Comments: Cathedral Statistics 2014

Newcastle Cathedral is a fantastic church, both architecturally and spiritually (as, indeed, is the R Catholic Cathedral near the station). In fact, in many respects it's better than Durham Cathedral (apologies, Father David).

Posted by John at Wednesday, 19 August 2015 at 6:37pm BST

Here are two quotes from this posting:

"Key aspects of growth that have been identified were creating a sense of community, quality of worship, service, preaching and music, exploring new patterns of service, spiritual openness and emphasis on families and young people."

The Dean continued: “What people have really discovered is that when they drop in to worship or visit they find a community that is welcoming, open and inclusive. I think that’s one of the things that’s been really significant in cathedral growth in every respect..."

I was unable to avoid noticing that none of the themes expressed here strike me as consistent with the institutional church's persistently negative attitudes towards GLBT people.

Just sayin'.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Wednesday, 19 August 2015 at 10:55pm BST

My experience in English Cathedrals is one of welcome and acceptance. I always encounter other LGBT people at them, some in the choir. The vibe is way different from the pronouncements and behaviour from the leadership on diversity issues.

Posted by Cynthia at Thursday, 20 August 2015 at 12:43am BST

John, I think you will have to expand upon the "many respects" in which St. Nicholas' cathedral in Newcastle is "better" than Durham cathedral. I will need a lot of convincing but I agree that both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic cathedrals in Newcastle are indeed very fine buildings.
Does not this recent report point to one way out of our seemingly terminal decline? I can't see how multiplying Archdeaconries or creating mega-dioceses will greatly assist in extending the Kingdom? Don't these encouraging statistics point to the need for yet more cathedrals? Look at Lincolnshire, for example - historically divided into three Parts. St. James', Louth could become the cathedral for Lindsey, St. Wulfram's, Grantham could become the cathedral for Kesteven and St. Botolph's (The Stump), Boston could become the cathedral for Holland. Three extremely fine churches with great potential to be converted into cathedrals. Yorkshire traditionally has it's Ridings, similarly - Beverley Minster is, in many respects, an architecturally superior building to any number of existing cathedrals. There has long been discussion over dividing the diocese of Oxford (currently experiencing difficulty in selecting a chief pastor) into three dioceses based upon the three constituent counties - Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. Barrow in Furness is very remote from Carlisle. Rye (Tilling) is not far short of an hundred miles from Chichester and those in the "Far East" often feel and express isolation and remoteness from the Mother Church.
So, instead of yet more Archdeacons let us have more cathedrals to assist in growing the Kingdom.

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 20 August 2015 at 6:16am BST

the highest motivating factors for Cathedral attendance were peace and contemplation, worship and music and friendly atmosphere

Say that you're coming in for worship and you might not have to pay £10 to get inside the door...

Posted by James Mac at Thursday, 20 August 2015 at 8:37am BST

I think for once Father David and I agree on something here! Elevating substantial churches to cathedral status may just help to put them on the map and encourage further footfall and hopefully consequent interest in what goes on there and why it does.

I have two questions really. Firstly (let's assume we can easily choose which churches to elevate to cathedral status), does each new cathedral get the St Edmundsbury treatment? So, do smaller churches get extended, transepts and towers built etc, or leave as is?

The second is about clergy/staffing levels. Presumably each new cathedral would not have a stipendiary chapter in the same way as existing cathedrals? Or would stipendiary posts be cut elsewhere to provide for them? Also, would existing diocesan support and admin staff cover the new cathedrals?

Posted by Alastair Newman at Thursday, 20 August 2015 at 3:05pm BST

The church at Rye has three cathedrals in England nearer to it than its mother church at Chichester - Canterbury, Rochester and Southwark, plus at least one in France.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Thursday, 20 August 2015 at 6:57pm BST

If cathedrals are drawing people in because they are open, welcoming and inclusive, what does this say about the reasons for decline elsewhere?

Posted by Richard Ashby at Thursday, 20 August 2015 at 6:59pm BST

In that case, Richard, I think Mapp and Lucia ought to start a campaign to upgrade Rye Parish Church to cathedral status. Ecclesiastical UDI for East Sussex.

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 20 August 2015 at 9:12pm BST

I've commented on this before and don't want to be a wet blanket but ... excellent and growing cathedral statistics do little for beleaguered parish churches.

