[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] As Church of England cathedrals reported a record increase in visitors, they have been hailed as places “for all, and for fresh encounters”.
In the report, published this week, cathedrals reported nearly ten million visitors in 2018, an increase of over 10 per cent on the previous year. There were also over a million visitors to Westminster Abbey.
The major Christian festivals also grew with Easter congregations reaching a record high, with 58,000 people attending a cathedral at Easter and 95,000 during Holy Week – the highest numbers recorded for a decade.
Third Estates Commissioner, Dr Eve Poole, who leads the Church of England’s Cathedrals Support Group, said: “We are proud that our cathedrals are a precious resource not only for the church but for the nation as well.
“We know from countless anecdotes that many who visit as tourists encounter something deeper, and cathedrals have been imaginative in creating more opportunities for people from all walks of life to cross their thresholds.”
Over the summer several cathedrals hit the headlines for their quirky art installations which ranged from a helter skelter at Norwich Cathedral to a mini golf course in Rochester which drew the crowds but also led to criticism.
Cathedrals reported a total of 37,000 people worshipping each week in 2018, marking an increase of around 14 per cent over the past 10 years. They also welcomed the highest ever number of children and young people for educational events. In 2018, 340,000 young people from nursery through to 18+ attended events at cathedrals and at Westminster abbey.
Adrian Dorber, Dean of Lichfield and Chair of the Association of English Cathedrals, described the latest statistics as pleasing, but warned against complacency.
“We continue to try and find ways that offer spiritual nurture and hospitality to people who have never had much contact with the Church or with organised religion,” he said.
“There is a place for a creative interpretation of big events and anniversaries - whether that’s the Armistice, Easter, Advent or the Moon Landing - and by opening up our great sacred spaces for such encounters, it opens up opportunities for new conversations and new dialogues; it welcomes, it challenges, it engages our communities and allows us to reach new audiences and that says something about cathedrals being a place for all, and a place for fresh encounter."
Dean of Leicester, David Monteith, where attendance continues to grow, said there had been no single factor behind the increase, but that the cathedral had improved publicity, developed hospitality, invested in music and built relationships across the city and county.
“We are increasingly trusted to offer worship which is inspirational and inclusive; it is both ‘classic cathedral’ yet imaginative and challenging,” he said.
“We draw from the riches of our faith directing us to God and yet we address the lived experience of our people today.”
Next year, will see new pilgrimage routes opened-up as part of ‘Year Cathedrals; Year of Pilgrimage’, a project in collaboration between the British Pilgrimage Trust and the Association of English Cathedrals. The initiative will ensure there is a one-day pilgrimage route for every Church of England Cathedral, in addition to a group of six new trails in the north east.