Church of England attendances 'stabilising'

Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, delivers an Easter Sunday sermon
Image caption Canterbury performed worst for average weekly service attendance

The long decline in Anglican churchgoing is levelling off, the Church of England has said.

A spokesman said average weekly attendances overall fell by 0.3%, to about 1.1 million in 2011, representing a "stabilising" of attendance figures.

The figures also suggested a continuing large presence of "nominal" Anglicans - those who believe in God but only go to church occasionally.

Christmas churchgoing rose by 14% and the number of baptisms also rose.

The annual Church of England statistics also showed an increase in cathedral attendances.

Biggest drop

The diocese where the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, presides saw the biggest drop in average weekly and Sunday worship figures.

Canterbury had a 9.5% drop in average weekly church service attendance between 2010 and 2011, closely followed by Portsmouth with an 8.2% drop and Durham with an 8% decline.

The Canterbury diocese also saw a fall of 8.3% for average Sunday attendance, followed by Portsmouth with a 7.8% fall and Durham with a 7.1% fall over the same period.

The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, left his post at the end of last year to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. His successor, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, was enthroned in March.

The top three dioceses for growth in average weekly attendance during the same period were Southwell and Nottingham with a 10.7% increase, Norwich - identified in the 2011 Census as the least religious local authority in England and Wales - with attendence up 9.1% and Ripon and Leeds with a 7.4% rise.

The top dioceses to register a rise in average Sunday attendance were Southwell and Nottingham, up by 8.8%, Lincoln, up by 4.8% and Blackburn, up by 4.4%.

Weddings and funerals

The figures showed a 14.5% increase in Christmas attendance between 2010 and 2011, reaching a total of more than 2.6 million.

A spokesman for the Church of England said the rise was partly attributable to poor weather on Christmas Day in 2010.

But he added that figures from last year suggested another increase in Christmas attendance, indicating that churchgoing at Christmas was growing in popularity.

The number of christenings increased by 4.3% and was accompanied by a rise of just over 5% in adult baptisms, the figures showed.

Thanksgivings for the birth of a child also rose by 11.9%.

Weddings saw a slight decrease of 3.6% in 2011, to 51,880, whilst the number of wedding blessings - services of prayer and thanksgiving following a civil ceremony - was up by 4.5%.

Church of England clergy and lay ministers conducted 162,526 funerals in 2011, a fall of 2.8% on the previous year.

'Heartening' figures

The Rt Rev Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, said: "These figures are a welcome reminder of the work and service undertaken by the Church of England annually - 1,000 couples married, 2,600 baptisms celebrated and over 3,000 funerals conducted every week of the year.

"The attendance figures are heartening, especially the very strong growth in Christmas Day attendance.

"The encouraging news of further growth to come even on these high figures is very welcome and points to a growing trend.

"Also welcome is the stabilising of the numbers of those who attend church services on a weekly basis.

"With almost half of our dioceses showing growth, there is a quiet confidence underlying these figures."

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