Trends in Anglican Confirmations, 1872-2009

There has been some discussion in the press regarding Kate Middleton’s recent confirmation as an Anglican, and so I thought I would look up the extant data.



My knowledge of Anglican confirmation is fairly limited. I remember Noel Streatfeild’s autobiographical A Vicarage Family (1963) at school, where the teenage Vicky (Streatfeild’s alter ego) is confirmed shortly before the First World War (she wears a horrific dress and throws an inkwell at the family governess just before the service). From this I gathered that it was the Anglican analogue of Catholic first communion, required to take communion in an Anglican church – although apparently not, as the Church of England website explains here.

I have combined various sources to produce the graph above.

For 1872 to 1970 the source is Currie, Gilbert and Horsley’s data on confirmations from Churches and Churchgoers (1977), originally sourced from The Official Yearbook of the Church of England. The data and source note is also available on BRIN/figures here.

Secondly, there is a set of annual data compiled by the Church Society for 1950-2005 with a description of sources here (although note that the source description encompasses other measures of attendance and rites of passage). These overlap the CGH figures with a very small divergence between 1963 and 1969.

I also have estimates from two editions of P. Brierley (ed.) Religious Trends: Table 8.14.1 in Religious Trends 1 (1998-1999) and Table 8.3.1 in Religious Trends 4 (2003/2004).

These cover different but sometimes overlapping different years and in some cases differ slightly (perhaps because of revision or rounding) although ultimately sourced from Church Statistics, Research & Statistics Department, Archbishops’ Council, Church House.

The final source is the Church of England’s Church Statistics Online, which provides measures for 2000-2009 (2003-2009 data here; 2000-2002 data from the archive section here ). The 2003-2009 data appear to have been rounded.

How can the decline be interpreted? The Church Society refers people to the following article by Brian Green in Crossway (2003). He argues that:

church attendance and confirmations are firmly linked… if people are not confirmed, why would they attend a form of worship in which they may not participate fully?”

Paul Handley, editor of the Church Times, wrote yesterday in The Guardian that:

The Church of England has relaxed its regulations, so that anyone who has been baptised can take communion, even in infancy if the priest agrees. Confirmation, then, has become much more of a conscious, opt-in sort of occasion”.

I’m not clear as to when the change in rules was brought into force (perhaps after Green’s commentary in 2003), or why – any clarification from readers would be welcome.

The CGH, Religious Trends and Church Statistics Online data are also given in the table below. For copyright reasons I refer readers again to the Church Society’s 1950-2005 compilation rather than reproducing them below.

Or download the data as a CSV file here.

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

This entry was posted in Historical studies, Measuring religion, Religion in the Press, Rites of Passage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Trends in Anglican Confirmations, 1872-2009

  1. Barbara Moss says:

    Preparation of children to receive Holy Communion (i.e. without Confirmation)was introduced, I think,in the 1990s. This would be the equivalent to First Communion for Roman Catholics, and probably at a similar age, 7 upwards. Each Diocese could decide whether to allow this; but once a child has been admitted, s/he should be offered communion in any Church of England church regardless of diocesan policy.

  2. Thank you for this. It’s very interesting! I found the following material at the Diocese of Oxford website:

    ‘The General Synod and the House of Bishops have debated the question of children receiving holy communion before confirmation over many years. In the General Synod of November 1996 the House of Bishops agreed a position and a set of guidelines were issued.

    ‘The bishops and senior staff of this Diocese believe that these guidelines represent both good pastoral practice and a sound theological position and warmly commend them for consideration in the parishes.

    ‘Individual parishes wishing to admit children to communion before confirmation must seek the agreement of their area bishop. He will want to satisfy himself that the application has the full support of the incumbent and the PCC. Any application will need to show evidence of careful consideration of the issues and include a clear commitment to a serious and continuing catechetical education for the children, leading to confirmation in due course….

    ‘Note that no baptised person, child or adult, who has been admitted to holy communion should be deprived of it when, for example, visiting another parish or after moving to a new area’.

    The provisional Statistics for Mission at Church of England website does not provide data on receptions into holy communion other than via confirmation – I will look into whether such data are collected.

  3. Judy says:

    Quote: ‘Note that no baptised person, child or adult, who has been admitted to holy communion should be deprived of it when, for example, visiting another parish or after moving to a new area.’

    Well I found this interesting as my husband who is baptised and who made a commitment to give his life to Jesus over 23 years ago, has attended bible studies in the past and we study the bible together each day, asked at our local Anglican church about being confirmed in the C of E. Not only was he told it could take ‘up to a year’ but that he should not take Holy Communion during that time but go up for a blessing. This was very upsetting to hear – my husband and I have gone to the Lord’s table together for over 20 years and now he is being asked to stop. Needless to say we have given up on the idea of him being confirmed and now go to a large central city cathedral and take communion there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.