Norwich vicar predicts end of the church

In Norfolk, the extraordinary number of church buildings makes it hard to imagine life without the Church of England.

As the towers stand sentinel in our towns and villages, so the over-arching institution stands equally firm – or does it?

The vicar of Christ Church Eaton, in Norwich, The Rev Dr Patrick Richmond, told the General Synod that the Church was in danger of not being 'functionally extant' by 2030.

He said: 'The perfect storm we can see arriving fast on the horizon is the ageing congregations. The average age is 61 now, with many congregations above that.'

Later, he added: 'I do not want to see us sleepwalk into the failure of the Church. We need to prepare strategies to deal with this. I want to encourage everyone to wake up and start planning now.

'We do have many large and thriving churches but they could be dragged down by the burden of supporting our 12,000 historic church buildings and many of their small and ageing congregations.'

The comments have polarised opinion among Dr Richmond's fellow church leaders.

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The Ven Jan McFarlane, Archdeacon of Norwich, is convinced that her colleague's conclusions are wrong.

She said: 'I don't share Patrick's gloom at all. I'm very aware that when we look at the mission of the Church, we look at children and young people.

'But I'm not sure we always look at putting resources into people in their late 50s and 60s – people who are just retired or are facing their first major bereavement.

'They are people who suddenly start to slow down and think 'what's life all about?' I think that's the time at which people look again at what church might mean and what they believe.

'Patrick's right that people in their 60s and 70s will eventually die off, but I don't believe that it will mean the end of the Church of England.'

She said the issues that Mr Richmond was raising had 'been considered for many years'.

Mrs McFarlane added: 'It's not as if nobody is thinking about what we do with church buildings and how to attract people to church when people are so busy that they don't always stop to think what life is about.

'Work is going on to tackle these issues. The work we do with church schools is massive.

'I think we do lose teenagers and always have. But it's a good thing that young people question their own faith and find their independence.

'If we faithfully talk to people at a young age, we are doing our bit.'

She said: 'I don't see a ticking timebomb.

'We have to be alert and awake, and we have mission strategies. We are working on making our church buildings into buildings for the whole community.'

And she concluded that there was a 'positive future' for the Church.

'People have been predicting the end of the Church for 2,000 years and I really don't think it is about to die.'

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