I can’t think of any issue which has left me as uncertain in my mind as Covid. I sense a concern in the church that the disruption to our patterns of church life and worship may have led to an ebbing away of faith and practice.
Those of us who have spent our working lives nurturing and fostering congregations often have a feeling that faith is a fickle thing – that it is all too easy to ‘lose the habit of God’. We have all seen people quietly disappear from faith communities after holidays, after moving house, in unemployment, during family breakdown …. But we have also been privileged to spend time with people at crisis moments in their lives. We have seen in them and admired a faith which is anything but fickle – rather it is strong, resilient, generous, loving.
I suspect that what Covid has done has been to interrupt the constant relationships which are the foundation of pastoral care and congregational life. And it is hard to tell either how important that is or how lasting will be the effect of that change.
I’ve also been reflecting on the article by Leslie Francis and Andrew Village (Church Times 2 July 2021) in which they reflected on how the early months of the pandemic affected churchgoers’ faith. The Coronavirus, Church and You survey was designed to test the thesis that committed churchgoers would experience the initial days of the pandemic as a time of spiritual awakening.
What is interesting is that 57% of respondents reported an improved sense of spiritual awareness as against 7% who experienced a deterioration. In every other area – except one – the same pattern emerged. So people reported enhanced prayerfulness and feeling closer to God. But just 25% felt closer to the church compared with 37% who felt more distant.
The two main conclusions were that there was a positive spiritual awakening – and that part of what helped that to flourish was an active involvement and participation in online worship.
I suspect that one of the conundrums at the heart of all this is that online worship can be at one and the same time more personal and involving – and less. I’m going to think about that a bit more