Empty pews not the end of the world, says new Church of England bishop

(Photo: REUTERS / Phil Noble)The first female bishop in the Church of England Libby Lane steps outside following her consecration service at York Minster in northern England on January 26, 2015 as the Archbishop of York John Sentamu (L) looks on.

Falling numbers at services should not necessarily trigger despair for churches because people will still "encounter God" without taking their place in a pew, says one the newest bishop appointees in the Church of England.

Dame Sarah Mullally, the former Chief Nurse for England in the country's National Health Service, has been named as the next Bishop of Crediton in south west England.

Dame Sarah was the youngest ever Chief Nursing Officer for England in 1999, is a mother of two grown up children and came to the church late in life and after being ordained in 2001.

She was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2005, under the UK system of granting people titles, in recognition of her contribution to nursing and midwifery.

She is the fourth woman to become a Church of England bishop after the first female bishop was consecrated in Janaury.

She told The Telegraph newspaper clerics must recognise that young people are as likely to hear the Christian message through social media sites such as Facebook or in cafés as in a church.

Church of England attendance has slowly declined for decades. The proportion of Britons attending a local morning service have fallen by half in 40 years, by some measures, to just 1.5 per cent of the population, The Guardian newspaper reported June 7.

New figures, however, have indicated a much steeper fall in the numbers considering their views to be broadly in line with the church.

The yearly British Social Attitudes survey found that in just two years between 2012 and 2014, the number of people describing their beliefs as being Church of England or Anglican fell from 21 per cent to 17 per cent.

That is a loss of 1.7 million people and it prompted the former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, to repeat warnings that the church is "a generation away from extinction," The Guardian reported.

In January the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu both said the Church of England will no longer be able to carry on its current form unless the downward spiral its membership is reversed "as a matter of urgency."

The two most senior bishops in the church said in The Telegraph the church could face a dramatic shortage of priests within a decade as almost half of the current clergy retire.

Meanwhile dwindling numbers in the pews will inevitably plunge the Church into a financial crisis as it grapples with the "burden" of maintaining thousands of historic buildings, they insisted

The Church of England is the officially-established Christian church in England and is considered the mother church of the 80-million strong worldwide Anglican Communion.

Typical Sunday attendances have halved to just 800,000 in the last 40 years – although the church has previously claimed the decline has been levelling off in recent years.

Income from donations in the offering plate has risen slightly in the last few years as declining congregations dig deeper.

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