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Inheriting the earth: students twice as likely to worship

Oxbridge and Durham students are almost twice as likely to attend Sunday worship as the general English population, according to data collected by the Church of England.

A report published by the Church found that 1,685 students regularly attend Sunday services at the three universities’ college chapels in 2016.

That number is 2.6% of the combined student bodies, nearly double the 1.4% of the English population who attend Anglican Sunday services. The number of students attending is really higher, as only 43 of the universities’ combined 56 college chapels gave data.

Joining students are about 1,500 other worshippers, including locals, tourists, and children.

Diocesan statistics published by the Church show a 12% decrease in service attendance from 2006 to 2016 in England overall, but students don’t seem to follow that trend.

Reverend Wendy Wale of Wadham told Cherwell that students’ interest in services may “boil down to resources.” As Wadham chaplain, she ministers to 600 students, while the average chaplain could handle up to 10,000 people.

She says proximity also may be a factor: “There is a chapel plonked right in the middle of people’s worlds – it is very easy to go and doesn’t require a commitment of faith.”

Reverend Clare Hayns of Christ Church told Cherwell: “Students are at a time in their lives when they are working all sorts of things out and so many are exploring their faith amongst other things.

“I also think students appreciate the traditional style of Evensong and the fact that these services have been taking place, in much the same way, for hundreds of years.”

Pip Beck, a third-year English student at Wadham College who attends chapel every week during term time, told Cherwell: “I quite like the ritual of it. I know that I’m going for one hour on a Sunday to hear the same service that’s been happening for hundreds of years – and that I saw last week, and will see next week.

“I think the atmosphere of having so many students and intellectuals around – and it being in such a gorgeous place – really adds to it.

“I think knowing all the people you’ll meet and talk to and all the exciting and intelligent conversations you’ll have make it feel like more of a learning experience than a duty.”

JJ Warren, an international student who attends services at Wadham chapel, told Cherwell: “I think attending services at college chapel feels more authentic than worshipping at home because I’m in the company of similarly aged peers.

“For me, chapel is another way to join the college community and to engage with my peers in a meaningful setting.”

This is the first year that the Church has released a full report on universities, as they are not included in the parish system. This survey is a prototype for future surveys of universities and other non-parish organisations, such as prisons.

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