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'Don't worry about declining numbers, resurrection is our story' says vicar as CofE Sunday congregations dwindle

by Donna Birrell

Sunday church attendance has fallen by 20 per cent since 2019, according to analysis of Church of England data by The Telegraph.

It has said the Church’s latest Statistics for Mission 2022 report, showed that across the country, usual Sunday church attendance was at 81 per cent of 2019 levels.

It suggested that over 133,000 regular parishioners had not returned to the Church in those three years, despite the end of lockdown restrictions.

Canon Fr Jack Noble, rector of St Gules Cripplegate in the City of London told Premier he hasn’t noticed a drop in numbers attending his Sunday services and cautioned against reading too much into the figures:

“I think there’s always a more nuanced picture, I suspect that because of the pandemic a lot of people lost the habit of going to church, or some of those wonderful, older, faithful people who were vulnerable of a pandemic, maybe they sadly died and they’re now worshipping in the greater light rather than with us on a Sunday morning. But I also know a lot of people who started going to church, as soon as the pandemic ended.

“This kind of story comes up almost every year, the spiral of decline, people aren't going to church anymore.”

The figures only relate to attendances at Church of England Sunday services.

Canon Noble said:“Lots of other denominations don't keep and register numbers in the same way, so I guess we're the obvious place to go to if you want a story about numbers.

“I don't think we need to infect ourselves with anxiety about these things. We've been here before, we know that the bigger trend at the moment in European history and our part of the world is one of decline of a certain kind of image of the Church. But actually, we've been here before. We have death and resurrection as our story and renewal in God's faithfulness. So I'm not worried about the decline in a certain kind of Church. I think instead, the exciting question is, ‘where is God leading us’?

“There are so many reasons to take you away from church on Sunday morning. People work really hard midweek, and they want to go away at the weekend. There are lots of people who in trying to do the best for their children, stock their children's weekend with an amazing carousel of extracurricular activities. And actually, I think it's our job to remind people that going to church on a Sunday is not the option you do when there's nothing else to do, actually, it's a graceful invitation to plug into a life changing community”.

Highlighting special part of church attendance, Canon Noble said: “You can't receive Holy Communion anywhere else but in church and day by day, week by week [you’re] receiving Holy Communion. Plugging back into God's grace and love in the Eucharist, with the people of God with the body of Christ is a transformative encounter. It may not always feel terribly exciting, but it is the most amazing way of living your life.”

Responding to The Telegraph’s analysis, a Church of England spokesman said that the latest statistics showed “our parishes did everything they could to return to normal life in that year following the huge disruption of 2020 and 2021 caused by the pandemic.

“However, we know that 2022 was not free of the impact of Covid, indeed official figures suggest that Covid rates were higher in October 2022 than in 2021.

“There is unprecedented investment in mission and ministry taking place in the Church of England of £3.6 billion up to 2031.”


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