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United Kingdom: a survey of Christian churches. Lower attendance rates, more charity works and “social liturgy”

“Theos”, the most important British think tank on religious studies, has compiled a profile of Anglicans, Catholics and members of other religious confessions. “Traditional” Christianity appears to have been partly replaced by new forms of adhesion to the Gospel. The Catholic Primate Vincent Nichols and his Anglican counterpart, Archbishop Justin Welby, highlighted “the deep need for spirituality.” The difficulty of transmitting the faith in a secularized society.

A very complex landscape that evidences a “drop in traditional religiosity.” Nonetheless, many churches are “growing”, and there is a “deep yearning for spirituality” expressed in different ways compared to the past. These are some of the conclusions of “Doing good”, the latest report on the state of Christianity compiled by “Theos”, the most important think tank on religious studies in the UK, promoted by Catholic Primate Vincent Nichols and by his Anglican counterpart Archbishop Justin Welby, which reaches out to some 160 million readers through various media platforms. In the preface of the Report the two religious leaders indicated the future path of Christian churches in Britain. The commitment for the last – whether the homeless, single mothers, or family men who lost their jobs – is a specific feature of all those who believe in Jesus and that “Theos” has named, coining a new term, “social liturgy.” In “Doing good” we find the Resurrection of Christianity in the United Kingdom.

Decreasing numbers of Christian believers. Unfortunately the figures presented in the opening paragraphs of the Report highlight a sharp drop in the number of Christian faithful within an ever-secularised United Kingdom. In 2007 4.5 million people attended church, 1.2 million Catholics, 1.2 million Anglicans and over 2 million belonging to other denominations.

This year they amount to 4.2 million: 1 million Catholics, 1 million Anglicans and 2.2 faithful of other Christian denominations.

In 2001, 72% of those living in England and Wales defined themselves as Christian, 6% as members of other religions and 15% as non-believers. Ten years later these figures have dropped to 59%, 11% and 25% respectively. The sharpest decrease was registered among those who define themselves as Christian, attending the church more or less frequently.

 Other growing figures. Yet it would be wrong to talk about an unstoppable hemorrhage since in London – as well as in Birmingham, Edinburgh and Newcastle – with the arrival of thousands of Christian migrants, the number of those attending Mass has increased and rose from 623thousand in 2005 to 722 thousand in 2012, with a simultaneous growth of the places of worship that have grown from 4087 to 4791. Growing numbers of Anglicans and Catholics, but increases were registered especially amongst the Orthodox and Pentecostal faithful. The survey shows greater interest for religion along with increased religious affiliation to Islam and high rates of Dawkins-inspired aggressive atheism as well as surging anti-Semitism. In short, while affiliation to a Christian denomination was previously taken for granted, today the United Kingdom’s religious landscape is a mosaic of which Christianity continues to be an important part.

A “fluid” form of spirituality. While “organized” religion is giving way, the “Doing Good” survey shows that a more “fluid, personalized” form of spirituality is gaining ground, as confirmed by a Yougove research according to which at least 20% of those surveyed believe in an afterlife, in angels, in reincarnation.

A creed marked by contradictory beliefs…

“However one may interpret this complex landscape”, states the Report, “the overall picture is not that of an atheism without problems but rather that of a tempest of spiritual ideas; vibrant commitment and behaviours.”

Community engagement. While the number of people describing themselves as Christian churchgoers has decreased, the social commitment of those who embrace the Gospel has increased over the past ten years. The “Doing good” Report shows that out of 188 thousand charities in the United Kingdom, almost 50 thousand are inspired by the churches and as many as 15 thousand were established and developed over the past 10 years. About half of the adult population that received assistance for various kinds of problems – ranging from the lack of food, of a home, a job, or for addiction to alcohol or drugs – were helped by Christian associations. Statistics indicated that at least 2,110 groups are engaged in social work with the support of 9177 employees and 139,600 volunteers serving 3.5 million people in need every year.

Social liturgy. For the think tank “Theos” this approach entails certain risks, namely, the loss of the spiritual dimension of Christian social commitment. That is to say, the yearning to help could lead to disregard the underlying reasons of that same commitment, rooted in the personal relationship with God. Hence the decision to coin the new term “social liturgy” referring to an activity that addresses the problems of contemporary societies but is directed to divine service. This is how true fidelity to Jesus Christ will survive in the 21th century, according to the “Theos” Report. Moreover, “there is no reason to believe repeated news announcing the death of Christianity: Christians’ commitment for the last bears the visible signs of His Resurrection.”


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