Baby Jesus in 2015, some of whom are not registered Church of England members.

However, even though Easter church attendance drops, those who received Holy Communion doubles from 35% at Christmas to 70% at Easter. In 2015, a total of 1,284,660 Britons went to church either Holy Saturday evening or Easter Sunday morning to again mark Christ's Resurrection from the Tomb.

The 2015 Statistics For Mission report, put out by the Research & Statistics department of the Church of England, covers stats for six years from 2010-2015 when tracking Christmas and Easter numbers. The SFM shows a slight uptick in the Christmas figures and a decrease in the Easter numbers.

In 2014, Christmas attendance was 2,413,600, with 886,200 receiving Holy Communion. For Easter, 1,308,100 attended services, with 925,600 going forward for Communion.

Generally, the Christmas and Easter stats are down over all from earlier in the past half decade. The highwater mark for Christmas attendance was in 2011, when 2,641,500 Britons attended service, with 1,022,500 taking Communion. But Easter peaked in 2010, with 1,411,200 going to church with 1,010,200 receiving Holy Communion.

It is the high holy days of Christmas and Easter that draw the largest crowds, leaving churches the rest of the year with emptier pews, especially in the rural areas. Last year, the news broke that the Church of England is considering creating "Festival Churches" to deal with dwindling numbers and emptying churches, especially in the rural areas.

A September, 2015, Report of the Church Buildings Review Group commissioned by the Archbishops' Council and the Church Commissioners, suggests that some church buildings be turned into "Festival Churches", meaning that religious services will be held only on the high holy days of Christmas and Easter.

The 2015 report notes that most CofE churches are in rural areas -- 9,000. Another 1,900 are in urban cities, with the rest -- 4,800 -- in suburban locations.

The church buildings report decries the fact that, while 57% of church edifices are in rural areas, just 17% of the general population live there and only 28% of CofE's attendance comes from rural areas, making rural church buildings underutilized.

The report also goes on to explain that even if rural churches are being used for worship, 75% of those congregations have fewer than 40 members, with at least two thousand country congregations having an average attendance of 10.

The smallest and elderly country congregations usually do not have any youth (unless grandchildren are visiting); they do not celebrate the life events of baptism, confirmation and marriage; and when a funeral does take place it usually means that the worshipping community has one less member, making that congregation even that much harder to sustain.

"Attendance itself is of course but one measure of the significance of church buildings ... " the Church Buildings report states.

Surprisingly, the Church Buildings Report reveals that 85% of the English population "visit a church building or place of worship each year," but not necessarily for worship. They come to tour the grand medieval cathedrals, or they come to find help in meeting their personal social needs of loneliness, homelessness, debt, low income, unemployment or family breakdown, and they come for food -- other than Holy Communion offered at the church's altar -- given out in the various church food banks.

"Our 16,000 church buildings are a visible expression of the Christian faith and the Church's continuing presence in local communities across the country, which they serve in many varied ways," the Church Buildings Report states.

Nowadays, even with the opportunity to use Church of England churches for life events -- baptisms, weddings, funerals -- the number of Britons turning to the church for their life events is falling off.

The Statistics For Mission report shows that church marriages have dropped nearly 10,000, from 54,320 in 2010 to 44,670 in 2015. Even the figures for a blessing of a civil marriage have dropped from 3,400 in 2010 to 2,800 in 2015.

Baptisms have also dropped. In 2010, there were 125,020 infant and child baptisms, but in 2015, there were 70,660 infant baptisms and 38,240 child baptisms for a total of 108,900 infant and children baptisms.

Teenager and adult baptisms for the same time period include: 10,140 in 2010 and 9,970 in 2015. The drop off (1.6%) was not as steep as with the youngsters (12.8%). A total of 667,120 babies were born in England during 2015. A mere 10.5% were brought to the church for baptism. However, 4,730 parents came to the church to render their thanksgiving for the "gift of a child." This service use to be called the Churching of Women.

Even church funerals have taken a nose dive. In 2010, a total of 88,420 Britons turned to the church for their burial rites. In 2015, that number fell by nearly five thousand to 83,590. However, there is a much greater decline in the number of crematory and cemetery funeral services. In 2010, a total of 80,170 families sought Church of England rites for their beloved committals. In 2015, that number plummeted by more than 15,000 services to 64,650. In all, 497,830 Britons died in 2015 and only 30% -- 147,590 -- turned to the church for final services.

Confirmations have also steadily fallen. In 2005, there were 29,800 confirmations. That number dropped to 16,723 in 2015, when 1,815 confirmation services were conducted by CofE bishops. Stats show that 58% of the confirmands (9,751) were girls and women, while 42% of the confirmands (6,972) were men and boys.

The shifts in congregational size come through additions and deletions.

In 2015, Church of England churches reported 91,000 people joining a congregation with 32% of the newcomers being children. Of those who did join a worshipping community, 35% were moving into the area, while 34% were worshipping for the first time. Another 15% came into a particular worshipping community from another local congregation and 16% returned to church after an extended absence.

The CofE also reported 63,000 people leaving their various worshipping communities. Those leaving a particular worshipping community did so because they moved away (30%); left to go to another local congregation (30%); quit going to church altogether (13%); or got ill and/or died (44%).

All in all, the 2015 Statistics For Mission shows a gradual decline of church attendance ranging between 10% to 15% over the past 10 year period.

"Although the overall pattern is one of gradual decline, this masks the differences in experience in individual parishes over the past 10 years," the report cautions. "In 53% of parishes there has been no statistically significant change in attendance. In 10% of parishes attendance has increased. In 37% of parishes attendance has decreased."

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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