The Telegraph, September 3, 2023
England’s established church is in deep trouble. An investigation by this paper has revealed that almost 300 Anglican parishes have disappeared in the past five years, the fastest rate of closure since records began. In less than 30 years, the Church of England has lost more than half its regular worshippers. In 1995 average Sunday church attendance still stood at almost 1.1 million; it was down to just over 700,000 in 2019. As with so much else, the Covid lockdowns greatly exacerbated existing trends; attendance now stands at barely over 500,000.
The Church of England’s problems are not entirely a product of wider social trends outside of its control. The decision to close down so many parishes is its own. The hierarchy argues that it is the inevitable result of falling numbers, but the leadership’s internal critics point out that people won’t go if there isn’t a convenient church open. Offering spiritual solace to parishioners should always take precedence over apologising for slavery, catastrophising over climate change or other modish concerns that are perhaps taking up too much of the Church’s time.
Rev Marcus Walker, Rector at St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London, argues that these decisions mean “the death knell is ringing for the Church we love and serve”. This should concern those of all faiths and none. Anglicanism has been perhaps the cornerstone of this nation’s collective identity. Without it, to quote Philip Larkin writing in another context, “And that will be England gone”.