The Daily Telegraph reports (Britain is no longer a Christian nation) on the declining participation in the Church of England. Despite modest increases in church attendance for Easter and Christmas, congregations continue to decline, at around 1% a year. The article claims this makes it unlikely that the Church will survive 30 years from now, though I don’t know on what evidence that is based.
Fortunately for the C of E, the size of donations has increased as the number declines – but this may not be able to cope with the large infrastructure they need to maintain. More statistics in the article:
- Church closures expected to rise from 30 to 200 a year in five years’ time
- The church has to maintain 16,200 buildings, 4,200 of which are listed Grade I
- Baptisms into the C of E now at a record low of 128 per 1000 births (in 1900 this was 609)
The author of the article is Rt Rev Paul Richardson, the assistant Bishop of Newcastle. He clearly thinks the Church of England isn’t facing up to this threat in a realistic way. He worries that the Church of England may no longer deserve to be the established church, pointing out:
The reason offered for upholding establishment is usually that it gives the church a sense of responsibility to the whole nation. In practice it often looks as if the church is really trying to keep its special privileges on false pretences.
In fact, it’s increasingly looking as though Bishops will get the heave-ho from the House of Lords. A report, also from the Daily Telegraph – Bishops ‘could be banished from the House of Lords’ – indicated one option to be included in a paper to be published by Jack Straw will be for an entirely elected upper house:
One option under consideration is a move towards an all-elected upper house. In the new, elected House of Lords, there would be no seats reserved for Church of England bishops or any other religious leaders.
The more likely option however is a partly elected upper house, a proposition which will find more favour with the Conservatives (and anyway, I suppose the next Government might well be Conservative):
A less radical option being discussed is for an 80 per cent elected Lords, with the remaining seats reserved for appointed members and others such as the bishops.
Advocates of the 80 per cent option say it would allow the Lords to retain the expertise of some of the distinguished academics, scientists, lawyers, medics, economists and generals who now sit as life peers.
But it’s not clear how much longer the Church of England can claim the right to be the established church. Not is it obvious to me as an atheist where bodies like the Church of Scotland fit the picture. And above all, I worry what’s filling the vacuum left by the decline in participation in the main churches – it doesn’t seem to me that people are necessarily moving towards secularism, but rather towards fringe religions and new-age claptrap. At least that’s the sort of impression one gets reading surveys of belief and evolution run by organisations such as Theos.