Independent (England), Feb. 23, 2003
By Jonathan Thompson
The Church of England will be dead in 60 years if its current decline is allowed to continue unabated, according to a new report.
The authors claim that liberal experiments within the Church, especially within the liturgy, are principally to blame, and are calling for an “audit”.
“The Church of England’s love affair with modernity has been unrequited,” writes Rev Robbie Low, the vicar of All Saints in Bushey Heath, Middlesex. “The liberal experiment is dead. Unfortunately it is in danger of taking the Church of England into the grave with it.”
The report, Called to Account, written by clergy and laity, is likely to cause concern for the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is enthroned this week. In it, the Social Affairs Unit, a right-wing think tank, highlights 27 areas in which the Church is failing, from lower baptism figures and fewer church weddings to a decline of influence within the armed forces.
The think tank hopes that the evidence provided will force Dr Williams into a full, independent review of the Church’s current state.
Dr Digby Anderson, editor of the report and director of the think tank, claimed that the findings would cause any other business or organisation to immediately commission an external audit.
“This is an institution which has been going through a catastrophic collapse over the last 40 years,” said Dr Anderson. “Any chief executive in charge of a company, or politician presiding over a party in that situation would be instantly called to account. We want the Archbishop of Canterbury to face the facts, for the good of the Church. We need a bit of transparency. An audit would let everybody see exactly what the situation is.”
The report speaks of the “across the board” decline of the Church. In a chapter on attendance rates, Mr Low points out that church membership has dropped by more than half in a single generation. Statistical projections, he claims, put 2003 attendance levels at below one and a half million for the first time ever. The number of children attending has declined from 223,000 in 1991, to 80,000.
The study, which took 18 months to complete, includes a prominent contribution from Rev Peter Mullen, chaplain to the London Stock Exchange, and a chapter from best-selling author Fay Weldon who writes: “The Church seems bent on self-destruction. Those who run it are either, if you look at them kindly, sinking under the weight of their empathy, or at worst, are guilty of an actual plot to bring it to its knees.”
Further figures in the document show the extent of the Church’s financial vulnerability. These problems have been worsened in recent years by a lack of central funds for parish support, and an increasing number of retired clergy claiming pensions.
But leading members of the Church took issue with the report last night. “There has been a decline in numbers, but there are very healthy signs that this has been halted, and maybe even reversed,” said said Rev John Andrews, spokesman for the Diocese of Bath and Wells. Lambeth Palace was unavailable for comment.