Letter: Growing attraction of the church

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: The trouble with bald statistics is that they produce bald pictures. To suggest, as your leader does (22 March) that "Christian worship and church membership are old people's activities" is not merely simplification in the extreme, but also insulting to both old and young, and just plain wrong.

As your leader points out, Anglican attendance in England is now "broadly stable". We cannot prevent people dying, so logic demands that the Church must be attracting new worshippers to replace them, even to stand still. In the Diocese of Oxford, our average Sunday attendance has grown steady for the past five years. And your suggestion that teenagers do not come back in later years is simply not borne out by the figures. Out of 48,000 people confirmed in the Church of England in 1994 (the latest figures available) 40 per cent, or more than 19,000, were aged 20 years or over.

The Church of England, which is also planting more congregations every fortnight, hardly sounds like a church coming to the end. Growth in numbers and growth in congregations are just two "signs of vitality".

Add to this the considerable growth in financial contributions by individual church members, impossible if the Church were composed entirely of pensioners, and the picture is completely different to the one painted by your leader.

More people attend Church of England services on a Sunday than league football matches over the whole weekend. How many other organisations can command a membership of 1.5m in England today? Come to that, what activity can draw in more than 6m members as the churches do throughout the UK?

Richard Oxon

(The Rt Rev Richard Harries,

Bishop of Oxford)