Secularist campaigners have branded a new Church of England evangelism initiative in Salisbury as 'a cynical move to use our schools to ease its plummeting membership.'

On Tuesday, July 2 the Church of England announced the launch of its 'FLOURISH' network targeting schools and colleges, including nonreligious community schools, across 12 dioceses, including Salisbury.

The network comprises 40 worshipping communities which will 'establish partnerships between schools or Further Education (FE) colleges and their local churches' to 'engage a large number of children, young people, and their families.'

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It said that while many pilot locations are in Church of England schools, the initiative also includes community schools, multi-academy Trusts, and further education colleges. The Church of England has said FLOURISH will further the Church’s vision of 'becoming younger and more diverse.'

Last year the Church said it aims to 'double the number of children and young people who are active Christian disciples by 2030.' The Church has seen a dramatic decrease in membership, particularly among young people.

The initial two-year pilot phase will involve training and development for 200 adult leaders and 800 young leaders. The pilot will inform the potential expansion of this vision to 'potentially hundreds of other locations in the coming years.'

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The National Secular Society, which campaigns for separation of religion and state and inclusive education for children from all religious and belief backgrounds, has called on the Government to resist the initiative.

NSS head of campaigns, Megan Manson, said: “As much as the Church may wish it, our state schools are not there to serve the interests of the Church of England. They are there to educate our children.

“This new initiative is a cynical move to use our schools to ease its plummeting membership.

“The Government shouldn’t allow state-funded schools to be exploited by the Church of England to help it achieve its goal of doubling the number of ‘young active disciples’ by 2030.”

A spokesperson for the Church of England said: “Church of England schools are proud of their distinctive Christian character and cater to the needs of diverse communities of all faiths and none, fostering values such as compassion, integrity, respect, and neighbourly service.

"The Worshipping Communities in the FLOURISH pilots, funded by the Church of England, are entirely optional and extra-curricular, created to meet the demand for opportunities for young people to develop as leaders and to shape the spiritual life of their communities."