Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour

May 8, 2008 by

By Ruth Gledhill, The Times Church attendance in Britain is declining so fast that the number of regular churchgoers will be fewer than those attending mosques within a generation, research published today suggests. The fall – from the four million people who attend church at least once a month today – means that the Church of England, Catholicism and other denominations will become financially unviable. A lack of funds from the collection plate to support the Christian infrastructure, including church upkeep and ministers’ pay and pensions, will force church closures as ageing congregations die. In contrast, the number of actively religious Muslims will have increased from about one million today to 1.96 million in 2035. According to Religious Trends, a comprehensive statistical analysis of religious practice in Britain, published by Christian Research, even Hindus will come close to outnumbering churchgoers within a generation. The forecast to 2050 shows churchgoing in Britain declining to 899,000 while the active Hindu population, now at nearly 400,000, will have more than doubled to 855,000. By 2050 there will be 2,660,000 active Muslims in Britain – nearly three times the number of Sunday churchgoers. The research is based on analysis of membership and attendance of all the religious bodies in Britain, including a church census in 2005. Coming just months after the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that the introduction of aspects of sharia into British law was unavoidable, the report is likely to fuel calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Martin Salter, the Labour MP for Reading West and a member of Reading inter-faith group, said: “I think all faiths could be treated equally under our constitution. These figures demonstrate the absurdity of favouring one brand of Christianity over other parts of the Christian faith and the many other religions that grace our shores.” Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary with responsibility for community cohesion, said: “We will look at these findings very closely. Britain is a secular democracy with a strong Christian tradition but many faiths have a home in Britain.” The report makes it clear that Christianity is becoming a minority religion. It also reflects the changing nature of religious practice worldwide and will further aid the stated aim of the Prince of Wales who, on his Coronation, hopes to become Defender of Faith rather than Defender of the Faith. Only in the large, evangelical churches of the Baptist and independent denominations is there resistance to the trend, but many of these churches also show some decline. One small area of growth is in Northern Ireland, where the enthusiasm of Pentecostals and other independents has led to a slight increase in numbers of churches – a trend expected to continue to 2050. The three growing denominations are the Orthodox, Pentecostals and smaller denominations, all dependent to a degree on immigration. The crisis is particularly acute for Methodists and Presbyterians, as many worshippers are aged over 65. The report predicts that these churches might well have merged with others by 2030....

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A commitment to keep faith in the public space

Apr 17, 2008 by

By Ruth Gledhill for Timesonline The Pope’s visit to the US is testimony to one of the most unexpected transformations that has taken place in the public image of a religious leader. It goes hand in hand with the renewed importance of faith in public life in the West, in an era when predictions of its decline or even extinction have notably failed to materialise. Benedict XVI took office three years ago with a fearsome reputation as John Paul II’s doctrinal enforcer. Liberal Roman Catholics in the West, in particular in Britain and the US, already suffering a loss of confidence because of the scandals over paedophile priests, trembled further. As indicated by his first two encyclicals, on love and hope, Joseph Ratzinger the “rottweiler” has become “Benedict the benign”. He has admitted that he is “deeply ashamed” of the sexual abuse scandals that have devastated the US Church in particular. Much of his time in his six days in America will be spent with cardinals and bishops, helping to restore their confidence as Christian leaders in a nation where churchgoers see themselves, as in Britain, as fighting an unending battle against the tide of secularisation. But, beneath the Benedictine benignity, the steel remains. No one exemplifies better than the Pope the living out of the words Jesus spoke to His Apostles, recorded in Matthew’s Gospel: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The Pope’s wisdom is not in doubt. The speeches given by the Pope and President Bush on the lawn of the White House were mirror images of each other in their mutual commitment to faith in the public space, to the importance of the trend towards globalisation. Benedict lacks the showmanship of his predecessor, John Paul II, yet a phenomenal intelligence glows from his features like the more nuanced charisma he undoubtedly possesses. Beneath the Pope’s immaculate white attire, elegantly coiffed hair and eirenic presence rests still the tenacious man of faith who is determined beyond measure to fulfil God’s mission on His Earth in his role as successor to St Peter. Just as Tony Blair did not officially “do God” while Prime Minister but actually did it all the time in private, the Pope will not do politics in this critical election year for the US. But merely by his presence there, he will influence the political landscape. Methodists in Britain often tell me that they, of all the Christian denominations, are closer in spirit to Roman Catholics than any other. Hillary Clinton, a Methodist, can expect to receive a boost from the visit as she continues to win over the crucial Catholic vote. President Bush is a Methodist too. His brother Jeb, Governor of Florida, is a deeply committed Catholic convert. So, underlying the visit is a deep, mutual commitment to faith, truth and trust. And it is in that atmosphere that the hard questions will be delivered between...

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Judge rules for Virginia 'orthodox' – Ruth Gledhill

Apr 4, 2008 by

"It seems bizarre that TEC tried to argue there had been no division, apparently using the term ‘division’ so narrowly as ‘to effectively define the term out of existence,’ according to the judgement." Judge rules for Virginia ‘orthodox’ The Rev Martyn Minns is seen here at the press conference after his church, Truro in Fairfax, voted to affiliate with Nigeria in 2006. I never believed the subsequent statements from both sides that all attempts would be made to avoid legal action. The first important ruling about this and ten other parish secessions has been made, and seems to be on the side of the conservatives. However, before they claim a victory, they should be aware that there are several more legal hurdles to leap over and it seems unlikely in the end that the US courts will intervene in TEC affairs in this way. Also, the relevant statute in Virginia does not exist in other states where similar divisions have happened. So its long-term significance is unclear. The statute in question, numbers 57-9, states that if there is a division in a church, the church members can decide which branch of their religious society they wish to belong to. It also says that a majority in the congregation ‘may decide the right, title and control of all property held in trust for such congregation.’ It is worth looking in a little more detail at what the judge said. There are some useful links on Thinking Anglicans along with a report in the Washington Times, which has a headline that might be a little optimistic for the conservatives at present. The court decided that a particular statute in Virginia law may be invoked because TEC is a church, because the congregations concerned are ‘attached’ to the diocese, TEC and the Anglican Communion and because there had been a ‘division’ in the church to which the CANA congregations were attached. The court found the Anglican Communion to be a ‘church’ and that the CANA congregations were attached to it. (I’ll cite this judgement next time a reader complains when I refer to the Anglican Communion as the Anglican Church!) TEC and the diocese had tried to argue that the Communion was not a church but ‘a family of churches’ and that the CANA parishes were not attached to it. It seems bizarre that TEC tried to argue there had been no division, apparently using the term ‘division’ so narrowly as ‘to effectively define the term out of existence,’ according to the judgement. But still, it will not be until a later date that the court decides on the ‘validity’ of the disaffiliation votes by the CANA congregations. Also, the validity of the arious actions taken by TEC and the diocese in response to the secessions will not be decided until a trial in October this year. How much is all this costing? How many bishops would this finance to go to Gafcon or Lambeth? Goodness knows. But one aspect of this judgement makes it extremely useful indeed. For anyone seeking to understand...

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