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Cathedrals ponder success as midweek attendance booms

28 November 2014

Reaching up: Southwark Cathedral has seen "huge growth" in its Sunday congregation

Reaching up: Southwark Cathedral has seen "huge growth" in its Sunday congregation

ARE they "recovery wards" for those burnt by the Church? Do they offer the possibility to "slide in from the sides"? And are Sundays, in any case, taken up with shopping and DIY?

Cathedral deans in the Church of England have attributed the rise in attendance at cathedrals to a variety of factors.

Statistics published by Church House on Monday indicate that attendance at services on Monday to Saturday at cathedrals doubled between 2003 and 2013, from 7500 to 15,000.

Attendance on Sunday remained fairly static, increasing from 15,600 to 15,900. The annual number of visitors has increased from 9.4 million in 2010 to 10.2 million in 2013, down on the 2003 figure of 10.8 million.

Other services were logged separately. Total attendance on Christmas Day was 124,300 in 2013, six per cent higher than in 2012, an average of 2960 people per cathedral. Easter attendance in 2013 was 53,300, down on 2012.

Music in cathedrals in 2013 was produced by 150 home choirs and supported by 850 visiting choirs, the first time this has been quantified. There is an average of 350 volunteers for each cathedral.

In a podcast recorded by Church House, the Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, said that cathedrals offered "the opportunity of allowing people to come in from the edges. If I take a eucharist at 12.30 in the middle of the week in the nave of York Minster, there will be a lot of people who just slide in from the sides.

"It's much more difficult to slide in in a parish church, because everyone in the village is watching. It's not so much about anonymity: it's about feeling there's a journey that you can travel on which doesn't require huge steps. It just requires one little step, and I think that's very important."

The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, attributed the popularity of midweek services to the fact that they were "reasonably short. People can often squeeze them into very, very pressurised lifestyles, whereas, at the weekend you've got commitments, with children doing sport, with shopping, and household maintenance. Life's run at the double these days, and weekends are very pressurised and committed.

"Taking out half an hour or an hour during the week is much more negotiable, it comes out of much more discretionary time."

On Tuesday, the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, responded to national headlines suggesting that the Church had admitted that Sundays were "inconvenient". He said: "I would be most reluctant to accept that. I think you have to challenge whether going to a DIY store is actually a priority for their lives, or worship. . . People need to be drawn into the priority of God. If we begin to suggest that Sunday is the same as any other day, I think we are doing a disservice to the God of Easter."

At Southwark, Dean Nunn reported, there had been "huge growth" in the Sunday congregation rather than in mid-week attendance. He attributed this to a focus on welcome, the quality of the liturgy, and an emphasis on inclusivity.

He agreed with Dean Faull's comments about "slipping in". "If you go into a church and there are 20 people there, your presence is felt and recognised instantly, and there is a kind of hungry look that can be in the eyes of smaller congregations, particularly if you are a younger person. People are thinking about all the jobs they can do.

"Often people are putting a toe into the water of church, and don't necessarily want to be dragged under. [Cathedrals] give the possibility of entering on your own terms, which, for better or worse, is where spirituality is."

Responding to concerns that the success of cathedrals could result in a drain on parishes, he argued that a cathedral could be "a bit of a recovery ward for people who have had a bad church experience". He gave the example of those who had been "too heavily involved and have almost had burnout.

"I love it when people have gained a bit of confidence again and can then say 'Actually I am going to go to a parish church,'" he said. "That is bit of success story for us."

'Cathedral conundrum' - Leader comment

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