Saturday, 9 September 2017

Opinion - 9 September 2017

Giles Fraser The Guardian The disestablishment of the church is now necessary and inevitable
Church Times Leader Comment Life with the ‘nones’
The above two articles comment on figures contained in the latest British Social Attitudes survey. Madeleine Davies has written about the figures for Church Times: Bishops unfazed by surge among the non-religious in latest British Social Attitudes survey.

Simon Butler ViaMedia.News In Praise of Activists…

Charles Clapham Unadulterated Love The House of Bishops’ proposed Teaching Document on Human Sexuality
[This is a consolidation of Dr Clapham’s comments on our article here.]

Jeremy Paxman Financial Times Jeremy Paxman on the Church of England’s fight to survive
As congregations dwindle, is the Church on the brink of extinction?
[You may find this article is behind a paywall; this has been happening to me intermittently.]

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Will the new Teaching document need to be approved by General Synod?

As the rejection of GS2055 in February showed, a document written for the worldwide Anglican communion rather than the people of England would not be guaranteed to be accepted.

Posted by: Ann Reddecliffe on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 12:14pm BST

The numbers issue is obviously by far the most important story of the year:

1. That the Church can only command the nominal adherence of 3% of the coming generation is terrifying.

2. The BTL glee of the secularists is, frankly, distressing. Note the uniformity of opinion in the Guardian and the near-uniformity in the Telegraph.

3. The game is up. The complacency of the bishops with respect to their news is either a front or else they have adopted a Louis XIV attitude – only the deluge is likely to arrive before many of them will collect their pensions.

4. Old people will not be replaced with new cohorts of old people, since disbelief amongst the middle aged is now the default position.

5. All that matters now is how best to secure the buildings as public spaces with a retained right of Christian usage. The current closure system – a species of institutional ad hoccery - frequently provides unsatisfactory outcomes (though it is arguably much better than it was). However, it is designed to cope with piecemeal closures rather than collapse. There needs to be a national process, and if the Church is to be disestablished then the ensuing financial settlement should vest a significant proportion of the wealth of the Church in the state, for the purpose of maintaining the buildings as a public benefit.

6. Whilst I am viscerally opposed to disestablishment, Giles Frasers’ Warburtonian argument is essentially unarguable. The question is whether it might be best to disestablish now, in order to get a good settlement whilst there is still an opening for one to be had. This was essentially how J. Arthur Price slowly won the Welsh bishops around to disestablishment with his ‘Bangor Scheme’: they would get a better financial deal from Lloyd George and McKenna if they quit fighting the inevitable, and so it was: the 1914 Act was less aggressive than the 1894 bill, and LG thrashed out a more accommodative financial deal with A. G. Edwards of St Asaph and John Owen of St Davids in 1919.

7. We can argue for ever about the causes of this shipwreck. Frankly, I’m bored with the arguments about sexuality; the positions taken by the Church in relation to sex/gender issues may have advanced or (more likely) retarded the cause of Christianity to some extent, but after c.1963 this demographic disaster was probably inevitable.

Posted by: Froghole on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 12:20pm BST

The other point I want to make is this: it is once advanced by the sadly forgotten Catholic scholar, Christopher Dawson (‘Enquiries’ (1933), ‘The Judgment of the Nations’ (1942), ‘Religion and Culture’ (1947), ‘Religion and the Rise of Western Culture’ (1950), etc. It was Dawson’s contention – in agreement with the atheist/agnostic Durkheim, Tylor, Weber, Frazer, etc. - that religion was the key to culture. He argued that Christianity appropriated some of the most useful parts of Greek culture and made it dynamic. The great advances wrought by the West were a function of that dynamism. However, those advances brought within their wake reason, then rationalism and its accompanying secularism: developments which perhaps initially enriched and then dissipated the initial dynamic. The impact of Christianity in the West is therefore akin to a spiritual supernova. Once Western society lost that initial dynamism it ceased to be on the winning track. And so, perhaps, it has proved. Now many may find Dawson’s contentions profound or tendentious and exaggerated, but it is striking how the fall of the Christian faith has worked in step with the progressive demographic, economic, political and cultural decline of European states. The collapse of the Anglican Church is surely representative of a more general disintegration of what it means to be British/English in a pluralistic, individualistic and multicultural society.

