Over 5,500 survey responses have been received from churches and members of the general public across the country.
These responses, together with follow-up interviews, have provided clear evidence of the very wide range of community and social care activities provided and hosted by churches, and their importance to the spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing of individuals and communities. People from all backgrounds have been able to explain what they have missed most - and why.
In addition, researchers have been able to gather many examples of new initiatives and ways in which churches are seeking to use their buildings and networks to support recovery. This material has been analysed, with reports provided to national church leaders and to Government, which have helped to shape decision-making, guidance, and support. Reports focused on the following key issues.
The first survey, 'Where do we go from here? Churches, communities and buildings during COVID and beyond,' examined the effects on churches and communities of the first lockdown and the varying restrictions through the summer and early autumn of 2020. It attracted over 2500 responses, from clergy, church members, and the general public. The responses provided clear evidence of the importance of access to church buildings and activities, not just to church members but to people of all backgrounds. Individuals were also able to explain what they missed most - and why. This material was analysed, with reports provided to national church leaders, and for submission to the Government, which have helped to shape decision-making, guidance, and support. Reports focused on the following key issues.
- the impact of suspending activities normally provided/hosted by churches on the mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social wellbeing of congregations and wider communities
- the strongly stated need of the general public for access to safe spaces offering peace, comfort, and perspective
- the growing 'pandemic' of unresolved, often unsupported grief and the key role churches can play through funerals and providing informal ways of processing loss and creating positive memories
- the great value (and limitations of virtual/digital provision) and the resulting need for a 'mixed economy' of online and 'in person' approaches going forward
- the need for new streamlined ways to share the extraordinary range of creative responses developed by churches
- the great demands on the mental, spiritual and physical resilience of church leaders and church members and the need for encouragement and resources
- the importance of allowing more scope for local guidance and decision-making on what is permissible and safe in a particular context
- the need for the government to recognise the key contribution of churches (and other faith communities) to individual and communal wellbeing across the country both in normal times, and in times of crisis
Making the contribution of churches visible
The survey showed that the value attributed to the contribution made by churches to communities stems in part from the ways in which activities are deeply rooted in the local context. However, this can mean that what churches 'do' is less visible at regional or national level. The survey provided up-to-date evidence of the ways churches across the country provide:
An everyday national wellbeing service in normal times:
- providing a spiritual heart for communities (worship; spaces for reflection and prayer; pastoral care; marking key life events; ways to explore faith etc)
- providing/hosting 'cradle to grave' activities for spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing, and offering social care
- supporting community projects and housing key community services (e.g. Post Offices, health clinics, cafes, markets, village shops)
- combating inequality (afterschool education clubs, parenting classes, addiction support, disabled gyms etc)
- buildings offering access to shared heritage and culture and providing safe places of beauty and peace for all
Emergency care in times of crisis:
- communities of faith sharing messages of forgiveness, new life, and healing
- buildings offering safe spaces where grief and anxiety can be addressed, new perspectives gained, and comfort and hope discovered
- buildings which are often the only available public spaces to host foodbanks or other services
- networks which connect with and serve individuals and groups of all ages
- a deep reservoir of local knowledge and contacts
- long-term relationships of trust with communities which have provided volunteering opportunities for many from outside churches during COVID-19