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Increased attendance at cathedrals — but why?

16 May 2012


From Canon Wealands Bell

Sir, — The report that “attendance at cathedrals has increased by 30 per cent since 2001” (News, 13 April) is insufficiently nuanced to let us judge whether this is a welcome or sig­nificant development.

If these are lots of new Christians forming an attachment to choral evensong, heaven be praised. If they are, for whatever reason, parochial émigrés flocking to cathedrals for the Sunday eucharist, I would be con­cerned.

As seats of the bishop and centres of mission, cathedral churches will always have the propagation of the gospel at the heart of their life; and if, through tourism and large-scale events, they make contact with many enquirers and help to plant the faith within them, then that is un­equivocally good news.

But I hope that cathedral chap­ters will never be so pressurised to dis­play numerical and financial health that they resort to building up their own worshipping com­munities at the expense of others. The Arch­bishops’ Council’s head of statistics rightly celebrates the “spiritual vib­rancy” of cathedrals “in our cath­edral cities”, but ignores a cathedral’s broader responsibility to its diocese and region.

If cathedrals, as single-church, multi-priest, high-budget centres of excellence grow in popularity at the parishes’ expense, then any claim to be “the mother church of the dio­cese” is at best compromised. If, however, they gather and nurture disciples with a clear aim of sending them out into places of work, residence, and leisure, playing their part in a diverse-ecology Church, then, yes, heaven be praised.

As we know, the work of cath­edrals will need to develop sig­nificantly in the next decades. But we must hold on tight to our theo­logy of the Church if we are to assist the thriving not just of a privileged few, but of the whole body of Christ.

23 The Close, Lichfield WS13 7LD

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