I don’t think that I am being unfair when I compare the cultural achievements of previous epochs over the course of the last millennium with those of today, and find the latter utterly wanting. We are today living in a largely trivial, infantile, synthetic, vapid and meretricious public culture: an age of plastic. Although a number of formidable works of science and scholarship have been produced over the last forty years, I am struggling to think of musical, literary, artistic or architectural productions in that time which equate with the range, velocity, profundity and excellence in those in, say, the 1910s, 1810s, 1710s, etc. Even cinema – and I have seen thousands of films at the BFI over the years – is generally far less interesting than it was before, say, 1980. When I think of ‘the culture’ today or of the interior lives of many of the people with whom I come into contact, the prevailing sense is one of anomie, of a concentration upon the immediate or the domestic. The rest is a blank. Is that progress?

Posted by: Froghole on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 12:46pm BST

At least Charles has the decency to state at the end of his piece why he is *opposed to the composition of the group* that are to write the Teaching Document of Human Sexuality - he supports redefining marriage away from that which Jesus taught.

Which why, IMHO, he and many other liberal campaigners will criticise every aspect of *any* group that disagrees with them, and why he claims that "In practice, a document which does not respond to the expectations of the majority of LGBTQI members of the Church of England, their families, friends and congregations, and to the perception of LGBTQI dignity and equality held by the majority of English citizens, will simply be ignored."

Somehow I doubt that he really believes it will be ignored if it rejects gay marriage and say that same-sex sex is a sin. Rather, in reality, I guess he will join in the predictable outcry from LGBTQI campaign groups, liberals, secularists and others who *do not actually believe in the freedom of religion* (to be "wrong") for the CofE to be made to perform gay weddings, or disestablished, or loose charitable status, etc etc

Posted by: RevDave on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 1:37pm BST

'But please, my fellow Anglicans, we need to go before we are no longer welcome.'

Sober comment from the Left.

I always wondered when this would arise from progressives and just what form it would take.

Posted by: crs on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 1:54pm BST

The hard part about reading Charles' excellent synopsis is the thought that the Church of England would become something other than I had understood it. I have used Paul Avis' definitions on Anglican Identity to explain how we are different from other churches, but the way the introduction of a teaching document might take us means that those distinctions are swept away. The subject up for 'teaching' is irrelevant, the method of achieving it isn't. I have had to come to the uncomfortably realization that if this becomes the way we do Anglicanism, then I wouldn't be able to call myself Anglican.

Posted by: Lavinia Nelder on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 2:33pm BST

"I wonder who / Will be the last, the very last, to seek / This place for what it was?"

Larkin may've been a professional black cloud, but here, his gloom's appropriate. The church is dying, and the part of me that believes we should let it die grows larger by the day.

Oh, it'll continue as a hip (or wannabe-hip) HTB/Willow Creek club for enthusiasts; and since I don't want to see Christianity share the fate it visited on paganism, I'm glad that at least someone's gonna keep a remnant alive.

But Christendom as-was, a national church in a Christian country, is done. Maybe Fraser's right (even a stopped clock), and Christianity's gonna rediscover its radical, counter-cultural roots. Or maybe not.

Either way, some apocalyptic scenario excluded (looking to you, Don), once technology pushed back our terror of death and opened new distractions, this process is probably unstoppable. I agree that the church's position on sexuality's, at most, of marginal importance. America's mainline churches are, as evangelicals never tire of pointing out, both in with the zeitgeist, & in likely-terminal decline.

So what's left?

"A serious house on serious earth it is, / In whose blent air all our compulsions meet, / Are recognized, and robed as destinies. / And that much never can be obsolete ..."

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 9:08pm BST

As an American, long time reader of this site, educated some decades ago in England, at the moment in Edinburgh, I am viscerally opposed to disestablishment. It will fundamentally change the nature of England, interrupting its history with an uncertain and doubtful outcome.

For what it is worth, I see Corbyn as a much greater threat to the UK than Trump, with our strong checks and balances now shown working well, could ever be to the US. The power of a UK Prime Minister is much less constrained than an American president.

I was told as a boy that antidisestablishmentarianism is the longest word in English. I suppose I belong to that school of thought.

Posted by: Andrew on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 9:11pm BST

It is not for the bishops to define what should be taught about LGBT+ experience and identity. Nor is it for the bishops to define how individual church communities receive, accommodate or celebrate LGBT+ people in their own communities.

