Bishop Martin Seeley positive about church attendance despite falling Church of England numbers
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Suffolk’s most senior Church of England leader has said he believes church attendance in the county is increasing – despite the organisation’s own statistics showing another year of decline.
Figures released yesterday revealed the number of people attending church in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich area had fallen for six years running.
The number of marriages and funerals taking place in churches in the area has also dropped year of year over the same period, 2009 to 2014.
However The Rt Revd Martin Seeley, bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said the data only presented part of the picture.
“In the eight months I have been in Suffolk I’ve seen growth in churches right across the county, especially where congregations are engaging with young people, and helping people connect with the Christian message in fresh ways,” he said.
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“Churches across Suffolk are making a real difference in so many of our town and rural communities, whether it be opening their churches as winter night shelters for the homeless or holding community events.”
In 2009 there was an average of 15,500 people attending church each Sunday and a weekly average of 18,100 people.
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In 2014 those figures had fallen to 12,400 and 15,200 respectively.
But Bishop Seeley continued: “I’ve seen how even small numbers are making a big difference in their communities. Throughout 2015 more than half our churches in Suffolk saw more people attending than in 2014.
“At St Augustine’s in Ipswich at the annual carol service numbers increased from 159 people in 2013 to 288 in 2015 following a social media publicity campaign.
“Our vision is to grow and make a difference for all our communities, and the signs are there that this is beginning to happen.”
The St Edmundsbury and Ipswich statistics reflected the national picture, with the number of regular churchgoers across the country falling below 1million for the first time.
Speaking on the publication of the statistics, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said: “The 2014 figures are not in any way a surprise. Whilst the recent trend of the past decade continues, it has been anticipated and is being acted on radically.
“As part of a prayerful and considered response to these trends the Church is embarking upon the biggest renewal and reform process in over 150 years focusing our resources on prayer, evangelism, discipleship, vocations, leadership & training.