What do we make of the latest statistics about cathedral attendances?
I’ve been a cathedral dean for half my ministry, and was a canon residentiary before that. So I once knew a fair amount about Coventry Cathedral and Sheffield Cathedral. 12 years at Durham completes a trio of three very different cathedrals (and if you count my years as an honorary vicar choral at Salisbury, that makes four).
In the last decade or so, the rhetoric has been that cathedrals are ‘a success story of the Church of England’. (Some immodestly replace the indefinite article with the definite.) I’ve often wondered what this means, and whether success/failure language ought to belong to the way we perceive church life. In the heritage sector, there is now much more talk about the importance of ‘intangible values’, not just the things we can observe and measure. I’m not the only one to worry that church growth/fresh expressions language is seduced by the easy appeal of measurables (‘bums on seats’). I doubt if these are what ultimately matter when it comes to understanding the dynamics of a faith community.