The teaching document raises the question: what gives them the right to set the agenda, to decide what to teach, or to appropriate how local church communities interact with LGBT+ people at all?

Especially when LGBT+ people themselves seem marginal to the production, and more or less 'objects' to be talked about and to.

This dissonance and widening gulf between local communities and bishops' assumed authority to tell them what they should do... may increase the likelihood of those local church communities sidelining episcopal claims over their own consciences.

Neither "The Anglican Communion" nor "The Anglican Primates" nor the English Bishops and Archbishops can impose uniformity where no uniformity exists, or dominate the consciences of communities who recognise gay people in their midst as friends, as blessings, as gifts, as beloved by God.

There is a widening dissonance opening up between the way English people respect and care about LGBT+ people in the communities where we live, and a so-called 'Anglican Communion' whose Primates (including our own) still seem to view gay sex as sin.

Honestly, the episcopacy needs LGBT+ people themselves to guide and lead them out of their hole... or stockade and bunker... as the people of England (and many of its Christians) go their way in greater openness and magnanimity.

The format thus far revealed in this process is, frankly authoritarian... which is ironic, considering the loss of authority that has occurred. The Bishops at this juncture need to be led. They need to include. They need to recognise the Church of England is diverse, and most of them are not. The spaces (and 'radical inclusion') for LGBT+ people are like empty seats at a banquet.

This methodology being employed is not 'radical inclusion' at all if LGBT+ people are locked out and the planning's all done by the bishops. Even at this stage, the methodology should be reviewed. There can be no uniformity imposed by the bishops. Or else, we have the 'Anglican Covenant' after all.

Far from defining what should be taught, they need to be taught themselves – they should facilitate communities and serve them, recognising local faith, conscience and journeys of love and engagement.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 9:17pm BST

I have now read Paxo’s piece; it is useful. Unfortunately, he starts it with some rather genially pointed remarks about Tarrant Gunville. It is unfortunate that he happened to attend a service at that church and then use it as the basis for spinning a wider story about the Church. Gunville is a relatively small place, so a correspondingly small congregation is to be expected (as I experienced when I went there). However, had he gone to nearby 6d Handley or Pimperne he would have found markedly larger congregations. There is another sense in which the choice of Gunville was unfortunate. North Dorset has amongst the highest density of rural parishes in the country; only south-east Somerset, the chalk valleys of south Wiltshire, north Kent, parts of Lindsey, mid-and south-east Norfolk, south Nottinghamshire and south-east Suffolk have more. There is a string of minute parishes to the south of Gunville, all with the prefix Tarrant (after the stream): Hinton (with the lost Launceston), Monkton, Rawston, Keynston, Rushton and Crawford, and almost all survive. Rawston is owned by the adjacent farming family, and they allow occasional public services (I spoke to one of the owners at Farnham recently); Crawford is CCT and has monthly summer services. Relative to the size and age of the local populations, things could be far worse.

However, it is true that the Church is weak, perhaps very weak, in north-east Dorset: Stalbridge (aka Hinton Parva or Little Hinton) is closed and decaying, having failed as a school chapel; Moor Crichel is never used for services and is adjacent to the big house; Long Crichel is FFC (but the local stipendiary was unaware it was still consecrated). The pulse beats weakly in some churches: Witchampton and Hinton Martel[l] have monthly services (like Harbridge just across the Hants border), and Chalbury only on the fifth Sunday (but not always, as I found to my cost recently).

However, Paxman also dilates on the influence of Church schools. Significant proportions of diocesan bureaucracies are devoted to the management of schools; occasionally hard-pressed dioceses have to provide finance. The incidence of flourishing schools next to closed churches is distressing. A return of 3% from a stock amounting to c.23% of the total is feeble in the extreme, even allowing for the greater openness to those of other faiths or none. It is a lamentable ROI. Why bother?

