A letter to the Economist

16 September: For those who spotted it, the Economist article last week was less than generous about the Church of England and, in particular, St Mary the Virgin in Turville village (of Vicar of Dibley fame). Archdeacon Guy penned a response. 

No no no no, no no no…

Yes… Sunday Church attendance has declined, yet there is still so much excitement for what is to come.

As with every other aspect of society, much has changed since the 1970s – population, the economy and lifestyles. And like much of society, this has required a proactive response from the Church to adapt and meet the needs of an evolving society.

Despite the decline in attendance, the church continues to maintain its commitment and presence to local communities across the country. Churches in all shapes and sizes have for years cared for the bereaved, fed the poor, and brought people together. Not least during the pandemic, local churches continued to show up, serve and support their communities in need and even provided one of the only local and tranquil places for reflection away from the stresses and tragedies of the pandemic.

You may ask about rural churches appearing empty but what goes on behind the scenes is at the heart of community cohesion. Throughout the pandemic, one of the neighbouring churches to the famous Dibley St Mary the Virgin, Turville, gathered weekly, come rain or shine, for outdoor prayer. This simple community gathering at St Mary’s, Fawley, near Henley-on-Thames, has grown from just 8 people to over 50 regular attendees of all faiths and none sharing their prayers, poetry and verses with the support of one another. The local church is a force for good.

Our population in the region covered by the Diocese of Oxford is set to see half a million new faces by 2026. Our churches, schools, community groups and chaplaincies will continue to meet these people where they are, walk alongside them and support them through the best days and the worst days of life – and not just in our church buildings.

The Venerable Guy Elsmore
Archdeacon of Buckingham