|Ripon Cathedral Watchnight Service 2011|
from the Cathedral Facebook Wall
Some good news! An article by Peter Oborne in the Telegraph, today, seems to support the impression one has from taking Christmas services - a creeping up of the number of people coming to worship at Christmas and over the New Year. Certainly, at Ripon Cathedral there were 400+ for midnight Communion at Christmas, 1,300 for the Boxing Day pilgrimage and over 600 for the Watchnight service on New Year's Eve, followed by a pretty decent number on Sunday morning when people were obviously not just sleeping off hang-overs and late nights. There has been a steady, gradual increase over the past few years. This seems encouraging in a fairly sparsely populated area (200,000+) where there have also been good attendances at many parish churches over the Christmas period. Of course, there are also lots of services where many churches simply don't count heads over Christmas - all the carol services, Christingle and school services, for example. We should keep records that include these, too, instead of just recording numbers at services of Holy Communion.
Oborne (whose wife is a priest at a London church) is writing from the London perspective where church attendances are growing more rapidly that in other areas of the country, but my own view is that certain kinds of worship are engaging more people in worship and these can vary a great deal from place to place. Cathedrals and churches with choral traditions are increasing their numbers; so are churches which have a number of smaller, shorter services for different kinds of worshippers; churches that are experimenting with non-traditional times and days seem to be drawing new worshippers in - Saturday and Sunday late afternoon, for example; 'cafe church' is very popular in a number of our town and rural churches. Oborne suggests that it is easier to grow your congregation where there is 'one church, one vicar'. While that may be superficially true, in fact I think it is the warmth of welcome and the quality of the care taken over worship that count - it may be easier to ensure these things happen where there is a single priest, but that isn't necessarily so. Well organised multi-parish benefices where there is a committed, sometimes quite small team of people involved can achieve these things, too!