17 December 2007
More than 140,000 people are expected to attend a Church of
England cathedral for a service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
this year, following a 7.5 per cent rise in worshippers between
2005 and 2006.
Last year, with many cathedrals close to capacity, worshipper
numbers reached more than 130,000 in the 24-hour Christmas period -
a 37 per cent increase since 2000. Across all Church of England
parish services, it is expected that the total topped the 2.8
million seen over the same period in 2005.
In addition to the attendance statistics for last Christmas,
other figures released today from a survey of three cathedrals
conducted last year suggest that Christians are using these
'flagship' church buildings to encourage their friends to attend
church, with more than a third of respondents saying they heard
about the cathedral service from a friend, and a quarter of those
surveyed saying they actually attended the service with friends or
The study - conducted by the Church of England in York Minster,
Southwark Cathedral and Derby Cathedral over nine Christmas
services last year - demonstrates the magnetic draw of cathedrals
at Christmas time for those who rarely attend church, with as many
as half of those surveyed in the congregations saying they attend
church less than once every three months.
One in four had been to a cathedral over the year to attend a
service, but more than half of these Christmas congregations had
visited a cathedral for another reason, such as sightseeing or
Today's statistics will be the star on top of the tree for
cathedral deans and their congregations, who have seen attendance
throughout the year rise by 17 per cent since the turn of the
millennium - a rate of three per cent each year. In an average
week in 2006, 24,800 adults and 6,800 children and young
people attended cathedral worship. All services across the Church
of England parishes attract about 1.2 million a week.
Figures released earlier this year showed that attendance at
cathedrals on Easter Eve and Easter Sunday increased to 52,400 in
2006 - an increase of nine per cent since 2000.
The Revd Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics for the
Church of England, comments: "Rumours of the demise of Christmas as
a Christian celebration are baseless. It won't be the experience of
the thousands upon thousands who will be attending Christmas
services this week. There will be standing-room only at many
cathedrals and churches, as the dormant desire to recapture a sense
of the wonder of the Nativity, to share with others in singing and
praying, and to glimpse something of the spiritual
meaning of the Christmas story draws people from across
communities towards churches across the country.
"The significant attraction of special occasions and major
festivals is a welcome sign of the wider success of the year-round
ministry of cathedrals. Many people feel an innate connection with
their local cathedral as a symbol of the spiritual life of their
community. The anonymity that can be maintained when worshipping
with hundreds of other people within these historic buildings can
act as a further pull for some people in deciding how to mark this
special season of the year."
The cathedrals of Canterbury, London, Norwich, St Albans
and York each expect more than 5,000 adults, children and young
people to join them for worship on Christmas Eve or Day this year.
Across the country, the Christmas menu of events and services
prepared by cathedrals is set to attract a wide range of
worshippers, as deans and chapters lay on extra services and put
out even more seats to meet demand:
- At Chelmsford
Cathedral, Essex, the Dean and Chapter have found that
the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols is so popular
that they are holding it twice this year - one on Sunday 23rd
December and one on Christmas Eve. In addition, the cathedral hosts
a total of nineteen carol services during Advent, including one for
Essex County Fire and Rescue service and a service for the
- This year at Wakefield
Cathedral, situated in the centre of the town's
historic market cross, the Dean and Chapter have begun holding
lunchtime shoppers' carols on Tuesdays in Advent, with up to 100
people attending. The Cathedral also holds two 'Tree of Lights'
services and a related concert with Wakefield Hospice, which a
total of 2,500 people have attended.
- At Chichester
Cathedral, Sussex, as many as 400 people come to the
Advent Procession on Advent Sunday each year to hear the Cathedral
Choir as they process by candlelight through the building in full
voice. Throughout the first half of this December, around fifteen
different organisations held carol services in the Cathedral -
including a special one where visitors arrive by steam train at
Chichester Station. The Cathedral's own carol services are hugely
popular, with as many as 900 people expected at each of the three
events, two of which have already 'sold out', leaving just one
unticketed service on Sunday 23rd December, for which the
Cathedral's doors will open one hour before the 3pm start.
Cathedral has organised two 'Carols for All' events in
association with the city's Christmas Festival, attracting around
600 people to each service. The Cathedral also launched a Midnight
Eucharist service for Christmas Eve just four years ago, and has
seen congregations at that service rise from around 400 to 900
people in 2006.
- In Truro,
Cornwall, the Christmas Services and Concerts at Truro
Cathedral are so popular that a system of free ticketing has been
introduced for the first time this year. A recent review of the
fire regulations means that the capacity seating is now limited to
900, and so the service of Nine Lessons and Carols, always one of
the most popular events in the Christmas Calendar, is this year
being performed twice. Even with that provision, all tickets had
been taken up by the end of November. After the joy of 19 separate
carol services, the Midnight Mass and Christmas Day Service, Sunday
30th December brings the Children and Pets Carol Service - which
always attracts huge numbers of both - and is followed by Evensong
and Carols around the Crib.
- At York
Minster, two Festivals of Nine Lessons and Carols are
now arranged to meet demand - one on the 23rd December and one on
Christmas Eve - with almost 3,000 people expected at each. A
special Crib Service on Christmas Eve, where younger members of the
congregation are invited to dress as shepherds and angels, sees
approximately 1,000 parents and children enjoying being part of a
'living Nativity scene'.
An Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey conducted earlier this
year suggested that four in 10 people went to church at some point
during Advent or Christmas last year, broadly in line with figures
seen in each of 2005 and 2003. The most recent figure (39 per
cent) is significantly above that seen just after the
turn of the millennium when, in 2001, ORB recorded a figure of
33 per cent.