Church of England cathedrals are getting ready to welcome more than 140,000 people through their doors for this year's run of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.
Hopes are high for an excellent turnout, following a 7.5 percent rise in worshipers between 2005 and 2006. Last year, cathedrals were filled close to capacity as 130,000 worshipers – a 37 percent increase since 2000 – flocked to services during the 24-hour Christmas period.
The cathedrals of Canterbury, London, Norwich, St. Albans and York each expect more than 5,000 adults, children and young people to join them for worship on Christmas Eve or Day this year, and deans and chapters are holding extra services and putting out even more seats this year to ensure that they meet the high demand.
The Rev. Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics for the Church of England, commented on the findings: "Rumors of the demise of Christmas as a Christian celebration are baseless. It won't be the experience of the thousands upon thousands who will be attending Christmas services this week.
"There will be standing-room only at many cathedrals and churches, as the dormant desire to recapture a sense of the wonder of the Nativity, to share with others in singing and praying, and to glimpse something of the spiritual meaning of the Christmas story draws people from across communities towards churches across the country."
The predictions for 2007 are based on figures released Monday by the Church of England from a survey of three cathedrals conducted over nine services last year by the Church of England in York Minster, Southwark Cathedral and Derby Cathedral.
The survey findings also suggest that Christians are using the cathedral services as a way of encouraging their friends to attend church, with more than a third of respondents saying they heard about the cathedral service from a friend. A quarter of those surveyed also said they had attended the service together with friends or neighbors.
The survey "demonstrates the magnetic draw of cathedrals at Christmas time for those who rarely attend church", the Church of England said, after half of the Christmas worshipers admitted in the survey to attending church less than once every three months.
While one in four surveyed had been to a cathedral over the year to attend a service, more than half of the Christmas congregations said they had visited a cathedral for another reason, such as sightseeing or quiet reflection.
Today's statistics "will be the star on top of the tree for cathedral deans and their congregations" which have enjoyed a run of success over the last seven years, the Church of England added.
Since the turn of the millennium, cathedral attendance throughout the year has risen by 17 percent – a rate of three percent each year.
Throughout 2006, the average weekly attendance in cathedrals included 24,800 adults and 6,800 children and young people. All services across the Church of England parishes attract about 1.2 million a week.
Figures earlier in the year showed that Easter Eve and Easter Sunday cathedral services also drew a higher turnout in 2006 of 52,400 – an increase of nine percent since 2000.
"The significant attraction of special occasions and major festivals is a welcome sign of the wider success of the year-round ministry of cathedrals," said Barley. "Many people feel an innate connection with their local cathedral as a symbol of the spiritual life of their community.
"The anonymity that can be maintained when worshiping with hundreds of other people within these historic buildings can act as a further pull for some people in deciding how to mark this special season of the year."