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Parish churches and the rise in cathedral attendance figures

23 August 2013


From Canon Bob Baker

Sir, - The increased attendances at our cathedrals (News and Leader comment, 16 August) are, of course, both welcome and encouraging. They also raise some questions.

First, how much of this is real growth? Cathedrals are increasingly attractive because they not only provide beautiful music and many other good things, but also make fewer demands on the bank accounts or time of those who attend. Singing Victorian hymns with five other people in a cold church can hardly compete.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that on Christmas Eve, for example, the increased attendance at midnight has coincided with a significant drop in the number of parish churches offering that service. Are our cathedrals simply emptying our smaller churches?

Second, what are our cathedrals doing to make disciples of these attenders? In Norwich Cathedral, the casual visitor can quickly learn a lot about the Benedictine way of life and medieval buildings, but not about who Jesus is and why he is worth following. He is well hidden.

But the biggest question is still more important: with thousands of urban and village churches on the brink of viability, are we sleep-walking into a model of church that we may not want, with large well- resourced centres of worship and fewer and fewer parish churches?

If this Tesco church model is our strategic goal (and it may be the right one), then we need to take some hard decisions about closing smaller branches, something that our bishops seem too frightened to contemplate.

If it is not, then our cathedrals, as mother churches in each diocese, need to play their part in strengthening the rest of the family.

Team Rector of Thetford and
Church Commissioner
The Rectory, 6 Redcastle Road
Thetford IP24 3NF


From Mr Mike Lawlor

Sir, - My Church of Ireland cousins from Cork like to attend midweek choral evensong at Westminster Abbey whenever they are in London.

This year, they remarked to me that there seemed to be a much larger congregation, but that it was evident that not everyone was there to worship.

When they chatted to a functionary on the way out, the consensus seemed to be that it had been discovered that attendance at worship seemed to have become a way to beat the now fairly hefty entrance charges to the Abbey.

38 Admiralty Way, Teddington
Middlesex TW11 0NL

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