The Allchurches Trust undertook research with over 600 churches in June, which reveals that churches in the UK are gearing up to tackle a huge surge of loneliness in their cities and communities in the social aftermath of lock-down.
- A huge 78% of churches expect loneliness and isolation to be one of the most pressing needs in the next three months.
- 40% expect the physical health needs for those who are still at risk/vulnerable/older to be one of the most pressing needs.
- In a year’s time around half say that adult mental health and spiritual input will be the biggest needs, overtaken only by loneliness and isolation.
The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally – a former Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health – said: “Even before Covid-19 hit, across the Church of England we had been rightly moving towards a greater awareness of the need to attend to our mental health. Then, with the onset of the pandemic, we have witnessed those who struggle with loneliness at the best of times struck by the claustrophobia of lockdown. There have been older people shielding, less able to socialise online than some, feeling more isolated than ever. Others have lost their jobs, or have been put under severe financial pressures.
“It has been heartening to see our churches provide even greater levels of support to all of these people, and more, over these last four months – whether it be on Zoom, or socially-distanced. The ongoing challenge for our churches is to continue to support a culture in which everyone feels safe to share their struggles, and feels able to speak openly.” (Christian Today: Loneliness and isolation are top priorities for churches after lockdown. Link)
We have experienced the huge shift in church communication, evidenced in the survey. For example, only 3% of churches used the phone before coronavirus, now 17% do (including some using the Daily Hope phone line supported by Faith in Later Life). In the next year there will be more change, with live streaming and online meeting platforms like Zoom expected to remain a feature, even after live services resume.
Encouragingly, if the necessary funding and resources were available, 59% churches would like to offer initiatives to tackle loneliness and isolation among older people, and more than a quarter, 27%, would like to offer digital/online training for older members of the congregation/community.
These insights have helped shape Allchurches Trust’s new Hope Beyond grant programme, which is now open for applications.
Allchurches Trust chairman, Tim Carroll, said: “Churches are already at the heart of providing vital community support, particularly in reaching out to the most vulnerable, and their role in tackling social issues such as loneliness and isolation will be even more critical as the longer term impact of Covid-19 becomes clearer. Through our new Hope Beyond grants programme, we aim to support churches and Christian charities to deliver innovative, impactful projects that will enable people, organisations and communities to flourish in life after lockdown.”
One of the survey respondents says, “One of the biggest needs is to provide an appropriate means of sharing spiritual support to those that do not have access to the internet or any means of technology in the new normal.”
A fifth of churches are planning to digitally train some of the older members of the congregation.
Gavin Calver, CEO of the Evangelical Alliance, writes this in Christian Today:
“As we move out of lockdown, the church must hold to that statement as we seek to do all we can to serve those who are struggling. Perhaps it’s time for us to have households like the one I grew up in? Can we extend our tables for those who are needy? Can we make time for the lonely? Can we provide community to those who don’t have one? The church has always been about a collection of people sharing life together and inviting others to be a part of it. We cannot lose sight of those outside of our community as we move further out of lockdown and begin to rebuild.”
This is what Faith in Later Life seeks to do – to reach, equip and empower older people through churches.
If you want to be part of this work, if you are motivated and excited to meet the needs described in this research, make sure you stay in touch and let us know you’re a church champion for older people here.
All images from Pexels.