Class in the Church of England
August 10, 2018 8:48 AM   Subscribe

It's my perception that the C of E skews heavily middle/upper class in their average congregation, which seems to be backed up by a number of thinkpieces I've read, but I've had a look and can't find any reliable statistics/studies on this. Can someone point me to some?

Also interested in considerations of why this is the case (if it is the case) when other denominations/ religious groups seem to have much more of a spread.
posted by threetwentytwo to Religion & Philosophy (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There's a blog post here about the issue of class and church attendance; it links to a YouGov poll with data on church attendance and social class in the UK.
posted by terretu at 9:09 AM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

On the discussion side: if you look at English and Welsh industrial towns, you find a lot of Catholics whose ancestors came over from Ireland and continental Europe, and also a strong history of Nonconformist denominations -- primarily Methodists and Quakers, but also Salvation Army, United Reformed Church (for Scottish communities in England) and Seventh-Day Adventist. The Windrush generation is associated with a distinct black Pentacostalism that still thrives. Put simply, Methodism rose as a working-class alternative to the Established Church and the establishment in general, and the Holiness denominations rose as working-class alternatives to Methodism.

There's a broader C of E class base in rural communities where it's a choice between "the parish church" and nothing, but even small market towns tend to have both a parish church and a "Wesley chapel".

(A slightly bleaker response would be that church congregations are old, and poorer people die younger.)
posted by holgate at 10:14 AM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

While the precise link between Dissenting and social class will probably never be settled by historians, it's fair to say that in the sixteenth century the Church of England inherited the role and function of the Catholic Church as a matter of both informal social control and formal governance. The consequences of that are felt to this day.
posted by praemunire at 11:18 AM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

The C of E is the established church, i.e. the church of the monarch and of the government. In the past, any member of the nobility had to be C of E as an obligation.

On the other side of the coin, in my Episcopal church here in the US, we have members from the former British Empire, e.g. Jamaica, South Africa. Some skew upper class, some skew lower class. I'm sure that's seen in the C of E as well.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:19 PM on August 10, 2018

For C of E vs Methodist that is true as Methodism was specifically founded on the premise the the Anglicans had lost touch with the working class and only catered to the aristocracy. Within the C of E though there are several traditions which are also associated with class and socio-economic status and to some degree geography. For search terms you might want to use "high" vs "Low" vs "Broad" church which are associated with the style of worship but also with socioeconomic class. They are dated terms you don't hear much anymore btw.
posted by fshgrl at 4:30 PM on August 10, 2018

I’m not necessarily sure that “class” is something that neatly maps, as much as culture.

I’m a “high Anglican” and a member of the congregation of a small medieval church in a tiny rural hamlet.

Evensong is literally a scene from a George Eliot novel, in that the congregation covers all classes, from Lady Dowagers to retired agricultural labourers.

It’s an amazing social mix, and a really interesting thing to be part of a community that’s so apparently anachronistic.
posted by Middlemarch at 1:22 AM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

That's true, geography plays a big part in what church an individual belongs to, probably the biggest part for most of history. But I've always had the impression that in the various protestant denominations when you look at the clergy and particularly the church higher ups themselves they were drawn from starkly different parts of society. That might go back to the types of salaries and housing offered by the various parishes too and the expectation that they would support a spouse who did not work outside their parish duties. These days I imagine that's a lot less of a thing.
posted by fshgrl at 4:56 PM on August 11, 2018

Evensong is literally a scene from a George Eliot novel

Eponysterical, obv. And yes, I've seen that in places like East Anglia.

These days I imagine that's a lot less of a thing.

There's certainly not the Jane Austen thing where a second or third son would seek out the relatively comfortable living of a parish somewhere, but I know a couple of third-generation Anglican vicars, one of whom spent a handful of years in a City job to save up for theological college. Multi-generational ministries are common in the US, of course, but denominations with more formal hierarchies (and that allow clergy to marry) are also likely to have that continuity because of familiarity with the day-to-day running of a parish.
posted by holgate at 11:50 AM on August 13, 2018

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