Loneliness and isolation are prime priorities for the church buildings after the ban
(Photo: Unsplash / Jacek Dylag)
Churches emerging from the blockade are keen to combat loneliness and isolation, as new research has shown.
The Allchurches Trust survey found that this was the main focus of two thirds of the UK churches.
Over half of the 638 church leaders surveyed across the UK predict that loneliness and isolation will remain urgent problems for at least a year after the ban ends.
After loneliness and isolation, mental health was the second most common problem for Church leaders.
The survey also found that many churches have learned lessons from the pandemic and are making significant changes to how they deal with their congregations.
60 percent of churches said they wanted to take initiatives to combat loneliness and isolation among older people, while one in five (21%) said they did so for younger people.
Over two thirds of churches (70%) plan more online worship services, while just over a third (35%) introduce more online activities and a quarter support additional online self-help groups. A fifth of the churches said they plan to offer digital training to older members of their congregation.
The results were released concurrently with the launch of the charity's new grant program, Hope Beyond, which is open to applications today.
Dr. Sue Protheroe, clinical mental health director at Lincolnshire West, said: "The deleterious effects (by Covid-19) on mental health can be identified in all age groups.
"The Royal College of Psychiatrists has reported not only an increase in referrals, but also a significant increase in the severity of mental illnesses that have been referred for the first time.
"Our psychiatric services were overwhelmed before the pandemic and struggled to meet demand."
Bishop of London, Lady Sarah Mullally, who served as Chief Nursing Officer at the Department of Health before she was ordained, said: "Before Covid-19 arrived, we in the Church of England were right to raise awareness of the issue. " the need to take care of our mental health.
"Then, with the outbreak of the pandemic, we saw those struggling with loneliness at the best of times when the claustrophobia of the blockade affected them.
"There were older people who shielded themselves, were less able to connect online than some who felt more isolated than ever. Others lost their jobs or were put under severe financial pressure.
"It was encouraging to see that our churches have provided all these people with more and more support over the past four months – be it on zoom or socially distant.
"The constant challenge for our churches is to continue to support a culture where everyone feels safe, can share their struggles and speak openly."
Kintsugi Hope, founded by Patrick Regan, has trained hundreds of church leaders online in mental health support since the pandemic began.
The training has taught over 300 church leaders how to provide safe and supportive spaces for those who feel overwhelmed.
Regan spoke of the importance of churches being able to provide online support for vulnerable people as Covid-19 continues to face the challenges.
"When the groups go online, people who normally can't attend – like parents who struggle with childcare, become chronically ill or without transportation, or those who find the digital environment less threatening than face-to-face meetings – get the support they need they need from their local church, "he said.
"Research by Allchurches Trust Hope Beyond shows that the need for churches to stand next to those who are experiencing problems at this time is growing."
The Hope Beyond Scholarship Program was created to provide churches and Christian charities with resources to help them meet changing needs in their communities.
The leader of the Allchurches Trust, Tim Carroll, said: "The churches are already at the center of providing vital community support, particularly when it comes to contacting the most vulnerable, and their role in addressing social issues such as loneliness and isolation be even more important than that. " The longer-term effects of Covid-19 are becoming clearer.
"With our new Hope Beyond Scholarship Program, we want to help churches and Christian charities realize innovative, effective projects that enable people, organizations, and communities to thrive in life after being locked out."
Apply online for Hope Beyond here.