Anglicans Fear UK Church Faces Extinction

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NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, England -- Anglican leaders in the United Kingdom are concerned about the future of the Church of England.

They say the next 20 years will decide if it survives or dies out.

While many Anglican churches are in decline, some are not giving up without a fight.

Dwindling Attendance

At St. Swithuns Church in Retford, services have dropped to a maximum of 20 people, most of them retired.

St. Swithuns Team Rector Rev. Tony Walker said the biggest challenge is that people no longer feel a commitment to be a regular part of the church community.

"There are plenty of people who still see St. Swithuns as their church, but it's their church that they don't come to very often," he said. "But they want it there for weddings and funerals and baptisms."

Church members are unhappy seeing their congregation reduced to such low numbers.

"I remember as a young boy this church was absolutely packed with people where as now there's only a handful. So that obviously makes you a little bit sad," one congregant said.

"Well I think a lot of it's got to do with families not being as they were and also there's so many things now," another churchgoer added. "When I was growing up we all went as a family to church, but now people go shopping."

Aging Members

Anglican leaders have warned that without new members, the Church of England will cease to exist in 20 years as the current generation of elderly worshippers dies.

The average age of its members is now 61. By 2020 a crisis of "natural wastage" will lead to their numbers falling through the floor.

The warnings follow an internal report calling for an urgent national recruitment drive to attract more members.

During the past 40 years, the number of adult churchgoers has halved, while the number of children attending regular worship has declined by 80 percent.

Many believe the key reason for the decline is an increasingly secular society that sees the Church as irrelevant, particularly to young people.

"I think they've got to open up to the 21st century, because to attract more people," one U.K resident said. "You've got to have a kind of worship that people will enjoy and want to come to."

"People perceive them to be boring and people perceive them to be hypocritical," another added. "And I think the church needs to be honest and open with people."

Bad News for the Good News?

But Paul Butler, bishop of Nottingham and Southwell, said the news isn't all bad.

"The Church of England is in fact growing in at least one-third of its churches. Across the board we are seeing growth in all age groups," he explained.

"But we also do have a serious issue of some churches which are declining and have been declining quite seriously," he said.

"So we have a mixed scenario," Butler continued. "Some churches growing, some churches holding steady, and some which are facing decline."

The All Hallows Church in London faced imminent closure with only seven members remaining. Even the local Muslim community wanted to buy the building.

But within a year, their new vicar Rev. Cris Rogers helped turn things around. The church has multiplied tenfold to around 70 members.

"The agenda was we're going to... teach the Good News of what it's like to be in a relationship with Him," Rogers said.

"And we're wanting to be a church that is an explosion of joy, an embodiment of the good news," he said.

"I think it's actually becoming part of the community has really helped," one All Hallows member said. "Actually going to meet people in the surrounding area."

--Published Nov. 4, 2011.

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CBN News
Peter Wooding

Peter Wooding

CBN News United Kingdom Correspondent

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