Christmas cheer as Hereford Diocese tops national league
Regular worshippers in the Church of England’s Hereford Diocese are the highest percentage in the country.
New Statistics for Mission produced centrally show that Sunday congregations make up the largest proportion of the diocese’s population at 2.4% and its total Christian population of 3.5%.
Vicars in the diocese, which also covers south Shropshire, parts of Worcestershire, Powys and Monmouthshire are also the busiest in the Church of England when it comes to funerals with 57% of people who die having a service conducted by clergy. The national average is 30%.
When it comes to baptisms - 27% of births are welcomed into the church in this way – second only to Carlisle.
So what’s the success down to? The Bishop of Hereford, Rt Revd Richard Frith said:
“Thankfully there is appropriate change happening. In many different communities there are new forms of worship and an acknowledgement that ‘church’ doesn’t just happen on Sundays or even in church.”
“This part of the country has a very rich Christian heritage, and I greatly admire all those who sustain the worship and ministry of the church, and are now responding positively to the current circumstances.”
But Hereford Diocese is not complacent as the statistics also show that 40% of congregations are aged over 70.
The diocese has a key commitment to growing spiritually and numerically – to encourage more people to find their faith with a particular emphasis on younger people and those living in market towns or deprived communities.
There is also a shared vison that by 2021 the church will be more representative of the ages and backgrounds of the society it serves.
Bishop Richard continued:
“Let’s face it we are talking about a very small population, 2.4 percent, so even if you add on all those of other denominations it’s not a high proportion.”
“The church is here for the whole of the community and we welcome ideas and engagement from anyone as we seek to respond to the challenges we face.”
One such church which has had to alter its outlook and how it attracts people to its pews is St Michael’s in Dewsall.
Five years ago it was facing extinction – with a small congregation meeting once a month.
Then it was approached by the owner of a wedding reception venue on its doorstep who had been asked by couples whether they could also get married in the church.
With this in mind, couples who wanted to get married at St Michael’s needed to come to church regularly in the run up to their wedding.
It meant the church became full of younger people and this attracted young local people and families to the church once more as it gave the congregation an uplift.
Reverend Mark Johnson said: “We used to have ten people at a monthly service and now we get up to thirty people.”
“More couples and young families are attending because they would like to get married at the church.”
“This has meant more people have seen the church as a living place of worship, and it has encouraged other people to come to occasional services such as carols.”
“An increase in people attending has also enabled us to bring in grants to improve the paths and invest in the building making it more useful to the community as venue for concerts and other events.”
“Not all of the couples who get married here continue to come to church here but for some it has led to them becoming church members elsewhere.”
“The congregation here see it as a chance to welcome people into a worshipping community.”
Details of services over the Christmas period in the Diocese of Hereford can be found on the diocese website www.hereford.anglican.org or at www.achristmasnearyou.org.
The Church of England Statistics for Mission provide the latest figures on attendance at Church of England Services, and numbers of baptisms, marriages, and funerals.
Overall, in October 2015, an average of 960,000 people each week participated in a Church of England service; additionally 165,000 people each week attended services for schools in a Church of England Church.
In order to get married at a particular church in the Church of England couples must have a qualifying connection, such as living in the parish or a close relative living there, or attending for a set number of services ahead of their marriage date.