Posted by: Froghole on Saturday, 9 September 2017 at 9:20pm BST

Disestablishment is largely a red herring, often prosecuted by those who misguidedly think it would achieve some benefit to Church and State. It would in fact make little difference to either. There are two main intersections between the two. The appointment of bishops is a matter for the Crown, by law, and Measures (the law of the land) promulged by the General Synod need to have been deemed expedient by the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. However, the nomination of bishops is now fully a matter for the Church, as by convention Downing Street accepts the name supplied, and the Committee cannot amend legislation. Derivatively the Queen is Supreme Governor and her coronation and that of her successors is presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and bishops sit in the House of Lords. On this latter point, the failure of Government to reform the Lords results in the status quo prevailing. Disestablishment could only be a matter for Parliament. There is no suggestion that it wants to do this. The Church itself would never instigate it, having the privilege and duty to serve the Nation. Disestablishment would in fact be substantially simpler than Brexit, but with no appetite for it from those who could initiate it, it remains a playground topic, now social media. Disestablishmentarianism was always a rather shown off concept, but those who talk it usually do so from ignorance. If the Queen ceased to be Supreme Governor and few if any bishops sat in the House of Lords, the mission and ministry of the Church of England (Church in England?) would be little changed.

Posted by: Anthony Archer on Sunday, 10 September 2017 at 12:04am BST


Even many of us who have some of the anti-the-public, anti-liberal, anti-secularist comments on this thread illustrate to a tee, why the Church lacks credibility and relevance today.

To say that the general public are a bad lot, unable to think clearly and act creatively is the sort of patronisiing approach that is failing (us) big time.een life-long believers and Church members are near to giving up on the institution or have given up on it.

I have found being lied to, and deceived by church leaders personally very hard to live with.

The idea that religion is gospel-truth is variety strange considering how all religions differ radically, and the various schools of Anglicanism often appear as if radically different belief 'systems'.

That should give pause for thought and a modicum of humility. But no .... not at all...

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Sunday, 10 September 2017 at 1:02am BST

Clapham: "The lack of lay people is also striking and without precedent"

To me, it's pretty obvious: the (7 bishop, 4 clergy, human sexuality) committee wants to be able to pontificate about same-sex marriage, unburdened by the voting input of anybody actually in one! >:-/

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 10 September 2017 at 5:41am BST

Careful, Froghole: w/ all that looking backwards, you're in danger of turning into a pillar of salt. Or to put it in New Testament terms: we're not here to build booths to "the 1910s, 1810s, 1710s".

When I read your "other point", I thought: "Translation: Froghole is Old&White."

I'm old & white too. I do *know* where you're coming from.

But the Holy Spirit leads us forward. There's always a temptation to bring the familiar w/ us---but we can't, if we're going to keep up. We have to learn to let go...

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 10 September 2017 at 6:01am BST

"Old people will not be replaced with new cohorts of old people, since disbelief amongst the middle aged is now the default position."

This was the mistake symphony orchestras made. They looked out at the audience in the 1990s and observed they were in their sixties. Never mind, they thought, people will grow out of that silly beat music, and as they mature into older, more affluent people with a bit more time on their hands, we will continue to have an audience of retirees.

Ask them how well that's working out for them. They mistook the age of their audience for the cohort of their audience. Churches are convinced that people who leave, or never joined, organised religion will somehow see the error of their ways and return later. The point of return varies, "when they have children", "when their parents die", "when they become more mature". Nope, they don't.

Of course, telling the vast majority who have in some sense cohhabited, and the essentially (within measurement error) 100% who have had sex before they were married that they aren't fit to join the church hardly helps recruitment. Never mind the churches' idiotic failures over same-sex relationships; what they say about opposite-sex relationships is hardly any better.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Sunday, 10 September 2017 at 3:11pm BST

Anthony. I do not see in the events at St Sepulchre anything of the Church exercising the "privilege and duty to serve the nation". Had there been any consciousness of this among the hierarchy we would by now have heard a strong denunciation of the parish's actions from the (acting) Bishop and even from the Archbishop. But all we have is silence. The liturgy about "the silent music of your praise" is particularly apposite...

Posted by: Bernard on Sunday, 10 September 2017 at 7:22pm BST

Isn't this disestablishment debate very anglo-centric? Not only do two and a bit out of the three and a bit nations in the UK get along perfectly well without an established church, the fact that the C of E alone is established seems to regard England and Englishness as the norm of Britishness. Why do C of E bishops alone sit in the Lords; national and royal ceremonies almost invariably involve Anglican clergy and churches? If there was a UK-wide consensus on the need for an established church at least arguments about a 'Christian voice' in the nation would have some validity. But there isn't.

