Church of England may scrap legal requirement to hold weekly Sunday services


Rural churches with shrinking congregations may no longer be obliged to hold weekly Sunday services as the Church of England is considering scrapping the legal requirement.

Many vicars are currently breaking church law by only holding the services on a rotational basis, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Rev Pete Broadbent said.

Vicars with large, rural parishes do this - in a practice accepted by the Church of England - because they are currently unable to visit all of their churches every Sunday.

However, the church law Canon B11 stipulates that morning and evening prayers should be held "in every parish church at least on all Sundays".

Bishop Broadbent, chair of the church's "simplification task group", said: "Most churches can't manage that and if you're a priest that looks after about 10 churches you can only do two or three on a Sunday. 

"For 20-30 years the Church of England has basically operated on a kind of rota basis.

"For years people have been breaking the law because you have to make those arrangements but actually the law hasn't caught up with what's actually happening.

"It [the change] will make no actual difference to what's going on but it clears the way for people to be honest."

The bishop's update on his task group has been approved by the Archbishops' Council and is due to go in front of the General Synod.

Canon B14, which states Holy Communion must be celebrated every Sunday, would also need to be altered to "relax the requirements for regular worship in parish churches in sparsely-populated benefices", the bishop wrote.

The number of people attending weekly Church of England services dropped below one million for the first time in 2014, official figures published in January showed.

A Church of England spokesman said: "Services would continue in every parish but not necessarily in every church in each parish, where that parish has a lot of churches, on every Sunday.

"Sunday worship would remain available in every parish."