Religion in Britain

This has been particularly true in the two areas of greatest controversy within the Church since the mid-1980s: the ordination

Religion in Britain


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Religion in Britain








Выполнил: студентка IV курса

Пискарева Т.В.

Проверил: к.п.н., Кулагина С.Г.




The Church of England4-10

The Other Christian Churches10-13

Other Religions13-18


Literature 20



Barely 16 per cent of the adult population of Britain belongs to one of the Christian churches, and this proportion continues to decline. Yet the regional variation is revealing. In England only 12 per cent of the adult population are members of a church. The further one travels from London, however, the greater the attendance: in Wales 22 per cent, in Scotland 36 per cent and in Northern Ireland no fewer than 75 per cent.

Today there is complete freedom of practice, regardless of religion or sect. However, until the mid-nineteenth century, those who did not belong to the Church of England, the official 'established' or state church, were barred from some public offices. The established church still plays a powerful role in national life, in spite of the relatively few people who are active members of it.

















The Church of England

There are two established or state churches in Britain: the Church of England, or Anglican Church as it is also called, and the Church of Scotland, or 'Kirk'. In 1533 the English king, Henry VIII, broke away from Rome and declared himself head of the Church in England. His reason was political: the Pope's refusal to allow him to divorce his wife, who had failed to produce a son. Apart from this administrative break, the Church at first remained more Catholic than Protestant. However, during the next two centuries when religion was a vital political issue in Europe, the Church of England became more Protestant in belief as well as organization.

Ever since 1534 the monarch has been Supreme Governor of the Church of England. No one may take the throne who is not a member of the Church of England. For any Protestant this would be unlikely to be a problem, since the Church of England already includes a wide variety of Protestant belief. However, if the monarch or the next in line to the throne decided to marry a Roman Catholic or a divorcee, this might cause a constitutional crisis. It has always been understood that if such a marriage went ahead, the monarch or heir would have to give up their claim to the throne, and to being Supreme Governor of the Church. In 1936 Edward VIII, who had only just succeeded to the throne, abdicated in order to marry a divorcee. Today it is more likely that the monarch or heir would marry the person he or she loved, and would renounce the title of Supreme Governor of the Church. It might pose a constitutional crisis, but is less likely to be one for the Church. The senior Anglican cleric, the Archbishop of Canterbury, crowns the monarch but if the monarch renounced Supreme Governorship of the Church, this ceremony might be abandoned or radically changed.

As Head of the Church of England, the monarch appoints the archbishops, bishops and deans of the Church, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, who might well not be an Anglican. The Prime Minister makes a recommendation from two nominee candidates, put forward by a special Crown Appointments Commission (composed of bishops, clergy and lay members of the Church). All Anglican clergy must take an oath of allegiance to the Crown, a difficult proposition for any priest who is a republican at heart. Thus Church and Crown in England are closely entwined, with mutual bonds of responsibility.

The most senior spiritual leaders of the Church of England are the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is 'Primate of All England', and the Archbishop of York, who is 'Primate of England'. They are head of the two ecclesiastical provinces of England, Canterbury and York. Both provinces are divided into dioceses, each under a bishop. Canterbury is the larger province, containing 30 dioceses, while York contains only 14. The choice of Canterbury and York is historical. Canterbury is the site of where St Augustine reestablished the Christian church in England at the end of the sixth century. The see of York was founded in the early seventh century by an envoy of St Augustine to this capital of Northumbria. (The Celtic churches which survived in Ireland and Scotland were well established two centuries earlier.)

The senior bishops are those of London, Durham and Winchester, but there is no guarantee of promotion according to seniority. George Carey, for example, the present (103rd) Archbishop, was previously Bishop of Bath and Wells, no longer considered a senior bishopric. Because of the growth in population, some bishops are assisted by deputies assigned to a geographical part of the diocese. These are 'suffragan' bishops. Each diocese is composed of parishes, the basic unit of the Church's ministry. Each parish has a vicar, or sometimes a team of vicars, if it includes more than one church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is head of the Anglican 'Communion'. This Communion is composed of the various independent churches which have grown out of the Church of England in various parts of the world. In fact England accounts for only two of the 28 provinces of the Anglican Church. In theory, about 40 per cent of the English might say they were members of the Church of England. Far fewer ever actually attend church and only one million regularly attend, a drop of over 13 per cent since 1988. It is also a small proportion of the 70 million active Anglicans worldwide. More Nigerians, for example, than English are regular attenders of the Anglican Church. Within the worldwide Anglican Communion are some famous people, for example Desmond Tutu, head of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and once Archbishop of Cape Town. It is said that most of the 'ruling establishment' of Washington belong to the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of the United States. The Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church in Wales and the Church of Ireland are members of the Anglican Communion but are not 'established' churches and have memberships of not more than about 100,000 each.

Once in every 10 years the Archbishop of Canterbury invites all the bishops of the Anglican Communion to a conference at Lambeth in London to exchange views and debate issues of concern. Rather like the Commonwealth Conference, the Lambeth Conference provides an opportunity for the sister churches from every continent to meet and share their different concerns and perspectives.

The Church of England is frequently considered to be a 'broad' church because it includes a wide variety of belief and practice. Traditionally there have been two poles in membership, the Evangelicals and the Anglo-Catholics. The Evangelicals, who have become proportionately stronger in recent years, give greater emphasis to basing all faith and practice on the Bible. There are over one million British evangelicals of different Protestant churches belonging to an umbrella group, the Evangelical Alliance. The Anglo-Catholics give greater weight to Church tradition and Catholic practices, and do not feel the same level of disagreement as many Evangelicals concerning the teaching and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. There is an uneasy relationship between the two wings of the Church, which sometimes breaks into open hostility.

Yet most Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are united in their deeper dislike of the liberal theologians within the Church of England. These have challenged the literal validity of several beliefs of the Church, and have argued that reinterpretation must constantly take place, partly as a result of recent biblical scholarship, but also because they maintain that theological understanding changes as society itself changes and develops over the years. In that sense, one can divide the Church of England in a different way, into conservatives and modernists. It is estimated that 80 per cent of the Church of England are of evangelical persuasion, and the balance is divided almost equally between Anglo-Catholics and liberals.

However, a large number of church-goers either feel no particular loyalty to any of these traditions, or feel more comfortable somewhere between these poles. Since most bishops are theologians, the liberals are more strongly represented among the bishops than sheer numbers in church membership justifies.

The Church of England is above all things a church of compromise. It is, in the words of one journalist, 'a Church where there has traditionally been space on the pew for heretics and unbelievers, doubters and sceptics'. It takes a long view and distrusts zealous theological or ideological certainty. It prefers to live with disagreements of belief rather than apply authoritarian decisions. It fudges issues where it can, to keep its broad body of believers together. Most of its members are happy with the arrangement. In that sense the Church of England is profoundly typical of the English character. It distrusts the rigid logic of a particular tradition of theology and prefers the illogical but practical atmo

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