CHRISTMAS cathedral congregations increased for the second year running in 2017, to the highest they have been since attendance figures were first collected in 2000.
Data released on Wednesday by the Church of England’s research and statistics department suggest that 135,000 people worshipped in English cathedrals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day last year, up from 131,000 the year before.
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, who is the lead bishop for cathedrals, said on Tuesday: “Christmas is a natural opportunity for people to reconnect with their church or cathedral, and the growth in numbers of those doing so over the past ten years is very encouraging.”
Attendance from Advent Sunday to 23 December amounted to 576,000 in 2017, a six-per-cent fall on the previous year, however (News, 9 November 2017).
The report says: “It should be noted that a number of comments from cathedrals, provided with their returns, suggest that increased Christmas attendance in 2017 may be due to Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday, and decreased Advent attendance in 2017 may be due to a shorter Advent period.”
A total of 36,200 people a week on average attended ordinary cathedral services in 2017, a slight decrease from the 2016 figure of 36,700, but still a ten-per-cent increase from 2007. Researchers attributed this mostly to an increase in midweek-congregation size.
The report says: “The total attending midweek services [i.e. average weekly attendance] rose from 17,900 in 2016 to 18,100 in 2017, whilst Sunday attendance fell slightly (18,700 in 2016 compared to 18,100 in 2017). . .
“Almost all of the overall increase in usual attendance over the past decade can be attributed to a rise in attendance at midweek services, with an increase of 23% in total attendees since 2007, and an increase of 35% in attendees aged 16 and over.”
Easter services drew 52,000 in 2017, marginally down from 53,000 in 2016; 94,000 attended Holy Week services in 2017, the same as the previous year.
Of the 135,000 members of Christmas congregations, just over a quarter, 37,000, were communicants. This was an increase of 3000 on 2016. At Easter, communicants were 28,000, more than half the 52,000 who attended.
Attendance at “additional regular services”, such as Fresh Expressions or school services, was 511,000 in 2017, down from 574,000 the year before.
Dr Inge said: “Year after year our cathedrals continue to have enormous appeal to worshippers and visitors. They are awe-inspiring buildings, places to explore faith and encounter God — and centres of learning, outreach, service to the community and civic life. This year they will be at the heart of the nation’s commemorations for the centenary of the end of the First World War.”
The report also says that 8.92 million people visited English cathedrals in 2017, an increase of 10,000 from the year before. 39 per cent of these visitors paid or donated on entry.
The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, who chairs the Association of English Cathedrals, argued that cathedrals were not “complacent about what opportunities lie before them”.
He said: “Cathedrals minister in a culture that is more and more diverse, spiritually attuned, but religiously unaffiliated. They offer a mixture of absolute reliability, being open every day, and missionary enterprise.
“We attract large numbers of committed and skilled volunteers, and the public likes to visit not only at Christmas and for national commemorations but also for events, performances, and exhibitions, where they are free to think new thoughts, wonder, reflect, and pray. . .
“Cathedrals aren’t complacent about what opportunities lie before them, but these statistics accurately portray where they are making an impact and what they are trying to do.”
The Third Church Estates Commissioner, Dr Eve Poole, who leads the Church of England’s Cathedrals’ Support Group, said: “The breadth of this data is testimony to the wonderful diversity of cathedral activity.
“Some visitors are drawn to their ephemeral music and liturgy, some to their majestic architecture, some to learn about our rich heritage; others to mark life events, to come together as a civic community, and to visit one of the many creative installations to which only these lofty spaces can do full justice.”
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