Posted by: David Emmott on Sunday, 10 September 2017 at 9:11pm BST

'If there was a UK-wide consensus on the need for an established church at least arguments about a 'Christian voice' in the nation would have some validity. But there isn't.'

Boom. There it is.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Sunday, 10 September 2017 at 9:55pm BST

JCF: I may be white, but I am not sure 41 necessarily counts as 'old'. Of course, you are entitled to draw whatever inferences you wish as to my 'preferences' in response to what I admit were some dyspeptic remarks.

My complaint about the way in which public culture in the UK has evolved over the last four decades is chiefly about the way in which commercialism has debased much cultural discourse: in the media at large and, to some extent, in schools and in higher education. Think of television. There was a time in the 1960s, 1970s and even into the 1980s when commercial broadcasters and the BBC, for instance, took great pains to compete with each other to produce programmes of significant quality. It might seem remarkable, but even the companies associated with ITV were keen to inform as well as entertain. However, the advent of satellite broadcasting and the remorseless growth of 'choice' has created a multiplicity of channels which has diluted the market to the point where margins are vanishingly small for most providers, who must therefore push tat to survive. Think of the difference in C4 under Jeremy Isaacs and what it became after Michael Grade took over. One of the reasons why I have spent/wasted so many thousands of hours at the NFT/BFI is that BBC2 and C4 stopped running seasons of, say, Renoir and Bunuel after about 1993 on the grounds that this was something the satellite providers would offer; yet they never did. The NFT was therefore the only place to go (also, for a while, the Cine Lumiere and Barbican and some of the Curzon theatres), and even that is no longer the case to a considerable extent since the BFI's Arts Council subsidy was slashed.

And whilst I acknowledge some excellent new art, music and literature I do stand by my view that its impact is obviated significantly by the vast swamp of trash in which it is forced to swim, and that this is indeed a relatively fallow epoch. My argument is not necessarily reactionary: it is that of Richard Hoggart - that we need to be better informed so that we can all progress (since we are more politically pliable if the culture infantilises us).

Whether this fallowness has anything to do with the failure of Christianity is moot, but there may be something in it.

Posted by: Froghole on Sunday, 10 September 2017 at 10:53pm BST

Stalbridge St Mary is certainly not closed (see Froghole's third post) and is certainly not aka Hinton Parva or Little Hinton.

Posted by: Richard Franklin on Monday, 11 September 2017 at 12:06am BST

Just because this is "Thinking Anglicans", a correction:
Apres moi, le deluge is attributed to Louis XV the well-beloved NOT Louis XIV le roi-soleil.

In its variant Apres nous le deluge it is attributed to Mme de Pompadour.

Posted by: Dion on Monday, 11 September 2017 at 9:43am BST

re Charles Clapham's piece. I share his concerns. But we might note that 'Issues in human sexuality' was the work of four bishops - arguably the last such to approach what might be called a 'teaching document'?

Posted by: David Runcorn on Monday, 11 September 2017 at 9:44am BST

I took the trouble to plot the BSA figures on a graph (actually several graphs). These indicated that the Catholic Church will overtake the Anglican Churches as the largest denomination in the year 2023 or thereabouts. That is in six years time.

Projecting beyond that point is a dangerous business, but I would be fairly confident that Anglicanism (CofE, CiW and ECoS) will decline to a level of about 5% of population before it stabilises.

The most alarming aspect of these figures is the age profile. It would seem that 25% of Anglicans are over the age of 75. The writing is surely on the wall.

Posted by: Paul Waddington on Monday, 11 September 2017 at 3:38pm BST

@Richard Franklin: Apologies - I had pressed the wrong key; it is Stanbridge: http://www.dorset-churches.org.uk/hinton-parva.html.

Posted by: Froghole on Monday, 11 September 2017 at 6:05pm BST

Paul Waddington: 'I took the trouble to plot the BSA figures on a graph (actually several graphs). These indicated that the Catholic Church will overtake the Anglican Churches as the largest denomination in the year 2023 or thereabouts. That is in six years time.

Projecting beyond that point is a dangerous business, but I would be fairly confident that Anglicanism (CofE, CiW and ECoS) will decline to a level of about 5% of population before it stabilises.'

