The respondents had been bored however praying throughout the ban
The government block on March 23 was sudden and all types of systems had to adapt quickly to a new reality. The ban imposed on churches and cathedrals by the archbishops and bishops the next day was also sudden and required rapid reaction. The church rose on this occasion. There was a feeling that God called the Church to new insights and new ways to stay true to the gospel. The sowers went about their business differently.
Our intuition was that there would be a lot to learn from systematically gathered evidence rather than compiled anecdotes. The Coronavirus, Church & You survey emerged from this belief and was realized through the close collaboration between members of our research group (including the Bishop of Manchester, Dr. David Walker) in collaboration with the Church Times as a best practice vehicle for distributing Polls and with the help of ten bishops who promoted the poll in their dioceses.
We were also asked to prepare similar surveys for the Roman Catholic Church in England and the Republic of Ireland. these should allow for some interesting comparisons in due course.
When I look over
The poll was launched in The Church Times on May 8 (News, May 8), and about 6,000 responses were received by June 13. The survey remains open for three or four weeks, but we have prepared an initial report that can be found on the Church Times website. The best thing we can do here is to give a taste of the data so far and ask more people to add their answers to the ongoing survey.
As of June 13, there were 4,613 Church of England respondents (79% of the total), including more than 300 Anglicans from Wales and more than 100 from Scotland. Other denominations represented are more than 200 Baptists and more than 100 Methodists, although we are reporting on Church of England respondents: 1,336 clergy and 3,277 lay people.
Experience from the virus
Only 3% of respondents said they had the virus definitely, but one in three (34%) had isolated themselves for various reasons. Almost half (47%) knew someone who had suffered from the virus, and for some they were close friends (16%) or immediate (6%) or larger (13%) family members.
Impact of blocking on people
The survey included five short scales that were used to investigate whether the blocking for people was positive or negative (see Table 2).
The first scale, which examines stress, shows that more than a third of respondents reported higher levels of stress (34%), fatigue (35%), anxiety (38%) and fatigue (44%) as a result of lockdown ). Increased stress was most evident among clergymen, younger people and Anglo-Catholics.
The next two scales examine the model of psychological well-being with balanced affects and differentiate between positive and negative affects. The balanced affect model suggests that people can better cope with the consequences of negative emotions if they also have reserves of positive emotions.
The suspension contributed to negative effects, with a higher level of frustration (43%), less excitement (34%), a higher level of boredom (25%) and more misfortune (24%). However, the ban also had a positive impact, as people felt more neighborly (61%), thankful (57%), hopeful (28%) and trusting (21%). All in all, the resilience of women, the elderly, clergy and evangelicals was higher.
The fourth scale, which examines the effects of blocking on relationships with others, shows that 40% of respondents felt further from the Church, 40% from other people and 36% from the family. Relationships between men, younger people and lay people were less good.
The fifth scale, which examines the effects of the block on the relationship with God, shows that, while feeling distant from other people, respondents felt 41% closer to God and 48% more praying. The effects of a closer relationship with God were stronger among women, the elderly and evangelicals.
What did the churches do during the closure?
The 705 fellows who responded to the survey gave the impression that their churches were working hard to meet the wide-ranging needs of church life.
A high proportion of them indicated that their churches prayed for people (84%), core members (63%), and elderly or lonely people (62%) most days.
Most days, at least a quarter prayed with people (35%), supported the bereaved (30%), supported the sick (26%) and occasional visitors (25%). Her commitment to practical support extended to the delivery of food (19%) and medication (14%).
What have the lay people experienced??
Throughout the ban, most laypeople felt well supported by their clergy (51%) and church members (49%). A high proportion accessed services online (91%), but this number needs to be read against the fact that these people also replied to an online survey.
Participants in online services did not feel as well as expected. About two fifths said they actually prayed (40%) or recited the liturgy while online (36%), but fewer said they sang (27%).
Privatization of the holy community
The closure brought up sharp questions about celebrating and receiving the community. The survey found some significant differences between the views of those in service and those in service. While 41% of lay people agreed that it was right for clergymen to celebrate Holy Communion in their own homes without sending ministry to others, only 31% of ministers did.
Similarly, 43% of lay people argued that it was right for people at home to receive communion from their own bread and wine through an online communion service, compared to 34% of clergymen.
The survey also showed a divided opinion between people of different traditions: 49% of Anglo-Catholics agreed that it was right for clergymen to celebrate the community in their homes without sending the service to others, compared to only 25% of those Evangelicals.
Conversely, only 23% of Anglo-Catholics said it was right for people at home to receive fellowship of their own bread and wine through an online communion service, compared to 55% of evangelicals.
Life after the pandemic
The responses to the survey showed that a lot of thinking and learning has taken place and will continue to take place as a result of the pandemic. Things cannot be the same again.
On a positive note, the majority of respondents welcomed the way the Church adopted the digital age: 80% of the clergy and 76% of the laity agreed that locking the church had helped in the digital age to enter.
More than half of the clergy (54%) and lay people (60%) realized that online worship is a great tool. More than two fifths of the clergy (42%) and laity (45%) recognized that social media was a great pastoral tool, and 46% of clergy and 43% of the laity recognized that social media was a great evangelistic tool.
Support for the virtual church was stronger among women than men, lay ministers than clergy and other lay people, evangelicals than Anglo-Catholics, and people in their forties and fifties compared to those under the age of 40 or 60 and above.
However, there was little enthusiasm for the online worship that the offline worship took over. Only 2% of the clergy and 3% of the laity believed that virtual contact is as good as a face-to-face meeting. Indeed, 90% of clergy and lay people believed that personal contact after the ban would be valued even more than before.
There was also little evidence that this courageous undertaking in the digital age triggered the death knell for the Church's offline presence. Only 9% of the clergy and 6% of the laity believed that the blockade had shown that church buildings were an unnecessary burden.
Two thirds of the clergy (64%) and laity (68%) agreed that church buildings are central to our testimony in the community. The strength of feeling for the meaning of buildings was not evenly distributed and was expressed more often by men than women, by lay people than by clergymen and by Anglo-Catholics than by evangelicals.
On the less positive side, some expressed concern about the sustainability of the churches trying to get out of the block. This vulnerability is due to uncertainties regarding financial and human resources. A third of clergymen (34%) and 11% of laity believed that donations to the church would decrease after the pandemic.
A quarter (23%) of the clergy and 18% of the laity believed that their church building would not be financially viable after the pandemic. A quarter of clergymen (24%) and 23% of lay people believed that after the pandemic, key individuals would step down and be difficult to replace.
There is still much to be done on this data. However, it is already clear that it would be misleading to draw simple conclusions. We have found significant differences between men and women, between different age groups, between clergy and lay people, and between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals. As the detailed report shows, not all of these differences fit our simple assumptions and stereotypes.
We imagine that further useful insights will emerge if we take a closer look at geographic and personality factors. There is also gold to be won from the extensive narratives for which some participants have taken the trouble to complete their surveys, for which we are very grateful.
Leslie J. Francis
Read a more detailed analysis of the survey results here