Church of England Could Soon Remove Legal Requirement For Regular Sunday Services

Bishop of Willesden Pete Broadbent, third from left, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, celebrating Morning Prayer at St John's Church, Southall. Also in the picture are Toby Howarth, secretary for inter-religious affairs, and Lady Margaret Eaton.Marc Gascoigne/Lambeth Palace

The Church of England is considering moves to abandon the legal requirement to hold regular services of morning and evening prayer in parish churches because of declining congregations.

The proposal is among those in the first "update" from the simplification task group. The group, which in spite of its name is facing a set of extremely complex tasks, was set up as one of a raft of reforms aimed at stopping the "terrifying" decline of the Church of England.

The aim of the group is to remove the red tape from parish life in order to aid mission and growth.

Bishop of Willesden Pete Broadbent, chairman of the group, writes in the update that they are considering changes to church law spelled out in Canons B11 and B14 in order "to relax the requirements for regular worship in parish churches in sparsely-populated benefices."

This would mean that services in churches rural areas with few regular worshippers would become a lot less frequent.

At present, clergy are required to take many regular services, even if there is a congregation of just one or two people, or noone at all.

Canon B11 reads: "Morning and Evening Prayer shall be said or sung in every parish church at least on all Sundays and other principal Feast Days, and also on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

"Each service shall be said or sung distinctly, reverently, and in an audible voice.

"Readers, such other lay persons as may be authorized by the bishop of the diocese, or some other suitable lay person, may, at the invitation of the minister of the parish or, where the cure is vacant or the minister is incapacitated, at the invitation of the churchwardens say or sing Morning and Evening Prayer (save for the Absolution)."

Canon B14 reads: "The Holy Communion shall be celebrated in every parish church at least on all Sundays and principal Feast Days, and on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. It shall be celebrated distinctly, reverently, and in an audible voice."

The paper refers to the group's "work stream".

One Anglican, "Clive", commenting on the Thinking Anglicans website, writes: "Work stream? When a Church gets so far up its own managerial navel that it has 'work streams' it may be time for some pretty radical simplification. :)"