The importance of churches during the COVID-19 lockdown and beyond is examined in an in-depth online survey ‘State of the Churches’ of over 500 UK churches carried out by the National Churches Trust in May 2020
The survey’s results show that:
- Over two thirds of churches (75%) say that the closing of their church during lockdown has had a negative effect on the community.
- 64% of respondents think churches will become more important in the future as a result of COVID-19.
- Once they are open again, churches are most looking forward to being able to provide togetherness/companionship, closely followed by religious services, being able to gather together in the building again and restarting outreach and community activities.
- Churches have played a major part in helping local people during the COVID-19 lockdown and have set up a wide range of new community support services and forms of worship. The top five new activities are: making contact with isolated or vulnerable people, online worship, telephone befriending, shopping and/or delivery of shopping or essential supplies and online support groups.
Catherine Townsend, Head of Church Support for the National Churches Trust said:
“Churches and their volunteers have adapted to meet the needs of their congregation and wider community during the COVID-19 lockdown, a time when the type of support they provide is needed most. Before the lockdown, many churches were distribution hubs for food banks.”
“Our survey indicates that many churches continued this support and 45 respondents said they have started a food bank during the lockdown that did not previously exist.”
“Our Lady Help of Christian, Kentish Town, London usually offer lunch, showers and clothes to about 80 people on a Sunday. They have been unable to carry out this service during the COVID-19 lockdown in the usual way. Instead they have been giving out hot takeaways and food parcels to vulnerable people.”
“Churches taking part in our survey have been able to meet the needs of local people in very imaginative ways. These include a seedling swap; loans of books and jigsaws; social media posting of worship and uplifting quotes; delivery of craft boxes; online Sing for Fun and many more.”
St. Mary the Virgin, Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire organised donations of snacks for the staff at the local brain injury nursing home. Some churches have partnered with other local services to further their community outreach. St. Andrew’s, Bangor, Co. Down are working with North Down Community Network to publicise the support that churches can offer.
The activity of St Faith’s, Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire highlights how adaptable churches have been in the circumstances: “Our weekly Cuppa and Company group for older people has stopped, but team members are contacting those who would usually come by phone. Our weekly Toddlers group has stopped, but we are putting a song time and story on Facebook.”The closure of churches has had a serious impact on the finances of many churches. St Mary’s, Keysoe, Bedfordshire said: “The lock down will prove to lead to a very difficult financial year for us. Apart from the loss of about a third of our income derived from church collections, we have been unable to organise two summer events which both raise funds and put us in touch with the parish in general.”
“Some fundraising has continued thanks to imaginative ideas. For example, St Peter ad Vincula, Roydon, Essex have been raising money for the local foodbank through a beard competition.”
“Going forward, many churches are optimistic that they can continue to be a place of support for the community. St Alban the Martyr, Northampton said: “[We] hope that the help the church has provided to the community in the crisis will continue to increase its profile in the community after.””
“St James Church, Darwen, Lancashire, is in an area of high deprivation. They say that they are at the beginning of a project “to make [the church] relevant again to local residents and see great social and spiritual needs after this passes” which they believe they can address.”
Overall, our ‘State of the Churches’ survey paints a picture of churches doing good work in the community at times of crisis. We are hopeful that churches will continue to fulfil this important role during the UK’s recovery from the pandemic and into the future.