I find this quite encouraging, Maybe the C of E will be able to have a similar role in relation to the RCC as the Methodist Church to the C ofE. In other words, the 'mainstream' challenged by a minority and sympathetically-critical body which is not tied down so much by structures. The Methodists are able to pioneer new ways of mission that we in the C of E aren't flexible enough for. We Anglicans can act as a sort of experimental test-bed with things like women in orders and (sooner or later) rethinking attitudes to sexuality and gender - as we did years ago with vernacular liturgy.

Posted by: David Emmott on Monday, 11 September 2017 at 10:15pm BST

True enough, David Runcorn.

But as the preface to Issues in Human Sexuality by George Carey made clear, the bishops did not assume that all would agree with it, and it was intended not as a definitive statement, but a contribution to a general educational process. What has happened subsequently is that Issues has been invested by the bishops with far greater authority than was ever intended at the time (in the interview process with ordinands for example).

This seems to have been accompanied by a deliberate attempt to shift discussion of human sexuality away from the Board for Social Responsibility (where reports on ethical issues were typically produced) to the House of Bishops, exemplified in the House of Bishops report on Marriage, which was presented as ‘a teaching document’ (the only previous one??).

It is exactly this drift towards authoritative episcopal teaching documents that I want to resist. Insofar as the Church of England has authoritative teachings, it seems to me (as an Anglican) that these are found in our liturgy and canons, not in 'teaching documents' produced by the bishops (even if produced with lay and clerical involvement).

So the purpose of a report is to inform debate about whether (or not) to change canon law and/or liturgy, not to constitute in itself an authoritative statement. This, I think, is how Anglican theology operates.

There is also a considerable irony in the fact that it is bishops (and lay people) largely from evangelical backgrounds who are most in favour of developing episcopal teaching authority away from classic Protestantism (priesthood of all believers, etc.) towards something that looks a lot more like the Roman Catholic understanding of episcopal authority.

Posted by: Revd Dr Charles Clapham on Monday, 11 September 2017 at 10:37pm BST

@Paul Waddington: I'd be very wary of making forward projections based on past trends. While it is no comfort to Anglicans I think it highly unlikely that the RCC will see the pattern of growth it has in recent years simply because of declining immigration from devoutly RC countries such as Poland. The RC's clergy shortage and amalgamation of parishes is only going to make things worse.

Posted by: Jo on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 6:52am BST

"after about 1993 on the grounds that this was something the satellite providers would offer"

A moot point, because no-one under forty cares what linear TV offers: if it's not on Netflix, it's on DVD. It's like complaining that you can't listen to the records you think should be on Radio 1, while pretending streaming services and streaming radio don't exist. I am, ahem, rather more than 40, but I've pretty much stopped listening to linear radio, and I increasingly don't watch linear TV either.

The argument that you should give people what they should want, rather than what they do want, is seductive. If you want to see the endpoint of the state sitting in judgement over what is and is not acceptable culture for the masses, the British Library has now put up for general reading the Lord Chamberlain's Pooterish condemnation of "Waiting for Godot":

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/lord-chamberlains-report-and-correspondence-about-waiting-for-godot

It's hilarious, as a thick philistine state functionary sits in judgement over one of the major pieces of postwar art. They aren't sure whether to ban it in toto or merely eviscerate it. Is this, seriously, what you want a return to?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 8:45am BST

Fair comment Charles - and thank you again for your article. I share your concern.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 10:32am BST

Referring to comment made by Jo, there is another aspect of the BSA survey which is particularly noteworthy. That is the difference in the age profile between Anglicans and Catholics. Whereas the age profile of Catholics is relatively evenly distributed, with a small dip amongst the 18 to 24 year-olds; In the case of Anglicans,there is a very considerable skew towards the older end of the spectrum. If one takes this at face value, one could expect the Anglicans to lose about half their adherents in about 20 years. If you doubt this, have another look at the figures.

Posted by: Paul Waddington on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 1:11pm BST

"the age profile of Catholics is relatively evenly distributed, with a small dip amongst the 18 to 24 year-olds"

Inter-generational Catholicism is where Anglicanism was two generations ago: people identify as Catholic, even if their observance is nominal - families identifying as Catholic have no more children than anyone else, for example - because their parents did and they see it as part of their cultural and familial heritage.

It was that effect on censuses that blinded the CofE to the decline that was happening around it: millions of people put themselves down as Anglican for want of something else to say, because their parent did, because they didn't want to make a fuss, and so on. But in reality, they were Anglican in name only, and had no link to the church that could be discerned.