The thing about cathedral worship is that it caters for Grace Davies' "believing without belonging". It's easy just to dip into a beautiful service held in a (usually) beautiful building and then wander off perhaps after putting a fiver into the collection for the performance.

Parish churches in contrast have to work hard to gain and keep congregations of whom much is often expected by way of commitment. They have to raise money the hard way and are at the cutting edge of evangelism, where it hurts. It is especially hard for parishes in cathedral cities near to these privileged centres of excellence. They can't be open all hours and provide welcoming groups or paid chaplaincies to welcome people.

Hey ho - let's hear now some inevitable spirited defences of hard-working extremely relevant cathedrals and all they do for their parish churches.

Posted by Concerned Anglican at Thursday, 20 August 2015 at 10:30pm BST

Those who are used to selling commercially know the AIDA maxim of the progression towards a sale - Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Whether footfall is only Attention, it is the first step towards Action; a beatiful service isn't something fluffily useless but two steps towards Action. I think cathedrals have a huge role to play in evangelism.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 21 August 2015 at 2:10am BST

Alastair, good to find a subject about which we agree. I don't necessarily think that those parish churches which are selected to become new cathedrals need the St. Edmundsbury treatment. Boston Stump already has a magnificent tower equal to if not better than the splendid new cathedral tower in Suffolk, a diocese which has, after all, only just reached its centenary last year. The spires of Grantham and Louth can easily hold their own against Salisbury and Norwich. What could possibly be added to the stupendous Beverley Minster to make it more like a cathedral - a building far superior in every way to, for example, Blackburn or Chelmsford, which already enjoy cathedral status.
As to the staffing of these possible new cathedrals. Well, instead of encouraging an ever increasing number of Archdeacons - why not increase the number of bishops? In considerably adding to the number of Archdeacons in the diocese of Liverpool the new bishop says that he wants "Pastoral Archdeacons" and "Missional Archdeacons". After nearly forty years in the ministry I'm still not sure of the place in the Kingdom of God of Archdeacons (Robertson Hare - as Archdeacon Henry Blunt excepted - for the sales of Sherry, which used to oil the ecclesiastical wheels, would drop dramatically if it wasn't for Bunny Hare's considerable consumption of the same), the only rank of ministry not to be Reverend! I would have thought that much of the burden of Archidiaconal work could be carried out successfully by Lay people. What the Church really needs is Pastoral Bishops with a heart for Mission and not Managers in purple shirts. I have somewhere on my bookshelves a volume entitled "Bishops, But What Kind?" Edited by Peter Moore, sometime Dean of St. Albans, whose present day successor would make a first class Diocesan bishop. It's a long time since I read it but I vaguely recall that certain of the contributors promote a New Testament model of episcopacy which is local. The future Bishops of Boston, Grantham and Louth (sorry Grimsby) would be far more local and visible than remote prelates in far away palaces.

Posted by Father David at Friday, 21 August 2015 at 6:04am BST

Philip Larkin ("Church Going") seems to have been premature.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Friday, 21 August 2015 at 12:21pm BST

Pour money into the cathedrals. Close the parish churches, especially those in deprived areas. Do not fill parish posts as they become vacant - use the money for the cathedrals and more and more archdeacons and diocesan advisers. Minister to the middle and upper classes. That's where the money is.

Posted by Fr William at Friday, 21 August 2015 at 1:13pm BST

Seems to me that some creative thinking is going on here and that it goes some way to meeting the concerns of Concerned Anglican - which, in general, I share. Certainly, in Durham the Cathedral has not always operated in ways sensitive to the needs of the local churches.

Posted by John at Friday, 21 August 2015 at 1:21pm BST

How unfortunate that Jesus and the apostles didn't think of building splendid buildings with magnificent choirs and armies of paid staff as part of their evangelism strategy! But then, small and flexible worked quite well for them. I read somewhere that in the first hundred years of its life the early church grew at the rate of about 10% a year. Anything we can learn from that, I wonder?

Look, I enjoy visiting old cathedrals as much as anyone else, but when we read the letters of Paul, it's very clear that he assumes that Christians will know each other well enough to be able to support and encourage and even confront one another. For this, you can't be big. The only big religious institution we encounter in the pages of the New Testament is the Temple, and it's hardly held up as an example for us to follow. The NT is also quite clear that in the plan of God it's been replaced by a living Temple, the people of Jesus.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Friday, 21 August 2015 at 3:35pm BST

The thing about parish churches is that so many are deeply uncomfortable places for newcomers. One can be pounced upon and interrogated. All to often services run to some obscure scheme known only to locals and hymns are sung to mysterious tunes but no notes to follow if you don't know the tune. I hate going in a new parish church.

