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‘The Church of England could die out within a generation’.

According to a report in The Daily Telegraph on 27 June 2009, the Rt Rev Paul Richardson, assistant Church of England Bishop of Newcastle, has admitted that Britain is no longer a Christian nation. As one of the Church of England’s longest-serving bishops, his comments have attracted attention. They come at a time when the General Synod of the Church of England is having to consider cutting the number of bishops and senior clergy because of fears over the Church’s finances.

Bishop Richardson explained: ‘Many bishops prefer to turn their heads, to carry on as if nothing has changed, rather than face the reality that Britain is no longer a Christian nation’. He said that the Church had lost more than one in ten of even its ‘regular’ worshippers between 1996 and 2006. Then there was a fall from more than one million to 880,000, about 1.7% of the population of England. ‘At this rate it is hard to see the Church surviving for more than 30 years, though few of its leaders are prepared to face that possibility’, said Bishop Richardson. Bishop Richardson said that the percentage of babies being baptised had fallen from 60.9% at the turn of the twentieth century to 12.8% in 2006/7 and the number of church weddings had also dropped.

The Bishop added: ‘At present church leaders show little signs of understanding the situation. They don’t understand the culture we now live in’. The bishop said that disestablishment was inevitable and that, ‘rather than try to cling on to their places in the House of Lords, they (the bishops) should take the initiative by withdrawing, which shows that they appreciate that Christian Britain is dead’. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has also stated the obvious, that Britain’s Churches are in such serious decline that if they were shops they would long ago have been declared bankrupt.

It is surprising that the loss of the vestigial Protestant faith of the Church of England over the last fifty years has only now been recognised by one of its bishops. The massive loss of faith has after all been reflected in the closure of thousands of Church of England churches and the public denial of such basic Christian beliefs as the Holy Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth by a great many of its own bishops, clergy and theologians over the last two generations. As elsewhere in Western Europe, even the basic Ten Commandments have been forgotten, and as a result rates of crime, drunkenness, drug-taking, divorce and sexually transmitted disease have soared. Christian marriage has been replaced by the casual cohabitation of both sexes and broken homes and ‘reconstituted families’ have become the norm. How could these cultural transformations not have been noticed?

Already in mid-Victorian times less than half of the population of England (now 25 million) regarded themselves as belonging to the minority ‘Church of England’. Today, however, many of those who claim membership are not actually baptised. ‘C of E’ (‘Church of England’) is the default answer of millions when they are asked their religious affiliation. When questioned, many do not even know what ‘C of E’ stands for. The old story, that if people had no religion, they should put ‘C of E’ on official forms, is being reversed into, if people are ‘C of E’, then they should put ‘no religion’ on official forms.

The fact is that even the drastically reduced core beliefs of the C of E have been so watered down and secularised in the last two generations that it is now perfectly possible to be agnostic and a C of E clergyman/woman. Indeed, agnosticism seems to be the most widespread English ‘faith’. Having arisen through constant compromises under the mask of ‘tolerance’, English religious indifference has led to the triumph of the new religion of secularism. (And a religion it is).

Generally speaking, it takes three generations to destroy anything. Given that two generations of spiritual destruction have already gone by, it is hardly surprising to hear that the C of E may only have one more generation left. The spiritual future of this country is clearly no longer with the post-Reformation past. This was the institutionalised Anglican compromise of ‘Protestantism with a Catholic face’, as imposed by the Tudor State and Monarchy in the sixteenth century. The future is now elsewhere.

Fr Andrew

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