The tirades against cohabitation have meant that fewer and fewer people are choosing church marriages even if they do marry, and baptism is in free fall, so even those nominal Anglicans have drifted away; they are now emboldened to say so.

It would require a brave person to state that Catholicism's apparent rude(r) health is actually any less of an illusion, and that 25 year olds who say on paper that they are Catholic will prove to have any long-term, meaningful allegiance. And their children will not even be nominal, and in a couple of generations Catholicism will be in the same place as Anglicanism.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 4:04pm BST

Mr Waddington, important note.

We see the same trend in (the much smaller) TEC, with average age around 60, average size around 57, 40% of dioceses under 3500, and compared with 25 years ago, baptisms and marriages down 50%.

These are not figures to trifle with. It is hard to imagine anything but eventual collapse or lack of general viability.

I sometimes wonder if the LGBTI agenda has served the purpose of focusing energy so as to avoid facing into the demographic hurricane. One can even believe it is a crucial positive and yet accept that this is so. I believe Froghole is correct that one can be agnostic about its effect and still have the larger problem to face.

My question is whether with time the demographic tidal wave will begin to overtake all other issues in terms of energy required.

Posted by: crs on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 4:38pm BST

re: Paul Waddington, "The writing is surely on the wall." It has been there since the enlightenment.

Demographic decline is as much consequence as cause.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 4:53pm BST

The reason that you can make reasonable forward projections is that age cohorts age---so the BSA figures allow you to project forwards through each cohort's life course. Also because there are surveys which ask people which religion they were brought up in, it is pretty stable that about 40% of those from Christian families become "nones" and that virtually all those from "none" families remain so. Furthermore there is now evidence of net movement from Anglican to none later in life too. Of course this is all about net flows--there are undoubtedly individuals who move against these tides but they are numerically much fewer than those who move with the trend.

The numbers of Catholics in the BSA surveys are lower so there is more statistical variability.

What makes conclusions from BSA compelling is also the long term consistency over time, as well as consistency with censuses and with other research such as Linda Woodhead's work. (Her surveys are all published so you can look at them and draw your own conclusions.)

All this should be seen as a body of evidence---the reasons for the numbers, whether they matter, and whether any policy change can make a difference, are all things on which there is a range of opinion, of course.

Posted by: Bernard Silverman on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 8:05pm BST

Regarding Catholicism, nominal Catholicism's so well-recognized a phenomenon that theres's a dedicated term: "cafeteria Catholic."

Social pressure shouldn't be underestimated: it's most extreme form's dramatized in 'A Clockwork Orange,' where, in a bleak gaol room pungent with the threat of sanctioned violence, even a dead-eyed murderer like Alex fires off "CofE" as his religion during prison intake, with the strong implication that pretty much anything else (possibly excluding recognized minority faiths, but possibly not) will land him a beating from the hacks. Now that even methaphorical kickings have ceased -- if anything, pressure's now in the other direction -- unless they're parents looking for a school place, only the dedicated need apply.

I can't agree with evangelicals that nominal faith's worthless, however. There's no bright line between nominal and genuine, many crossed over, and it gave the church a power in society it now sorely misses. If England ever reforms her admissions system for state religious schools, the importance of nominal and coerced faith is really gonna be evident. If churches are populated exclusively by adults who want to be there, just how low will they go?

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 9:15pm BST

Re: Bernard Silverman, interesting explanation of important detail. Thanks.

"...whether any policy change can make a difference..." A difference in what sense? Going back to a more heavily populated and age diverse observant institutional church? One suspects that is just not on.

However, something more than mere policy change, something more akin to a cultural change within the church, may allow it to optimize its social positioning. Even that may not be enough, a change in the dominant culture may be required as well, a change that is possible though not discernable at the moment.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 9:30pm BST

The Reverend Simon Butler's piece (listed above) is wonderful, and really needed saying-- I realise.

What he says is so true and deeply heartfelt, and moving.

We need many more Jaynes-- and Simons- many more....


Thank you.

He is right to say :'Thy Will be done'

is the great prayer in these (and one might surely add, all circumstances)...

'Gwneler Dy Ewyllys'

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 11:26pm BST

I know that in my London borough with its extremely high number immigrant people in the population, my RC parish is full to the gunnels at each and every sunday mass, and then additionally there is a weekly mass by the Spanish chaplaincy (such a relief not to understand much of the homilies !), and a monthly Gujerat mass.

