In the grip of the pandemic and its declining relevance in society, the Church of England is struggling to keep the faithful from going astray.
Perhaps for the first time in a thousand years, the number of people claiming to be Christians in England and Wales is close to falling below 50%, according to data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) -United.
Earlier this month, the 2011 census figures were updated and the picture they paint is grim for the future of Christians in the country.
In 2011, nearly 60 percent of people identified as Christians. Now that figure is only 51 percent. Additionally, the 2021 census results are widely believed to represent a further drop in those numbers, likely making England and Wales a predominantly non-Christian nation.
In an attempt to stop the decline in the number of worshipers, the Church has spent more than $ 335 million on a “renewal and reform“program between 2017-2020, apparently without much success.
The Church of England, which represents most Christians and churches across the country, called the challenge “serious and deeply rooted.”
From challenges the Church faces is an aging congregation (the average age of the church attended is 61), a decline in the number of salaried members of the clergy, a lack of vision among some members of the clergy to create a “brighter future”, a lack of leadership to consider future challenges and institutional inertia.
The Church of England, founded over 500 years ago, sits atop some of the country’s most prestigious real estate grounds.
In addition to this, the Church of England advantages state grants that mean millions of dollars are spent on maintaining some of the country’s most iconic, culturally significant and architecturally rich buildings.
Money is therefore not much of an issue for the Church of England. So what is driving this seemingly inexorable decline for an institution that has been so central to the fabric of the nation?
Go to any English city center and visitors encounter cathedral totem poles that have shaped the spiritual landscape for centuries.
Their greatness, however, is no longer matched by a congregation.
A average congregation in any given week in an Anglican church, he was only 27 years old in 2019, and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down much of daily life for the past two years .
According to the Church’s own figures, the Covid-19 pandemic has catalyzed the downward trend in attendance.
Earlier this year, the Church of England predicted that the pandemic could see nearly 20% of the faithful not returning to the Church, which would be one of the most dramatic declines in Church history.
The pandemic has also resulted in a 20% drop in donations, which has made many churches financially viable, which in turn will likely lead to a decline in the number of paid clergy.
All faiths are not the same
While the Church of England has seen a decline in attendance, evangelical Christian groups have gone to the opposite direction.
Known for their lively and exuberant gatherings, they attracted a younger cohort or followers. Less stifling and devoid of ceremonial pomp, they won over a group of people eager to live the faith differently.
And while England may become less Christian, she does not necessarily become less religious.
A die the fastest growing faiths in England are Islam. Between 2001 and 2009, Islam grew ten times faster than most other faith groups. A mix of conversation, higher birth rates and migration have contributed to this sharp increase.
In some cases abandoned churches have even been converted into mosques and, in a sense, staying true to the original intent of the buildings.
Can the Church of England take a break?
A study examining the impact of churches on British society found that “old churches, with their spiritual atmospheres and social activity, are worth Â£ 55 billion in economic and social value to the UK each year”.
Would English cities be worse without these great constructions in the power of faith? A growing number of activists seem to believe so and, in the process, seek to nudge an institution that permeates conservatism to adapt and meet the challenges it faces.
More and more Church of England parishes are opening up to be healthier community centers and establish pantries for those who are struggling to make ends meet.
In order to demystify its image, a Church has even become a post office.
But such is the challenge facing the Church that such measures alone may not be enough. Divine intervention could be the Church of England’s last and best hope.
Source: TRT World