Religion in Britain

Topics: Church of England, Anglicanism, Anglican Communion Pages: 13 (5279 words) Published: December 10, 2010
Religion in Britain

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 VIM, 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 organisation. 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 monarch is crowned by the senior Anglican cleric, the Archbishop of Canterbury, 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...
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