A national opinion poll, as carried out by the Opinion Research Business on behalf of the Church of England and English Heritage, found that nearly four of ten adults in Britain attended a place of worship over the Christmas period last year. Of them, more than 2.6 million attended services at the Anglican Church (Church of England).
"Two messages emerge from this research,” said the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, Bishop of London and Chairman of the Church Heritage Forum. “A surprising number of people are involved, occasionally if not regularly, in Christian worship especially over Christmas. Secondly, church buildings have an important place in local affections, with an impact on cultural and community life which extends far beyond the worshipping congregation."
The ORB poll also discovered that, while more than 8 in 10 adults in Britain (83%) regard their local church as a place of worship, nearly 6 in 10 (59%) think of it as a local landmark and more than 5 in 10 (53%) regard it as an historic place. More than 6 in 10 (63%) said they would be concerned if their local church or chapel were no longer to be there.
In addition, the poll revealed that many are happy to consider a variety of uses for their local churches and chapels. 75 percent of those polled agreed that the churches should be used for activities other than worship while 68 percent believed they should be used as social meeting places.
"For many individuals and congregations, the spiritual significance of our churches is beyond measure, but their historical and architectural importance is also immense. In particular, English parish churches make a unique and special contribution to European civilization,” said Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage.
"Along with ecclesiastical buildings of all denominations, they often stand at the centre of village and inner city life, providing a sort of "social glue" for local communities. This survey shows just how special they are and how much they are loved and valued, even by those who consider themselves non-Christian,” Thurley continued.
In terms of general church attendance, the ORB poll found that a staggering 86 percent of adults in Britain visited a place of worship over the last year. These included 89% of Christians responding to the poll, 75% of those of other faiths and 80% of those with no religion.
Of these, 17 percent said they attended a concert or theatrical performance at the place of worship, 13 percent said they were “walking past and felt the need to go in,” while 19 percent said they needed a quiet space.
Church attendance figures released by the Church of England show that 2.6 million people attended churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2002, the same number as in 2001. These are among the first figures to emerge from the collection of 2002 data. More detailed statistics will be published in the New Year.