Church of England could drop legal requirement for weekly Sunday services


Source: The Guardian

By Religion correspondent

The Church of England is considering dropping its legal requirement to hold weekly Sunday services in churches with small and declining congregations.

A paper posted on the C of E website discloses that the “simplification task group” is considering amending clauses in canon law to relax the requirement for morning and evening prayer in every parish church every Sunday.

The task group is part of a wide-ranging programme to modernise the church and stem its falling numbers.

Pete Broadbent, the bishop of Willesden, who leads the task group, said the move was intended to bring canon law in line with custom and practice.

He said: “In rural parishes, no vicar can actually get around all their parishes so technically, they’re breaking the law. All we’re doing is putting the law in line with what already happens.”

Rural churches have experienced falling congregations for decades. Most rural vicars have multiple benefices, with some in charge of up to 10 churches.

Earlier this year, the C of E synod was told that the church expects its numbers to continue to decline for the next 30 years, with today’s figures of 18 people for every 1,000 regularly attending services falling to 10 for every 1,000.

Numbers attending church services have fallen by 12% in the past decade to less than half the levels of the 1960s, with attendance at Sunday services falling to 760,000, according to church statistics.

The paper says the task group is considering changes to canons [church decrees] B11 and B14 “to relax the requirements for regular worship in parish churches in sparsely populated benefices”.

Currently, clergy have to maintain regular services even if only a handful of worshippers turn up.

Canon B11 says: “Morning and evening prayer shall be said or sung in every parish church at least on all Sundays and other principal feast days, and also on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Each service shall be said or sung distinctly, reverently, and in an audible voice.”

Lay members of the church may be authorised to take services in some circumstances, it adds.

Canon B14 says: “The holy communion shall be celebrated in every parish church at least on all Sundays and principal feast days, and on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. It shall be celebrated distinctly, reverently, and in an audible voice.”

Broadbent said that dioceses and parishes had been consulted on the proposal to change canon law and the measure would be put to the C of E synod next year.

The paper was approved by the archbishops’ council, a body which formulates and advises on strategic thinking and planning.


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