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Decline, growth, and a recently published Church of England report

12 September 2014


From the Revd Patricia Roberts

Sir, - Reading the letter from the Revd Hugh Wright (Letters, 29 August), I just wanted to say that I also have been challenged by the increasing secularisation I find around me. Like him, we have had a reduction in weddings, baptisms, and funerals, and I have been grappling with how to make what we do and are relevant for our communities.

This weekend, our village held a commemoration of the First World War, and the church service picked up the theme. Despite hundreds turning out for the display in the neighbouring village hall, not one person came specially to the church for the occasion.

Perhaps more significantly, most of our members have a myriad of events on offer at the weekends, from doing the weekly shopping to taking the children to a variety of sports clubs, and meeting up with family and friends, so that, increasingly, people come only when they are on a rota to do something. Sundays are just another day in busy calendars.

I passionately believe that Jesus Christ is as relevant today as he has always been, but maybe the wrapping of the traditional Church is creating an impenetrable wall between those who know and love him, and the world where the humanist gong clangs loudly. As a Church, we need to face these issues, and take our heads out of the sand before it is too late.

The Vicarage, The Butts
Lydiard Millicent, Swindon
Wilts SN5 3LR


From the Revd Richard Tilbrook SSC

Sir, - I do not share the Revd Hugh Wright's pessimism concerning accelerating secularism.

In this parish of 7000 souls, I conduct 20 to 25 baptisms a year (two-thirds of the births in the parish), between six and 12 weddings, and an average of 70 funerals. Since I assume that other Christian denominations also conduct services in my parish, the vast majority of people must still seek the care of the Christian Church when it comes to these important rites of passage.

It is unlikely that my experience is unique. I have no knowledge of Mr Wright's circumstances, and mean him no offence, but I am sure that it is our responsibility to communicate to all our parishioners that they have a right to these offices.

The people of our country are no longer taught by family or school that we are the Established Church, and here for all; so it is up to us to make our mark.

If the Church of England makes it clear that it is here and welcoming for everyone, people will come. We are not a congregational Church. We have the cure of souls for the whole parish.

The Vicarage
13 Abbot's Road, Old Heath
Colchester CO2 8BE


From the Revd David Berry

Sir, - The Revd Hugh Wright's letter (29 August) on secularisation covers the ground very fully. He highlights the cliff-edge situation facing the Church.

In our part of rural Cumbria, we have just begun a series of ecumenical meetings to prepare us for structural change. The cliff edge is now before us. The structure we have used, and been used to, is having to be superseded. It was explained that we just can't afford the clergy.

Are there any theological faculties or prominent church groups studying, in depth, what should replace our crumbling system? I would be thrilled to find one. I hear too often the call for our faith to catch up with the modern world, when what I long to hear is the call for our system to catch up.

Our parish system came into full use after the end of the Graeco-Roman civilisation. Its demise was on the cards when the next great social change began to appear in the 1700s with the rise of the Industrial Revolution. When one of our priests, John Wesley, saw what was going on, he proceeded to ride his horse and the gospel straight through the parish system.

Nearly 300 years later, we are seeing it acknowledged that a third system is needed. Megachurches seem to be the great exception to decline. Could this be because, like Wesley, they break free from a declining system?

2 The Croft, Warcop
Cumbria CA16 6PH


From Canon James Mynors

Sir, - As it happens, in the seven rural parishes where I've been Rector for seven years, we have recently observed the precise opposite to Mr Wright: a doubling of wedding and baptism enquiries, and an increase in the willingness to take on responsibilities. Attendance by non-regulars at special services seems to be up, too. Only the number of funerals seems to be down; but that is because of increased life expectancy, not secularisation.

The question is much better answered, however, by thorough research rather than exchanging isolated stories. That is why the Church of England has recently published From Anecdote to Evidence (available online), which, for example, notes that from 2000 to 2010, 27 per cent of Anglican churches did decline, but most were stable, and 18 per cent grew.

More importantly, the report analyses why so many churches grew, in spite of today's climate. In the diocese where I serve, the rural clergy and the College of Canons have both found this material very useful for reflection. I commend it to others.

The Rectory
Main Street, Aldwincle
Kettering NN14 3EP

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