THE Church Census 2016 will not go ahead, Churches Together in England (CTE) has said, after the Church of England became the latest denomination to decline to participate, on the grounds of concerns over the administrative workload and time constraints.
The general secretary of CTE, the Revd Dr David Cornick, said on Wednesday: “Our understanding is that the census will not now be taking place in October, and we have informed our members of this.
“The steering group, and a number of national church leaders, have realised that too much remains to be done in too short a time for that to be feasible. Given those circumstances, the data produced would not have been accurate or useful enough to justify the exercise. The steering group will be meeting again to consider how to proceed in the light of this.”
It came after the Secretary General of the Archbishop’s Council, William Nye, apologised for the C of E’s decision not to take part in a letter to the Bishop of Manchester, the Dr David Walker, who chairs of the Steering Group, on Wednesday of last week.
He, too, cited the “burden” that collecting the information would put on the parishes, “at a time when we are seeking to lighten the administrative load on clergy and laity”.
It would, he wrote, “for too many. . . be perceived as a heavy additional burden, that response rates might be poor, and indeed that asking parishes to participate in this activity might have an adverse effect on other reporting and data collection we require of them.”
A Church House spokesperson confirmed: “Our priority now is to improve the collection, reporting and analysis of existing data, rather than adding another data collection requirement.”
On the day that Dr Walker received the letter, CTE steering group and Church Army member, Jim Currin, wrote in an informal letter to the CTE member churches, published on its website, that they would not be going ahead with the census.
“It has become clear that despite the commitment of denominations around the table and dedicated website to capture information electronically, national church leaders and the steering group recognise that there remains too much still to be done in too short a time.”
Presidents, General Secretaries, Presiding Bishops, Moderators, National Administrators, or their appointed representatives, were invited to register their interest with the Steering Group Co-ordinator in March. A small pilot of the programme was due to take place next month.
There have been three previous ecumenical censuses in England. The last was more than 10 years ago.
The C of E had “no desire” to prevent other churches’ taking part in the census, Mr Nye said, but he confirmed that it would not be providing a central resource.
The United Reformed Church (URC), however, made its decision to opt out back in March. The General Secretary, the Revd John Proctor, said on Tuesday: “Accurate numerical information can be helpful in many circumstances and situations, but the URC concluded that it simply does not have the level of central staff provision to support the administration of the census in the ways that local churches would need and expect.”
A spokeswoman for the Church in Wales said that Churches Together in Wales (Cytûn) was approached by the C of E to take part in a joint census for England and Wales, but that — although members were open to the idea — “We haven’t heard anything since.”
She went on: “The Church in Wales has been collecting its own data for many years now and we find that information very helpful.”
Mr Nye’s letter was copied to the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, and a Salvation Army Commissioner, Clive Adams, among others.
It concluded: “I wanted to let you and colleagues know of our decision as early as possible. I do recognise, though, that this comes after much work, and I apologise for the disruption and disappointment that may be caused.”