EVER since the 18th century, England’s established church has
harboured a suspicion of religious enthusiasm. Anglicanism’s cosy
ubiquity as a reassuring, if vestigial, presence in every English suburb
and village is regarded as a defence against the sort of fanaticism
that leads to social or ethnic conflict. But every so often in English
church history, compromise and emollience have triggered a
countervailing reaction: an upsurge in faith of a more passionate kind.
Such a change may be under way now.
As the number of people who are actively committed to the Church of
England falls, the proportion of churchgoers who are serious about their
faith—and its implications for private and public life—is growing.
Peter Brierley, a collector of statistics on faith in Britain, reckons
that 40% of Anglicans attend evangelical parishes these days, up from
26% in 1989. That is against a background of overall decline; he thinks
the number of regular worshippers in the Church of England will have
fallen to 680,000 by 2020, down from about 800,000 now and just under 1m
a decade ago. The lukewarm are falling away, leaving the pews to the
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