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Cathedrals report rise in attendance during Holy Week and Easter

26 November 2019


A service takes place in Bradford Cathedral on Sunday to mark its centenary

A service takes place in Bradford Cathedral on Sunday to mark its centenary

MORE people are attending Church of England cathedral services during Holy Week and Easter, but attendance at most other services held in cathedrals continues to decline, new figures suggest.

The annual report from C of E research and statistics was published on Tuesday. It is based on a survey of 42 mainland cathedrals, including the weightiest, Westminster Abbey, and, for the first time, Peel Cathedral on the Isle of Man.

Christmas attendance at cathedrals dropped to 133,000 in 2018 from a peak of 135,000 the previous year (the highest since 2000). There were 33,000 communicants at Christmas in 2018. Attendance at Easter services, however, increased by 6000, to 58,000 people — an overall increase of 18 per cent since 2008. Attendance during Holy Week also increased to 95,000 in 2018 — up by six per cent from when it was first reported in 2014.

CHURCH OF ENGLANDA table in the report showing Easter and Holy Week attendance

Norwich Cathedral reported a 65 per cent increase in attendance at Easter and Holy Week services between 2014 and 2018.

The Dean of Norwich, the Very Revd Jane Hedges, said: “We are delighted that an increasing number of people are celebrating with us the heart of the Christian faith: that Christ is risen!

“Many different factors draw people to the Cathedral, including our engagement with the wider community and activities and events throughout the year, and above all, the quality of worship that we are able to offer.”

From 1 January to 31 December 2018, however, fewer people attended cathedral services in England on a “usual” Sunday or midweek (outside of festivals, peak holiday season, and special occasions) than the previous year — 36,700 people per week in 2018 compared to 37,000 in 2017.

Overall weekly attendance at usual cathedral services has plateaued since 2013, when a 17 per cent increase was reported on the previous five years. Sunday and midweek attendance have been at a similar level since that time (about 50/50). This reflects an increase in midweek attendance since records began in 2000 to a peak of 19,400 in 2015.

The report compares attendance at Westminster Abbey, a Royal Peculiar, and Peel Cathedral. More than 2600 adults and 170 children attended midweek services at the Abbey – 1500 adults and 100 children on a Sunday — compared to 20 adults and no children during the week at Sodor and Man, where 80 adults and 20 children attended on Sundays.

In 2018, more people (592,000) attended regular services, which include Fresh Expressions and school services, than in 2017; most of this was down to an increase in school-service attendance, which has doubled since 2013. The report blames the 48 per cent drop in Fresh-Expressions services (from 13,800 in 2016 to 6600 in 2018) “almost entirely” on two cathedrals, which, it says, held fewer Fresh- Expressions services in 2017 and 2018 than in previous years.

Attendance at specially arranged services, which include diocesan services, irregular school services, and memorials, has declined by nine per cent in the past decade. The number of these services held has also decreased by 13 per cent since 2008.

The overall number of baptisms held in cathedrals decreased from about 840 in 2017 to 770 in 2018, although overall numbers have increased by eight per cent in the past decade. The 39-per-cent decline in infant baptisms (children under aged one) from 360 in 2008 to 220 in 2018 has been offset by an increase in the baptisms of people who are over the age of 13, which has doubled in the decade.

Fewer people are getting married in cathedrals: 250 marriages were held in 2018, 19 per cent fewer than 10 years ago. The number of marriage blessings and funerals has also declined in the past year. Attendance at public services, including graduation ceremonies, increased by almost ten per cent to 1.39 million in 2018, however, reflecting the additional 400 services held that year.

In 2018, there were almost 10 million visitors reported by cathedrals, continuing the small but steady increase in visitor numbers since 2013. Paying visitors accounted for 33 per cent of all visitors (3.2 million people) to cathedrals last year.

The Third Estates Commissioner, Dr Eve Poole, who chairs the Cathedrals Support Group, said: “We know from countless anecdotes that many who visit as tourists encounter something deeper, and cathedrals have been imaginative in creating more opportunities for people from all walks of life to cross their thresholds.”

More than 170,000 people visited Peterborough Cathedral over three months last year to see Tim Peake’s Soyuz space capsule. The Dean, the Very Revd Chris Dalliston, said that the spacecraft had “not only attracted large numbers of visitors, but also prompted questions about the relationship between science and faith and humanity’s place in the universe”.

The number of children and young people who attended organised educational events in cathedrals in 2018 was 324,000, higher than in the previous two years. The number of choristers and choir members has not changed since 2008, despite some fluctuations since then.

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