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Attendance figures from 2022 confirm cathedrals’ climb back from Covid lows

12 February 2024

Winchester Cathedral

A carol service at Winchester Cathedral in December

A carol service at Winchester Cathedral in December

CATHEDRAL attendance levels were higher in 2022 than in the previous year, confirming a bounce-back after the pandemic, the latest statistics show.

A weekly 28,200 people on average were reported to have attended cathedral services: 79 per cent more than in 2021, although still 24 per cent below 2019 levels, the last full year before the Covid pandemic.

The statistics gathered illustrated something of the scale and breadth of the ways in which cathedrals served their communities, and highlighted their significance in the lives of many, a senior statistical researcher for C of E data services, Dr Ken Eames, wrote in a foreword.

Data came from all 42 mainland Church of England cathedrals, and from Westminster Abbey (a Royal Peculiar). Among other things, the survey asked about Sunday attendance and midweek services, Easter and Christmas services, school visits, baptisms, marriages and funerals, musical activities, and volunteering.

Sunday attendance held fairly steady from 2000 to 2019. Reported midweek attendance rose from 7000 people a week in 2000, when first recorded, to a peak of 19,900 people a week in 2015, then remaining stable until 2019. Attendance at midweek services showed a sharper fall in 2020, and a faster recovery in 2021 and 2022, than Sunday attendance. Average adult attendance on a usual Sunday in 2022 was 292.

Attendance was also up at additional regular — at least monthly — services, in 2022, including fresh expressions and school services. At Easter and in Holy Week, there was a reported total attendance of 42,000, just under half being communicants. In all, 73,000 attendances were recorded in Holy Week services, compared with 104,000 at Christmas, of which one quarter were communicants.

A survey by The Times last month suggests that attendance at Christmas services in 2023 continued to increase (News, 26 January).

There were 600 baptisms in cathedrals in 2022, 260 marriages, and 340 funerals, plus an additional 150 memorial services. More marriage services were held in cathedrals than in 2019, reflecting a catching-up after the lifting of Covid restrictions.

Special events are also recorded. These include diocesan or episcopal services, such as annual festivals; irregular services for schools (such as end-of-term or end-of-year services); and others, excluding memorials. There were 2100 special events altogether, with an annual attendance of 584,000. When it came to public or civil events, graduation ceremonies recorded their highest number ever, at 530, attended by 434,000.

Cathedrals reported 8.2 million visitors in 2022, of whom 39 per cent were paying or donating visitors. Organised educational events for children and young people attracted a total attendance of 194,000; 22,900 students were reported to have attended cathedral schools or schools formally associated with cathedrals.

Servers, welcomers, stewards, flower arrangers, committee members, and others made up the 12,500 volunteers in 2022, when the cathedrals’ Community Roll stood at 13,000.

There were 165 choirs — the highest number reported to date — comprising 1500 youth choristers (79 of them girls) and 410 lay clerks. Voluntary choirs reported 1700 members, just under three-quarters of whom were adults, and 45 per cent of whom were women.

Overall, a total of 170 regular and 700 occasional musicians were reported as being involved in cathedral services.

Many cathedrals continued to offer Church at Home services, online, and by phone, post, email, and/or other means, which they initiated during the lockdown from March to July 2020, and during October 2020. Eighty-five per cent still offered Church at Home services in October 2022. Online services were the most frequently reported type.

Furthermore, the Statistics for Mission 2022 data showed all-age average weekly attendance, including Sunday and midweek services, as 654,000 — up from 605,000 in 2021, but still significantly lower than in 2019, the last year to be unaffected by the pandemic. The figure stood then at 854,000 (News, 10 November 2023).

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