Sunday, May 21, 2006

Cathedrals continue to reach upwards

19 May 2006

Attendance levels at regular weekly services in Church of England cathedrals have risen by a total of 21 per cent since the turn of the millennium – that’s a rate of almost four per cent each year.

Encouraging figures released today show that at Sunday services alone, 15,800 adults and 2,500 children and young people are usually present in the country’s cathedrals, while over the whole week the figures rise to 24,300 and 6,600 respectively. Cathedrals are key places of daily Christian worship outside Sundays too, attracting a further 50 per cent of adult attendees and more than doubling the number of children over the whole week.

When it comes to the major Christian festivals, more than 120,000 people attended services in cathedrals on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in 2005, while services over the whole Christmas period attracted national attendances of 722,000. This represents an increase of 28 per cent since 2000, confirming anecdotal evidence from individual cathedrals published earlier this year. 2005 also marked a 3 per cent increase in the numbers attending cathedrals over the Easter weekend, compared to the 2000 figure.

Cathedral attendances on these two major Christian festivals average approximately 2,900 and 1,200 respectively for each cathedral - and for many cathedrals it is only space restrictions that continue to limit attendance levels.

Learning environments

A steadily increasing number of children attend educational events at cathedrals each year, with the latest figures showing that 281,000 children took part in such an event in 2005. 1,900 children and adults are also involved week by week in continuing cathedral music traditions, a figure that has been consistently at this level since 2000.

Over the last five years, the number of volunteers involved in the mission and ministry of cathedrals on a regular basis has steadily increased by more than 1,600 to 13,300 - around 320 volunteers for every cathedral.

Visitor numbers in line with national trends

Almost nine million people visited an English cathedral in 2005, a fall of 8.4 per cent against 2004. This reflects positively against the backdrop of national tourism trends, with the drop in the number of UK residents making domestic tourist trips falling 16 per cent between 2003 and 2004 (2005 figures unavailable). Separate figures suggest that the number of visits to major tourist-attracting cathedrals are in line with trends of those at other UK visitor attractions.

The Revd Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics for the Church of England, suggests that the cause of the trend is uncertain: “It is difficult to pinpoint the reason behind this, although tourism sources suggest that fears about terrorist attacks, the Iraq war and the threat of avian flu have all made a particular impact on the number of visits made to tourist destinations in the UK over the past few years. Some have suggested that cathedrals may have been affected by the publicity surrounding the small number which have been forced to introduce a charge for visitors.”

The increased need for voluntary donations from visitors is largely due to the huge maintenance costs of these historic buildings to keep them open for visitors as well as worshippers – a cost that, apart from the £1m English Heritage grant funding available each year to share between all Church of England cathedrals and Roman Catholic cathedrals, is born purely by donations.

Lynda Barley comments: “Cathedrals are successfully attracting all sorts of people, the young and those older, to explore the spiritual story they offer in many different ways. English cathedrals occupy a unique place in the Christian heritage of England and the increasing voluntary support on which they rely deserves more widespread recognition.”


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