Drop in church worshippers

SENIOR church officials said last night losing 3,700 Sunday worshippers in one year across Suffolk and Essex would not plunge the Church of England into financial crisis.

SENIOR church officials said last night losing 3,700 Sunday worshippers in one year across Suffolk and Essex would not plunge the Church of England into financial crisis.

Latest figures from the Church of England nationally provide a breakdown of attendance figures across the country, showing that the average overall number of church attenders on Sundays declined nationally by 4%.

The statistics chart the attendance figures for various age groups in the years 2002 and 2001 and show that in Suffolk and Essex Sunday church attendance figures have dropped.

In Suffolk's St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese an average of 18,200 people of all ages attended church on a Sunday during 2002, down from 20,200 the previous year. In Essex's Chelmsford Diocese an average of 38,300 people of all ages attended church on a Sunday during 2002, down from 40,000 in 2001.


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For Suffolk that represents just under a 10% decline and for Essex, just over a 4% drop.

The statistics also show that the average weekly church attendance for people of all ages fell in Suffolk from 22,400 in 2001 to 20,200 in 2002 and in Essex from 44,700 to 43,900.

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But among the 26 dioceses that saw increases in one or more measures of church attendance levels for children and young people in 2002 in the region, were Chelmsford, Norwich and Peterborough.

In Suffolk The Rt Rev Clive Young, Bishop of Dunwich, said: "The past ten years figures of church attendance in Suffolk have been maintained, where nationally the figures have been in decline.

"Suffolk is only now beginning to reflect a national trend. There are many more people than just those who go to a service on a Sunday for whom the Church is still a vital in their lives.

"For the Church it's about serving those people in hundreds of Suffolk communities. Success is not measured by filling buildings.''

Nick Clarke, director of communications for the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, insisted the Church would not face a financial crisis as a result of the sharp decline in Sunday attendance, arguing that people's generosity to the Church in Suffolk continues to be strong.

He said: "Will we have a financial crisis? No. We have enjoyed a continuing financial strength from giving by Suffolk churchgoers.

"The attendance figures do show a drop and taken at face value could be a bit disheartening, but there is a great deal more to the Church of England that just people going to church.

"The Church of England is still the biggest Church in Suffolk and Ipswich Town Football Club would love these figures, and we get them 52 weeks of the year not just every other Saturday.

"We recognize society is changing and Sunday is not necessarily the day people go to church. Many churches have services mid week to allow people to go to church at times more convenient to them.''

A spokeswoman for the Chelmsford Diocese said: "It is heartening more young people are coming through and we are working on that. We have roadshows going around the whole diocese looking at the way we work with children and that's a real success and beginning to pay off.''

She said last year's figures were overhauled as part of a seven year review of the electoral roll, which could mean the sharp drop in Sunday attendance is in reality a steady decline over the years as the figures catch up with reality.

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