Thinking Anglicans

Statistics For Mission 2013

The Church of England has published its Statistics For Mission 2013 today, along with the following press release.

New statistics for 2013 show average of one million people attend services each week
10 November 2014

New Church of England statistics for 2013 published today show that an average of one million people attend services each week, down about 1% on the previous year.

The one million figure relates to regular weekly parish and cathedral services and does not include other core services carried out by the Church of England on a regular basis. With some 2,000 baptisms, 1,000 weddings and 3,000 funerals conducted every week it is estimated that a further half a million people attend a service conducted by a Church of England minister every week. In addition the count (which takes place in October) does not include the many carol and nativity services during Advent and many other regular services responding to community need. The services carried out by the Church of England’s chaplains in hospitals, prisons, schools, universities and military bases are also excluded from the attendance totals. Figures for Christmas attendance show a stable trend, with 2.4 million people attending services on Christmas Eve and Day – where figures have hovered around the 2.5 million mark over the past decade.

Speaking on the publication of the statistics, the Bishop of Sheffield, The Rt. Revd. Steven Croft, said:

“These figures show the Church of England continues to serve the nation with a core of 1 million activist members who worship faithfully each week.

“At a time when membership of political parties is at an historic low and in a society which feels increasingly time squeezed, it is conspicuous that the Church of England’s committed weekly base of parish worshippers remains a million strong with the last Census showing many millions more identifying with the Church.

“In addition to the regular worshipping core the Church continues to serve all those who look to us to mark the most important events of their life journey through weddings, baptisms and funerals. Through these services alone we estimate that a further half a million people attend Church every week of the year, many of whom will be only fringe or occasional visitors.”

A new part of the 2013 research reveal that nearly half of the 67,000 new joiners to churches are coming for the first time rather than from another church. This was the first time a split was introduced in the joiners and leavers section to measure those moving to or from other local churches.

There was also new research on attendance at advent services including nativity and carol services – outside of usual Sunday services. Although not every church gave figures, attendance at special services during advent is estimated to be around 5 million.

A change in baptism trends shows that adult baptisms are on the increase over the past decade – from 8,000 per year to 11,000 per year, an increase of 32% over the last 10 years.

The statistics are available at:

Earlier statistics are available here.


Covenant and Calling: Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Relationships

book cover
Anglican Social Theology: Renewing the Vision Today London: SCM Press, 2014 ISBN 978-0-3340-5188-6. pp. xvii + 111. £16.99 pbk.

Jeremy Fletcher reviews ‘Covenant and Calling: Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Relationships’

Robert Song is Professor of Theological Ethics at Durham University. He was an adviser to the Church of England House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, chaired by Joe Pilling, and therefore had a role in that group’s report, which he signed. Song says that the group ‘provided the context in which the thoughts in this book germinated’.

Covenant and Calling is fully aware of the wider context: that the Pilling Report contained its own ‘Dissenting Statement’ from the Bishop of Birkenhead; that it could only outline an indication of the processes to come, and could not make clear and unambiguous statements about same-sex relationships; that different views on same-sex relationships choose very different foundations on which to construct their arguments; and that such varying views rarely contain the tools for reconciliation to be achieved.

Others will be able to review Covenant and Calling using their expertise in biblical interpretation, in theological ethics, in systematic theology and in the study of eschatology. All of these are required fully to engage with what is a deceptively slim volume. My starting point is as a jobbing vicar who exercises a pastoral ministry recognisable to most Anglican parish clergy. My practical engagement with theological ethics is at the level of the remarriage of the divorced and what to do with the faithful Christian same-sex couple for whom the most natural thing in the world is to come to church following their civil partnership.

From this perspective, Covenant and Calling offers very little specific help, and it does not pretend to. It does not offer a magic bullet which will instantly transform what will be dreadfully painful ‘facilitated conversations’, soon to begin. Neither will it unite the Primates of the Anglican Communion joyfully around a solution to the intractable problem that in one province not to bless same-sex unions is an offence to the gospel, and in another province to bless them gives the same offence.

But … it does offer a starting point which may offer some common ground to those who are in disagreement. Song does not begin with the battleground of Scriptural texts, nor the claims of contemporary culture, nor an anthropological analysis of the role of marriage in society, but with eschatology. If, as Luke 20, Matthew 22 and Mark 12 state, there is no marriage or giving in marriage in the age to come, then how is our status as those ‘in Christ’ affected by the present experience of our future hope? As Song puts it “a created world of which marriage and the birth of children are crucial defining features will be fulfilled in a resurrected world in which neither is present” (p. 16). “The coming of Christ resituates marriage” (p. 23)

Song deliberately takes a conservative view on the temporal ‘goods’ of marriage, notably that, as a creation ordinance, marriage is defined by, or at least ‘open to’ procreation, and therefore has an inextricable relationship with differentiation of gender. He also recognises celibacy as an eschatological calling for some. What he proposes is a third possibility, equal in status to both marriage and celibacy: ‘covenant partnership’ which echoes the ‘goods’ of marriage insofar as they express the values of or future calling, but does not require procreation, since in the realm where there is no death there needs to be no birth. Song’s contention is that, just as most recognise that not every marriage requires procreation for its validity, so there can be a new set of faithful covenanted relationships which do not need to be defined as marriage in order to express our future calling and our present experience of the Trinity.

