Weekly attendance at Church of England drops below 1 million for first time

By Fred Lambert Contact the Author   |  Jan. 12, 2016 at 1:59 PM
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LONDON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Weekly attendance at the Church of England has fallen below 1 million for the first time in history, while Sunday service attendance dropped to 760,000, statistics published Tuesday indicate.

The weekly figure accounts for about 2 percent of the population in the United Kingdom and reflects a downward trend in church attendance amid the growing popularity of secularism and religious diversity, particularly among the nation's youth.

A report released by the church in November revealed 2013 weekly attendance stood at 1,009,000. In 2012, the figure was 1.05 million.

Current figures show attendance numbers falling 12 percent over the past decade to less than half the levels seen 40 years ago, when Sunday attendance stood at approximately 1.25 million.

"We do not expect that trend to change imminently or immediately over the next few years due to demographics," The Guardian quoted Graham James, bishop of Norwich, as saying. "We lose approximately 1 percent of our churchgoers to death each year. Given the age profile of the C of E, the next few years will continue to have downward pressure as people die or become housebound and unable to attend church."

In 2013, the BBC reported the long decline in Anglican church-going was leveling off, notably due to a 14.5 percent increase in Christmas attendance between 2010 and 2011.

2014 numbers show a similar increase, with 2.4 million attendees during the holiday, but the amount of baptisms, weddings and funerals have seen double-digit drops.

Graham said the downward trend "has been anticipated and is being acted on radically" but acknowledged the inexorable nature of the drop in overall church attendance -- about 1 percent annually since World War II.

"The culture [is] becoming anti-Christian, whether it is on matters of sexual morality, or the care for people at the beginning or the end of life," Graham said. "It is easy to paint a very gloomy picture."

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life, made up of theological experts and representatives of Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu groups in Britain, found a disparity between the number of Church of England representatives who have seats in the House of Lords and the overall population who identifies with the denomination.

"The pluralist character of modern society should be reflected in national forums such as the House of Lords, so that they include a wider range of world views and religious traditions, and of Christian denominations other than the Church of England," the commission said in its report published in December.

Twenty-six bishops and archbishops have permanent seats in the Lords Spiritual component of the House of Lords -- the appointed chamber of Britain's Parliament which has some 821 seats. The Lords Temporal -- or secular representatives within the chamber -- take up the remaining seats. No other religious sects have designated seats in the Lords Spiritual.

"It's an anomaly to have 26 Anglican bishops in the House of Lords. There needs to be better representation of the different religions and beliefs in Britain today," Ed Kessler, vice-chair of the commission, told The Independent.

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