On top of that, there's no telling how the parish will react to someone in a same sex relationship.

If parish churches want to boast attendances they need to stop behaving like clubs for heteronormative couples and families and ensure that a total newcomer can follow the service and has tunes for all hymns - and absolutely don't have sung responses.

Cathedrals are not blameless but are generally much more welcoming and one can stay totally anonymous until comfortable.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 21 August 2015 at 5:04pm BST

"Key aspects of growth that have been identified were creating a sense of community, quality of worship, service, preaching and music, exploring new patterns of service, spiritual openness and emphasis on families and young people."

The Cathedral Statistics report, contains the above sentence. It is reported without attribution or source. I can't see how this can be arrived at from the research presented: can anyone enlighten me? Or is this the 'new orthodoxy' based on the risible 'Anecdote to Evidence' which, like Issues in Human Sexuality is taking on the aura of infallible dogma?


Might it be possible that, however successful Cathedrals may be, we should not be misled into thinking that if we say doubled the number of Cathedrals in the country we would double the number of Christians in England. It's the same trap as the 'successful' Conservative church: if all churches in the UK were conservative I'd lay a bet there'd be a damned sight fewer church attendees in the UK...

Posted by Fr Andrew at Friday, 21 August 2015 at 7:18pm BST

"in the first hundred years of its life the early church grew at a rate of 10% per year" Tim
"In 2014 the average number of adults and children attending cathedral services was 36,000. This has increased by more than a fifth (i.e 20%) in the last decade."
"Anything we can learn from that, I wonder?"

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 22 August 2015 at 7:22am BST

Kate, I sympathise with your feelings about the difficulty of going to a new parish church, and I am right with you on your comments about the heteronormative environment. Speaking as a parish priest who is always looking for ways to make my church more welcoming, however, I'm not sure that your suggestions about hymn tunes and responses would make much difference. What is one person's well-known hymn tune is completely unknown to another, and most people don't read music - I have offered it,but there are almost no takers, and some people find it is off putting having it in front of them. Even the regulars at church often surprise me by complaining that they didn't know a hymn which I know we have sung many times before. The only way not to face people with unfamiliar hymns is not to sing any at all. Sung responses, while they may be unfamiliar at first, add colour, texture and depth to worship. I keep them to a minimum if I know we will have lots of visitors, but many people like to come for the music, even if they are listening to it rather than singing- witness the sucess of cathedrals- and taking it out makes the service very flat. We concentrate on having very user friendly service sheets, telling people when to sit and stand etc. The truth is that leading worship in parish churches is difficult; getting the balance between welcoming those who want it while not overwhelming those who don't, and being accessible without being banal or boring is never going to be perfectly acheivable. I live in hopes that a visitor will detect enough of the life of God to persist until the service feels familiar, but I think it is unrealistic to go once to a service in a new church and find that everything is immediately known and knowable. In what other sphere of life or activity would we expect this? What is the point of trying something new if it isn't really new at all, but just the same familiar stuff in a different box?

Posted by Anne at Saturday, 22 August 2015 at 8:26am BST

Anne thank you. I agree with you. This annual stack of Cathedral stats regularly throws up this discussion and local churches are often compared unfavourably with Cathedrals. Well done Cathedrals that are growing. And to whom much is given much is expected. But what is assumed from this? It is claimed that Cathedrals are growing because they are friendly and including. So local churches are presumably not being friendly enough? Actually there are plenty of others who claim Cathedral are growing precisely because they are not overly friendly and leave people to have their own space with God. Yet more claim the friendliness of local churches is unhelpful and pressurising. Hard to win isn't it?

Posted by David Runcorn at Saturday, 22 August 2015 at 10:35am BST


It is possible you get it right - I don't know - but generally there is a problem. I have worshipped over the years with family friends in a variety of churches. in my experience two types of service are easy for incomers:

1 very "low" church / baptist. Because there's less structure service leaders seem much more skilled at leading the whole congregation through the service

2 very "high" church / traditional catholic - the service structure is at least familiar from elsewhere

Inbetween, services in parish churches tend to be a rotten experience for newcomers, particularly "family" services.