Crucially this does not need the situation of same-sex couples to be its starting point, in that deliberately childless marriages are of the same category. But it is clearly a framework which can see the faithful and permanent love of a non-procreating couple as an expression of the love of God, and that sexual expression not leading to procreation can be a physical expression of that covenant relationship. This would apply as much to same-sex as to heterosexual couples.

Song approaches this from various angles, including a view of Scripture which does not shy away from a ‘conventional’ reading of the six or so main texts, but allows for a recognition of a ‘direction of travel’ in the Bible which might allow for a reframing of relationships in the way he proposes. In that regard his treatment of Biblical interpretation and the issues of slavery and just war theory were very instructive to this ethical amateur.

Covenant and Calling has no direct answers to aid the Vicar responding to a same-sex couple who would like to marry. Rather, stepping back, it asks for a “major reimagination of the churches’ relations to the culture”, and guards against both an “endorsement of current trends” and a “reactionary response which condemns the sexual revolution out of hand” (p. 97). Robert Song offers some tools for engaging in this debate which I have not been offered before, and does so in a way which takes Scripture, tradition and contemporary society seriously, while seeking to transcend them all in an eschatological perspective I had not seen articulated in quite this way.

Song himself says that much of the approach is “tentative”, not least how to relate covenant partnerships to existing modes of civil partnership and marriage, and whether these can be expressed legally and liturgically. But there is enough here for those at the sharp edge of the debates to gather around, and at least to express their common understandings of the nature of their disagreements. And there is a future hope around which to gather too, for in the end all our understandings based in the experience of the created order will be taken up into the new age, and everything will be transformed.

Stanley Hauerwas’s blurb for the book talks about Robert Song opening up “a new space for discussions and questions”. It was certainly new for me, and was a welcome relief from the Prime Minister’s Question Time nature of much of the current debate. For that I’m grateful. Whether it will help in the next two years of facilitated conversations remains to be seen. And I’ll be fascinated to read what those coming from a conservative position make of it all.

Should you read it? Yes.

Jeremy Fletcher is the Vicar of Beverley Minster in the diocese of York.



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suffragan Bishop of Burnley


It has been announced from 10 Downing Street this morning that the Revd Philip North is to be the next Bishop of Burnley in the diocese of Blackburn:

The Queen has approved the nomination of the Reverend Philip John North, MA, Team Rector of the Parish of Old Saint Pancras, in the Diocese of London, to the Suffragan See of Burnley, in the Diocese of Blackburn, in succession to the Right Reverend John William Goddard, BA, on his resignation on 31 August 2014.

A press release from Forwad in Faith comments:

Forward in Faith is delighted at the news that Fr Philip North is to be the next Bishop of Burnley, in succession to Bishop John Goddard.

Fr North is well known for his pastoral gifts, his zeal for mission and evangelization, and his commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel, especially amongst the poor.

We are proud to welcome a new episcopal member of Forward in Faith, and we pray for Fr North as he prepares for his move, and for the whole people of God in the Diocese of Blackburn.

Update (Friday afternoon)
Blackburn diocese is now also carrying this news: next Bishop of Burnley to be the Reverend Philip North and quoting the bishop-designate:

“Some of you might be aware that I withdrew from an appointment as Bishop of Whitby. The fact that I have been invited and have agreed to serve as a Bishop again is testimony to the very different mood across the Church of England since the understandable disappointment that followed the failure in 2012 of the legislation to enable women to be bishops.

“The Church has stated afresh its commitment to enabling all traditions to flourish within its life and structures, and I hope that my appointment will be seen as evidence of that pledge.”

And the Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, is quoted:

“I want to make it clear that I see Philip’s appointment as a clear sign the Anglican Church in Lancashire is living out these five guiding principles.

“I wanted to have an episcopal colleague who is from the traditionalist catholic constituency and Philip fulfils that role well. He comes to serve the whole Diocese. He will also have particular care for those people who cannot accept the ministry of women as Bishops and Priests in the Church — and he will have my wholehearted support in carrying out this important work.”


Future composition of the Lords Spiritual

David Pocklington has written for Law & Religion UK about the Future composition of the Lords Spiritual.

The announcement to both Houses of the Royal Assent to the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure completed the parliamentary stages of the legislation and brought to the fore the issue of “fast tracking” women in the episcopate to the Lords Spiritual…

The issues that remain, therefore, are: how this is to be accomplished; and what form this fast-tracking/positive discrimination will take…

He goes on to explain why this will require an Act of Parliament rather than a Church Measure. He then looks at what might replace the present “Buggins’ turn” method of appointing the most senior diocesan bishops and allow women more quickly to join the Lords Spiritual.



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