Ministers all dressed up with no one to listen

As a result of falling attendances, the Church of England is having to adapt to one-person congregations in rural areas

This article was first published in The Times on February 3, 2018.

Carolyn Brawn had prepared everything for the Sunday service — the sermon, the prayers and the readings. When she arrived to lead a service at St John the Baptist church in Achurch, a village in Northamptonshire, only the warden turned up. It’s an increasingly common experience in village churches across Britain. “It was very peculiar,” says the Church of England reader who is authorised to lead certain services. “Instead of delivering a sermon I just talked to my friend.”

Villagers gathering in church on Sunday is how many of us like to imagine rural life, but owing to a decline in churchgoing, this vision is under strain. Rural parishes are serving ever-dwindling handfuls of communicants. In some cases ministers are turning up to lead a service only to find there is a congregation of one — or none. After all, what is the point of an empty church?

At Achurch it was decided that a change was needed. A family service was introduced once a month involving craft activities and children acting out parts of the Gospel. Average attendance increased to 15 people, with families coming from other villages.

The parish committee never considered closure. Mrs Brawn, who has been a warden there for 20 years and a reader for nine, said she would be devastated if the church were to close. “If you lose the church you lose the heart of the community,” she says.

At other churches the problem can be harder to fix…

Read the rest of the article here.