Thursday, December 21, 2006

Church of England Parishes follow cathedrals with bigger Christmas congregations

Parish churches are following the trend set by cathedrals in attracting more Christmas worshippers, according to counts taken in 2005. New figures released today by the Church of England show a six per cent increase in the Church of England’s overall Christmas Eve/Christmas Day congregations last year.

The first figures to come out of the 2005 collection of Church of England attendance data show the 2005 Christmas congregation at 2,785,800, an increase of 156,500 over 2004. It is the highest figure since Millennium celebrations drew in 2.85 million in 2000. Cathedrals saw their Christmas congregations grow by 14,000 last year, to 121,000. Parish congregations increased by more than 142,000. Christmas communicants also increased strongly, by four percent to 1,207,800

Cathedrals have seen a 28 per cent increase in Christmas Eve/Christmas Day congregations since 2000.

The figures do not include worshippers attending carol services held during Advent. Nearly three-quarters of a million people, for example, attend cathedral services over the whole Christmas period.

A survey in 2005 by Opinion Research Business found that 43 percent of people expected to attend a church service of one sort or another over the Christmas period. The figure has been steadily rising since the turn of the millennium from the 33 per cent found by ORB in 2001 and 39 per cent in 2003.

The Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester,(pictured above,left) said: "These increases in attendance continue to show that the Church of England is uniquely placed to welcome people back to church. There is clearly a desire for people to consider the spiritual aspects of life at key times throughout the year, times like Harvest, Remembrance Sunday and Christmas."

The Revd Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics, commented: "This encouraging news shows that churches across the country continue to be in touch with their local communities at this key time of year. A third of dioceses across the north and south, in both urban and rural areas, saw increases of 10 per cent or greater in attendance over the Christmas 24 hours last year. The increasing popularity of carol, nativity and other services underlines the evident importance of this Christian festival in the lifeblood of the nation."

Cathedrals are gearing up to welcome even more worshippers this Christmas. Last year saw a number, including Portsmouth, Southwell, Hereford and Lichfield, putting on extra services. This year, with more than 120,000 expected at cathedrals for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and nearly three-quarters of a million over the whole Christmas period, sees even more services announced, with Canterbury and St Paul’s leading the way.

In previous years, many more people than could be accommodated wanted to be part of the Christmas Eve Carol Service at St Paul’s. This year, there will be two, both sung by the Cathedral Choir, at 1.00pm and 4.00pm. Similarly, Canterbury Cathedral, concerned for the safety of the growing numbers of people attending, has arranged an extra Carol Service on December 23.

More than 20,000 are expected to visit the Church of England’s first online Advent Calendar – - with 17,200 having entered the calendar since it went live on Advent Sunday, December 3.


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