Church of England ‘hit’ squad to target towns such as Wisbech and March to get more people in the pews

Bishop of Ely, Rt Reverend Stephen Conway, unveiling the plaque at Orchards Church of England Academ

Bishop of Ely, Rt Reverend Stephen Conway, unveiling the plaque at Orchards Church of England Academy. Picture(s): IAN CARTER - Credit: Archant

The Church of England is to send a ‘hit’ squad into the Fens to encourage people back to church.

It will include a part-time evangelism coach to work alongside clergy and lay workers to help get the message across.

Over the next five years, the Changing Market Towns project will use £2.13 million of funding from the Church of England, which is being matched by the Ely diocese, to support the campaign.

The diocese is responsible for 337 churches but has singled out six towns – and a village - where they want to see more people in the pews.

Nationally church attendance has dropped to less than two per cent but in March, Wisbech, Chatteris, Littleport, Ramsey, Huntingdon and Downham Market the average Sunday service church attendance is just 0.9 per cent.

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Figures released by the diocese show that although that is the average, in Wisbech it drops to 0.5 per cent and in Huntingdon to just 0.3 per cent.

This compares to church attendance in Cambridge which is three per cent.

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The Rt Revd Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely, said: “I am delighted that this major project has received support.

“We hope that, through it, very many more people will be enabled to join a journey of faith and share in God’s work of transforming their communities.

“It is far-reaching, complex and ambitious and an expression of our faith in the power of God.”

Canon Matthew Bradbury, the lead minister in the Church of England’s Wisbech Market Town Mission, added: “I am absolutely delighted with the news of the grant.

“After more than a year in the planning, it will be great to start advertising for the additional support workers who together with the members of our congregations will be striving to take the Gospel to the heart of the community”.

The market towns project will fund more staff, art projects and help encourage churches to open up as an all week welcoming environment with a “range of opportunities for faith discovery and worship.”

There will be a major investment in the Wisbech Learning Centre, family support workers across all towns, arts linked activities particularly at Chatteris, youth workers, lay wedding celebrants and music workshops.

It is hoped a flourishing congregation can be grown at Waterlees in Wisbech closely linked to Orchards School, alongside a “Street Klub.”

The far reaching five year plan wants the community to see that the church is “alive and active.”

The project is part of ‘Levers for Change’ within the Diocese of Ely’s Ely2025 Growth Strategy and will filter through to neighbouring towns of Whittlesey, Ely, Soham, St Ives and St Neots to help transform communities.

Other major elements of the project include developing a learning community for theology and mission in Wisbech.

Part of the problem may be a lack of young vicars to inspire the younger generation. Church of England; statistics show the average clergy age is 56.

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