A huge increase in the number of people attending Christmas services at England's Cathedrals has been recorded, according to a survey by the Times newspaper.
While similar surveys in recent years seemed to suggest a desperate and irreversible decline for many churches, this year's survey reveals a dramatic turnaround. Many of the congregations in the UK’s most historic buildings were larger than in Christmas 2019, before the pandemic.
During lockdown, churches and Cathedrals were forced to close their doors, and thousands of pews lay empty - gathering dust. But according to the data from last December, for the first time in years, at least two Cathedrals turned people away because they’d run out of space.
Simon Warburton, Executive Director of Lichfield Cathedral, told Premier they’re delighted to have seen a 10 per cent increase in attendance from 2019 to 2023 and an even more stark 20 per cent rise from 2021/22 to the figures this Christmas.
No reason has been given for the sudden rise, but Warburton believes people still turn to church as a source of stability when life is challenging, as it has been:
“COVID was difficult. War in Europe is difficult. The cost of living crisis is difficult. Christmas can be difficult. But actually coming to a cathedral that has stood for centuries, and will stand for long after we have been here… ‘grounds’ people. It puts people somewhere, they feel safe.”
The Times’ Religion and Science correspondent, Kaya Burgess, writes that Christmas Eve carol service at Lincoln Cathedral “reached full capacity for the first time in several years”, while, “Gloucester Cathedral was also full to its limit for its two carol services and also ‘unfortunately had to turn people away’”, and Worcester Cathedral reported a “record Christmas” for attendance.
Warburton told Premier it’s an encouraging sign, and they’re already thinking about next Christmas, in case the trend continues, “The discussions we're having now is thinking… do we actually double up on some of the services because they are increasing in number? And that's a really lovely position to be in.”
The Dean of Lichfield, the Right Rev Jan McFarlane, told the Times: “Our experience this Christmas leads us to conclude that we shouldn’t be nailing down the lid on the Church of England’s coffin any time soon.”