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'The poor have been abandoned': Church closures hit low income areas harder, says report

by Heather Preston

A new report has found significantly more churches have closed in low income areas than in affluent ones in the past decade.

Research from Church Action on Poverty revealed a disproportionate affect on poor communities when churches in the UK have shut their doors.

The three year study - Church On The Margins - examined closures across Greater Manchester over the past ten years.

The main five Christian denominations (Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches) involved in the research cited declining attendance; buildings costs and repair and a lack of clergy as contributing factors to church closures.

Of the denominations, only the United Reformed Church had more closures in affluent areas.

Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty tells Premier he's concerned that churches are favouring the wealthy.

"Churches are effectively withdrawing from low income communities. And if that trend continues for the next 10 or 20 years, then it's really about abandoning communities."

Cooper says there's a stark contrast between the "immense faith and resilience" of those living on the margins and the churches serving them.

"The people themselves, are amazing. When we went to speak to them, I always came back inspired by how people - in spite of their challenging life circumstances - have deep faith and love their church but don't feel that the institutions are really supporting them.

"The broader context is, these are communities where lots of things close now...and people then feel abandoned and left behind.

"It's really important that the Church fights against that. It says no, we are not going to abandon communities, we will stick with you, we will invest in you, we will ensure that the people of faith in that community are resourced and supported."

The Methodist Church has committed over £6 million to its own ‘Church at the Margins’ programme missional activities led by people and churches on the margins over five years.

The Church of England has committed substantial funding via its ‘Low Income Areas Fund’.

Church Action on Poverty has called for greater transparency on Diocesan spending and its benefits to communities whilst imploring other denominations "to make substantial long-term resource commitments to churches and communities on the margins, as the Gospel priority for the church over the next decade.”

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