Church of England cathedrals saw rise in visitors, Easter attendance in 2018: report

St. Mary's Church at Woburn in southern England, May 15, 2015.
St. Mary's Church at Woburn in southern England, May 15, 2015. | Reuters/Toby Melville

Cathedrals affiliated with the Church of England saw an increase in visitors in 2018 and record attendance number for their Easter services, according to a report.

The Church of England’s Research and Statistics unit released a report late in November analyzing various activities at cathedrals from Jan. 1, 2018–Dec. 31, 2018.

The report found that around 9.8 million people visited cathedrals in 2018, with about a third of them either paying to visit or giving a donation. Westminster Abbey alone received more than 1 million visitors.

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This represented a 10 percent increase in visitors compared to 2017, and a slight increase from the 9.6 million visitors reported 10 years earlier in 2008.

The report found that 58,000 attended Easter worship services, making 2018 the highest year for Easter attendance when comparing annual figures back to 2008.

For Holy Week in 2018, total attendance was at 95,000. This was larger than the 94,000 in 2017, and the largest total attendance for Holy Week when comparing annual figures back to 2014.

Eve Poole, Third Estates Church Commissioner of the Church of England’s Cathedrals Support Group, said in a statement that she was “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,” Poole said, according to Anglican Communion News Services.

The report also found a slight decline in regular cathedral worship attendance, as 2018 had 36,700 people attending “usual cathedral services,” versus 37,000 in 2017.

According to NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey released in September 2017, 53 percent of Britons said they do not describe themselves as having a religious affiliation.

In response to the survey and other indicators of declining Christian belief in the United Kingdom, the Church of England has sought ways to better reach out to the general population.

For example, in 2018 the BBC reported that the Church of England was using Amazon's voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa to help people find local congregations and guide people in prayers.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev. Paul Bayes, told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that the Church of England is experimenting with several different outreach schemes.

“We in the church, and all who love the church, need to keep finding ways to show and tell those who say they have 'no religion' that faith — faith in the God who loves them still — can make that life-transforming difference for them and for the world,” Bayes said at the time.   

The report comes as some cathedrals have garnered controversy for installing an amusement park ride or a golf course inside the church in an attempt to lure visitors. Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary of Rochester installed a golf course in its nave in the summertime and Norwich Cathedral installed a helter-skelter carnival ride.

While the Rev. Canon Andy Bryant of Norwich justified the ride as helping visitors better view the Cathedral’s artwork, Anglican Bishop Gavin Ashenden said the decision was “a mistake.”

“For such a place, steeped in mystery and marvel to buy in to sensory pleasure and distraction, is to poison the very medicine it offers the human soul,” Ashenden told the BBC.

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