By Enjoli Liston
Desperate city slickers hit by the recession will be turning to God to answer their economic prayers this Christmas, according to the Dean of Southwark Cathedral.Southwark’s grandest place of worship is positioned in the heart of one of London’s most famous financial districts and has seen the size of its congregation gradually increase over the year, despite the relatively small number of residents in its parish.
In a supposedly increasingly secular society, the congregation reached an unprecedented peak of over 1,000 people at a Sunday mass in October, and Dean Colin Slee expects this number to continue to rise as the recession worsens.
“My instinct says that the recession will mean we see more people this Christmas. We’re putting on an additional choir service on a weekday before Christmas, as well as the usual Sunday afternoon service,” said Dean Slee.
The Church of England as a whole has reported increases in numbers of worshippers. Over 37,000 people were drawn back to the church in November as part of an annual recruitment drive, the largest number the scheme has ever attracted.
Leap of faith?
However, not all of the Dean’s peers agree the recession is a core reason for swelling congregations.
“So people are taking out divine insurance policies? Of all the reasons to come to church!” laughed Reverend Chris Pearson of St Agnes Church in Kennington.
“People do turn to the church at times of crisis but numbers can be very deceptive; church attendance isn’t necessarily a barometer of Christian popularity,” said Pearson.
“I’d say the increase could be due to the fact the choir has a recording contract. Totals of donations would be a better indicator.”
Reverend Graham Shaw of St. Paul’s Church in Newington said although he can understand why people would turn to God when faced with money-worries; none of his parishioners has approached him on the subject. He said all kinds of crises can spark a leap of faith, not just the recession, and that full pews in the run up to Christmas is nothing new. “Christmas is a common time for reflection, when many decide to touch base with the church,” said Reverend Shaw.
Workers in the parish of Southwark Cathedral were equally skeptical. Some attributed increases to the usual Christmas rush or the cathedral’s “lovely interior”. While two others, both Christians themselves, said increases were probably due to more personal crises than the recession.
John Ditchfield, the director of a financial services company at London Bridge said: “I very much doubt that people will turn to God just because the stock market is fluctuating, but if they do I think it’s very sad. It doesn’t fit at all with the true meaning of religion.”