But when one stops to look and think of it , very few of the congregation are Irish or British-- very few.


When I go to Liverpool there are more retired and inactive priests on the Arch-Dioesean role than of active full-time, serving secular clergy. And church-buildings keep closing. One parish run by a permanent (married) deacon, finally closed recently.


When I go to North Wales (Wrexham Diocese), one parish is run by Franciscans and another continental mission order, not the secular clery in those parishes. Their congregations are like a decent Anglican Sung Eucharist with 55 or 70 odd at the principal mass - and yet, most of us are middle-aged or older!

At Pwllheli the mass advertised as being in Welsh is largely in English and most of that congregation are tourists and holiday-makers from England and Ireland.

It is a sad state of affairs, gives pause for thought, and leaves me at lest, wondering ...

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Tuesday, 12 September 2017 at 11:41pm BST

It would have been good is the one Bishop in the Church of England who has admitted that he is actually gay could have been included in the specially convened "Co-ordinating Group set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to produce a new teaching document on human sexuality".

Surely, a group tasked with theologically defining Church teaching on this subject needs at least a little injection of the actual experienced of 'being different' ?

The attempt to ignore people who have the actual experience of what it means to be LGBT or I, by excluding them from the conversation is patently prejudiced against any outcome other than that of a product of entrenched sexism and homophobia.

To even embark on a quest to theologically try to understand the phenomena of sexual difference - without access to those people whose lives are involved - is nothing short of disastrous.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 13 September 2017 at 12:07am BST

Of course people are awful! That includes the churches, which are nothing but people, scrabbling for power, to be "right," to put God in their pocket through red herrings of "Scripture" or "Tradition" or even "The Greater Good." It's never as simple as general consensus = good, private conscience = bad; even the right-wingers claim to have general consensus with the old "always, everywhere by everyone" nonsense.

The "democratic process" was corruptible enough to give us Trump, here in the U. S. (and, sorry, but I choked a little at the idea that our checks and balances are strong enough to neuter his agenda!), so it's never *that* simple. Discernment is haaaard! That's the constant whine of the human organism, unwilling to work towards becoming better, when there are drinks, and entertainment, and i-phones, and sex, and toys to attend to. The problem isn't the Church, it isn't the State, it's that people just won't try. Yes, even in religion. Proof? Two basic views - by faith, or by works, right from the start. The response? Not that easy, both are necessary. So, we came up with handy guidelines and rules, for when it's faith, when it's works, and now you don't have to think, we'll do it for you! Money and power, or teaching authority? Money and power's easier, so, we bent right over to the Emperor! Changes in education and knowledge? NO! SCRIPTURE!!!! Changes in the understanding of Scripture? NO! TRADITION!!!! Changes in Tradition? NO!! JUST NO!!!! Changes in understanding of race, gender, sexuality? All faith (the Spirit leads) or all works (Scripture and Tradition). It's really no wonder Nietzsche thought God dead; who's been there to show God's alive? The Church? No. They've just proven they have power, largely borrowed from the state, to punish and demonize, so, that isn't God. Nothing like. Sure is easy, though. On the liberal side? Well, at least we err on the side of compassion and inclusion, rather than the fear of the conservatives. Still, the easy answer - politics, which is more entertaining than study and personal work. Broad appeals to a sort of formless idea of love, which never seems to have limits, even though we humans are limited and even Scripture spoke of discernment. Appeals to "God's inclusion" with no possibility of understanding what that really entails, or the *fact* that humans and human institutions are *not God*. Attempts to draw back with trendy worship, focusing on the "young people," focusing on "families," focusing on "raising the profile." No focus on helping people weather and navigate the real process of mental, emotional and psychological evolution, except through platitude-laden booklets and pamphlets - a 12-step religion.

Those are the hard truths. The church is irrelevant because it *is* irrelevant. It's about church, not God, not God's people, not helping people become more. It's a vehicle that ceased serving the purpose effectively sometime around the reign of Constantine. You want to revitalize it? Hard work. Seven hundred years of it. There were those who tried when it was only a few hundred years, and *that* was hard work - they were called monastics. The Church engulfed them, so it would be *easy*, just another career. Hard work. So it won't happen.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 14 September 2017 at 5:16am BST
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