Rising to the coronavirus’s challenge

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The survey results suggest that, though Canadian Anglicans are attending fewer services than before the pandemic, they are trusting in God and praying more, and feel more motivated to serve the church. Graphic: Contributed

How has the pandemic affected Canadian Anglicans?

Canon Neil Elliot

Last spring, Anglicans around the world were invited to take part in an international survey by a pair of U.K. academics called “Coronavirus, the Church and You.” The survey ran in three countries: the U.K., the USA and Canada. I wrote a column in the Anglican Journal six months ago to invite you to take it, and also to say what I was observing across the country anecdotally (see “ ‘Our response … gives me huge hope,’ ” May 2021, p. 4). More than 400 Canadians responded, and now we have data to help us see more clearly. There are some significant surprises in the data, as well as things we would all expect. In this article I want to tell you about three things that stood out for me as I looked at the data.

No going back

We may want to go back to how it was before COVID-19, but only one-third of us believe that we will. Anglicans have mostly accepted that the pandemic has brought significant changes to the church.

Alongside that recognition, there are many of you who are ready to work to help the local church adapt. Three-quarters of the people who responded to the survey think we should prioritize the local church, and one-third of respondents said that they would put in extra work to help. That is no surprise; our local churches are where our faith has been nurtured and expressed through our weekly worship. But it’s a wonderfully encouraging number for everyone who works for and cares for our beloved church.

Online services have worked well

I do not believe many Anglican churches had gone “online” before the pandemic. I saw little evidence of this either as a priest in my diocese or as statistician for the national church. We were used to running what we now call “in-person services” and what we used to call just “services.” We had little knowledge of or experience in uploading videos to YouTube, or Facebook livestreaming, or using Zoom for anything other than occasional meetings. COVID-19 changed all that, and we found ourselves becoming technically competent both as producers and receivers of the internet media.

What is amazing is that we became really good, really quickly. Your responses showed that those who produced the services overwhelmingly produced content that was professional and engaging. You said it was fit for purpose, with less than one in ten disagreeing. And you were able to access it: only 3 per cent said they couldn’t. All of us managed to upgrade our technical competence in order to do this. It was a huge achievement both for the leaders and the congregations.

COVID-19 made us more faithful

It should not be a surprise that our faith flourishes in adversity. It is a New Testament pattern that has been repeated again and again down the centuries. But it is a surprise. The evidence is here that our faith has grown through COVID-19; COVID-19 has been good for our faith. We trust God more, with almost half of us having increased faith. We are praying more—again, almost half of us say this. Maybe time in lockdown has led to more prayer! Our spiritual lives and our motivation to serve have all increased. Each measure of our spiritual lives showed more increase than decrease except the frequency of worship services, and that could be due to the challenges of worship during the pandemic.

The survey also looked at areas I do not have space to cover here. Among them, there is significant data on the mental and spiritual health impacts of the pandemic. These have been both positive and negative. For example, around one-third of clergy find it hard to cope, while another one-third were feeling more creative. There were also very interesting attitudes to Eucharist post-pandemic. You can read about these and more either by seeing the report I have written at www.tinyurl.com/psp3wycj, or by looking at the full data from the people who ran the survey, at: www.yorksj.ac.uk/coronavirus-church-and-you.

So there is evidence here to give us all encouragement. The pandemic has challenged the church, and we have risen to the challenge. We have accepted that COVID-19 has brought changes, we have managed to move online and come to value some of the opportunities it brings. We are ready to do the work to help our local church move on. And our faith has grown.

Canon Neil Elliot is the Anglican Church of Canada’s statistics and research officer. He is also incumbent in the parish of St. Andrew and St. George, Trail, B.C. and dean of the diocese of Kootenay’s East Kootenay region.

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