Why England's churches are empty

Why England's churches are empty

Nick Hallett

And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here among these dark Satanic Mills?
- William Blake, 1804

Easter Sunday may be the holiest day of the year for Christians, but this year more churches than ever found themselves with empty pews as the British public turn away from organised religion. What went wrong? Why, despite years of liberalisation and modernisation, are churches driving people away?

James Delingpole has written on why Christianity is dying in Britain. The statistics back up his analysis, revealing that churchgoers are turned off by trendy liberalism, moral relativism and endless arguments over the modernisers' pet projects such as female clergy.

In 2007, the Tearfund Trust, a Christian charity, published one of the most detailed ever reports on church attendance in the UK. It said that just 15 percent go to church at least once a month.

Yet it's not as if Britain has suddenly become a secular, atheistic country. According to the same survey, 58 percent of the population still profess to be Christian, while the 2011 Census put the figure at 59 percent.

Also, a huge proportion of those who don't attend church have been "de-churched", that is, they once regularly attended church but no longer go.

So in other words, despite decades of "modernising", of ditching difficult aspects of faith in order to become more "relevant", and of embracing "alternative lifestyles", Britain's churches are actually driving Christians away in record numbers.

A good example of how liberals have got things badly wrong is in their obsessing over the role of women in the church.

According to the Tearfund report, the number of men attending church has plummeted to a point where 65 percent of regular churchgoers are now female. Against the popular liberal conceptions, the website WhyChurch.org.uk says that this is because it is men, rather than women, who now feel most alienated by the churches.

Decades of fussing by senior clergy over the role of women, the creation of female priests and the constant arguing over women bishops, rather than attracting more women, have left men feeling excluded and sent them looking elsewhere.

This has been especially true for the Church of England, which created female priests in 1994 and has been arguing ever since over whether they should be allowed to become bishops.

The effect has been that Roman Catholicism, a denomination once outlawed in England, is now the most popular in terms on regular attendance. Average attendance at Sunday Mass was 861,000 in 2007, compared to 852,000 at Anglican services.

The figures for church closures are not much better. Since 1980, the Church of England has lost 14 percent of its churches. The Methodist Church, another denomination that has been overrun by liberalism, have lost a startling 43 percent of their church buildings in the same period. By contrast, the Catholic Church has remained relatively stable, losing just 1.4 percent of its churches.

All is not lost, however. There are still certain services that are attracting an enthusiastic, youthful audience who are as fervent in their faith as ever before. These are not the sort of services that the modernisers will be keen on, though.

Young "happy-clappy", socially conservative evangelicals remain strong in the Church of England while all other parts of the Established Church continue to decline. Meanwhile, many older Catholics have been surprised at the number of young people devoted to the traditional Latin Mass.

Despite decades of secularisation, not to mention mass immigration, Britain remains at heart a Christian kingdom. Its churches, however, have repeatedly shot themselves in the right foot by embracing fashionable opinions rather than remaining resolute in the face of modernity.

If they want to regain their former glory, they should follow Britain's young Christians in going back to old certainties, time-honoured traditions and absolute truths. It's not as if they can do much else any more.

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