Although freedom of worship is guaranteed in England,
the national church is the Church of England. The Church of England was
founded in 1534, when Henry VIII rejected the authority of the Catholic pope.
Henry made himself the head of the church. Today, the British monarch is
still head of the Church of England.
The Church of England retained some Catholic traditions, but was transformed during the remainder of the 16th century and the early 17th century into a Protestant church. One of the Protestant reformers, Thomas Cranmer, compiled The Book of Common Prayer, which allowed priests to conduct services in English instead of Latin. The English translation of the Bible, known as the King James version (after King James I of England), also dates from this period. Both are still widely used in the Church of England.
Not all churches within the Church of England have the
same traditions. Some churches maintain ceremonies and rituals similar to
those in the Catholic church; they are known as "High Church." Other churches
hold simpler services, and use modernized words and music; they are called
"Low Church." Some churches are neither High nor Low, but follow their own
In the mid-17th century, an Englishman named George Fox became convinced that Christians could experience the Christian message directly, without the aid of priests and traditional church services. He founded the Religious Society of Friends, known as the Quakers. The Quakers held their own meetings instead of attending church services. They also refused to bear arms or to fight under any circumstances. Fox's followers were persecuted for their beliefs and many emigrated to North America.
In 1729, two brothers, John and Charles Wesley, founded
the Methodist Church, which followed a more strict form of Protestantism than
the Church of England. Early Methodist preachers travelled from town to town,
speaking to congregations. Today, the Methodist church has members around the
world and is known for its missionary work.
Today, three-quarters of English people identify
themselves as Christian. They include Catholics, Lutherans and people from
the Orthodox faiths. However, fewer than 10% of English people regularly
attend church. England also has Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Sikh communities.
Several English organizations work to foster understanding between people
of different religions.