Churches In Decline

Empty ChurchKaya Burgess, Religious Affairs Correspondent for the Times reports that churches with small congregations will no longer be obliged to hold Sunday services as the C of E considers abandoning the legal requirement for struggling local parishes.

Canon law obliges all parish churches to hold morning and evening prayer every Sunday and on key holy days, but many priests – including our own here at St Michael’s – look after several parishes within a single benefice and cannot host services at every church, especially those with small (and declining) congregations. By failing to hold prayers at all of their churches they are technically breaking canon law.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Right Rev Pete Broadbent, has proposed relaxing these rules. He said that he wanted to “make honest people of our clergy”, as they have to swear obedience to church law despite knowing that it is impossible.

Canon B14 states that “The holy communion shall be celebrated in every parish church at least on all Sundays and principal feast days and on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday.”

In a paper published on the C of E website, drawn up by the church’s “simplification task group”, the bishop proposes changes to B11 and B14 to relax the requirements for regular worship in parish churches in sparsely populated benefices.

His group is seeking to simplify the C of E’s legislation, hoping that deregulation will give the church freedom to explore new ways to stem and reverse the decline in worshippers.

His paper has been approved by the Archbishop’s Council and will be put to the General Synod.

Some statistics:

  • Church attendance is less than half the level it was in the 1960’s, with just over 750,000 people attending Sunday services, and a decline of 22,000 in the past year.
  • There has been a 12% decline in the total attendance at Church of England services between 2004 and 2014.
  • 4% of the English population attends a Sunday service, rising to 4.3% at Christmas.
  • There are now 300 fewer vicars than in 2012.

The worrying  question is, have we yet reached the nadir?

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