The bigger problem though is that newcomers tend to feel interrogated - "Who are you?" "Why are you here?" Problems which just don't occur in cathedrals.

Also telling people when to stand and sit just comes across as bossy and reinforces the view that there's some sort of local convention. It is far better to tell people that they can stand, sit and kneel whenever they want and that there are NO right or wrong times for any of those. Take prayer as an example. If my back is troubling me I might sit rather than have distracting pain. If my prayer need is penitence, then I may kneel. If my prayer is focused on praising the Lord, then I may wish to stand. The whole standing / sitting thing you mention is precisely the sort of mistake parish churches are making.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 22 August 2015 at 11:51am BST


I missed your point about "detect enough of the life of God".

Too many parish churches fail on that too by sending the children out. Rather than recognising the huge value of their innocence during a service, they are seen as disruptive.

But in the life of God that is one area in which a parish church can beat a cathedral. Worship over years leaves an impression in a building which I and some others can sense. In some large churches the arrogance of past wealthy congregations lingers; although equally in others a sense of love and warmth built over the years can prevail.

Parish churches tend, unless very old, not to have such a strong spiritual residue and are more neutral, although a large congregation present in a cathedral means the present spirituality dominates any historical residue whereas, if there is residue in a parish church, a small congregation might not be large enough to mask it.

I don't know how many people can sense accumulated spiritual residue but I do think the Church should audit its churches in those terms.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 22 August 2015 at 12:08pm BST

I find it interesting that we're discussing cathedrals as if they're still growing. Ruth Gledhill points out in her article that attendance at worship in cathedrals *fell* overall during 2014. I feel no Schadenfreude, yet the cathedral, as a model of ministry, doesn't appear to be working everywhere to increase participation in the worshipping community.

Posted by Tim M at Saturday, 22 August 2015 at 9:07pm BST

Anne - thank you for putting into words the often quite frustrating balancing acts that parish priests have to play - to be welcoming without being overwhelming, to have a reasonable quality of worship without the benefit of choir and music director - to have services that are accessible without being too 'dumbed down'. And having been embarrassingly the 'last man standing' on more than one occasion (and getting the dirty look), I am grateful to receive some guidance on local customs regarding posture. Kate - I think you are being a little harsh on some parish clergy who are often fighting an uphill battle trying to bring new life while not alienating existing members. Cathedrals/Minsters/Royal peculiars can also sometimes be pretty hostile places if you don't appear to fit the 'profile'.

Posted by Fr Paul at Sunday, 23 August 2015 at 3:45pm BST

"Too many parish churches fail on that too by sending the children out."

And cathedrals don't? seriously?

Posted by Fr Paul at Sunday, 23 August 2015 at 5:30pm BST

"Pour money into the cathedrals. ... Minister to the middle and upper classes. That's where the money is."

Be careful you don't poke a hole in your cheek there, Fr William. O_x

Posted by JCF at Monday, 24 August 2015 at 7:01am BST

As the Rector and Rural Dean of Rye I have to agree with Father David about the remoteness felt by those of us in the 'far east' of Chichester diocese with our Mother Church. Chichester Cathedral is 92 miles away from Rye and almost in Hampshire, while I can see the cliffs of Folkestone, Kent from my rectory! I also like the idea of 'ecclasiastical UDI'. However I must take issue with Richard Ashby about cathedrals nearer to Rye. I'm a canon of Chichester and preached in the cathedral in January. I checked mileages, and as the crow flies, Rye is nearer to 8 cathedrals in England (if you count RC as well as Anglican) and 2 in France!

Posted by David Frost at Monday, 24 August 2015 at 8:40am BST

JCF, that's what cheeks are for, innit. I dream about what might happen in this urban parish with a huge and expensive church if it were as well supported as the cathedral 10 miles away. Then I remember that the last shall be first ...

Posted by Fr William at Monday, 24 August 2015 at 8:49am BST

Because of their generally more attractive musical and liturgical life, it should not be too surprising to understand that cathedrals are more densely populated that your average parish church. However, how many cathedrals have the added responsibility of ministering in the local community - to the sick, the housebound, and the pastoral needs of a rural parish community?

If one's spiritual life is limited to beautiful music and colourful pageantry, then cathedrals might be an essential come-on to worship. But for sheer pastoral involvement, you can't do better than be a member of a working parish community - where most practising Christians are found.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 25 August 2015 at 1:41am BST
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