The number of people attending worship in Church of England cathedrals at Christmas last year has broken records for the second consecutive year, according to figures released today. The statistics show that some 135,000 people went to Church of England cathedrals to worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 2017 – the highest total since the C of E began collecting statistics; and up three per cent on 2016, which was itself a record high.
The C of E said that attendances at Sunday worship in cathedrals throughout the year “also continued to hold steady over a five-year period”. Average weekday attendances continued their pattern of increase, with just over 18,000 attending in 2017, compared with 7,000 in 2000 when this data was first recorded. Over the past 10 years, the total number attending all regular services in cathedrals has increased by 10 per cent.
“While year-on-year changes to Advent and Christmas attendance can be affected by the number of Sundays in Advent and the day on which Christmas falls, numbers attending cathedrals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have increased by 13 per cent over the past 10 years, evidencing sustained growth”, the C of E said in a statement.
The figures also show that more than 10 million people visited cathedrals - including Westminster Abbey, which is a royal peculiar rather than a cathedral – in 2017, with fewer paying for entry than in previous years.
The figures paint an up-beat picture of cathedral life, they include:
- An increase in the number of “life events” such as baptisms, memorial services, marriages and blessings of marriage all increased in numbers: there was a nine per cent year-on-year increase in the number of baptisms (up 70).
- Cathedrals report having around 1,000 more volunteers in 2017 compared with the previous year.
- There was a three per cent year-on-year increase in the number of young people attending educational events in cathedrals – a total of 318,000 children and young people.
- Some 1.3 million people attended around 5,300 civic services and events.
- Cathedrals hosted 290 university graduation ceremonies in 2017, attended by some 289,000 people.
- Around 900,000 people attended special one-off cathedral events in 2017, including 29 Beacon Events for the Thy Kingdom Come global wave of prayer.
The Crib service at Worcester Cathedral.
“Year after year our cathedrals continue to have enormous appeal to worshippers and visitors”, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, the C of E’s lead bishop for cathedrals, said. “They are awe-inspiring buildings, places to explore faith and encounter God – and centres of learning, outreach, service to the community and civic life.
“This year they will be at the heart of the nation’s commemorations for the centenary of the end of the First World War.
“Christmas is a natural opportunity for people to re-connect with their church or cathedral, and the growth in numbers of those doing so over the past ten years is very encouraging. We hope that still more people will have the joy of rediscovering the Christmas story in a cathedral or church in 2018, and our campaign #FollowTheStar is all about helping them to do so. Everyone can be assured of a very warm welcome.”
The Dean of Lichfield, Adrian Dorber, is the Chair of the Association of English Cathedrals. He welcomed the figures, saying: “Cathedrals minister in a culture that is more and more diverse, spiritually attuned, but religiously unaffiliated. They offer a mixture of absolute reliability, being open every day, and missionary enterprise.
“We attract large numbers of committed and skilled volunteers and the public likes to visit not only at Christmas and for national commemorations but also for events, performances and exhibitions where they are free to think new thoughts, wonder, reflect and pray.
“Much of our outreach work through education and music is reaching bigger numbers of schools and students year on year and it’s good to be able to help a rising generation with their discovery of their talents and knowledge”, he said. “Cathedrals aren’t complacent about what opportunities lie before them, but these statistics accurately portray where they are making an impact and what they are trying to do.”
The Choir of Norwich Cathedral during a Christmas service in 2017.
Photo: Paul Hurst
One of the cathedrals to witness a large increase is Ely, near Cambridge. It experienced a 31 per cent increase in worshippers in advent between 2015 and 2017 following an increased focus and promotion of services and activities for children and families. This included a Christmas tree lights service and another service at the city’s Christmas Fair.
“Christmas is a very special part of the year for Christians”, the Dean of Ely, Mark Bonney, said, “and we have made an extra effort to share what we do, especially via social media, encouraging sharing not just in the beautiful offerings from our choirs, but also as an invitation to share in worship together”.
This year, Peterborough Cathedral hosted the Soyuz space capsule which bought British astronaut Tim Peake back to earth following a stint on the International Space Station. The three-month temporary exhibition saw some 58,000 visitors descend on the cathedral in the space of just one month – a 600 per cent increase on the same period the previous year.
Christmas at Worcester Cathedral.