The news and media are dominated by the economic fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic. Will the recovery it be V-shaped, U-shaped, or L-shaped? Will the recession last two years or 10? The economy grew 1.8% in May, after shrinking by a colossal 25% since Covid-19 descended.That, frankly, isn’t very hopeful: 5.5% was expected. So it’s looking like a U-shaped recovery. Or even an L-shaped non-recovery. Whatever, we’re looking at the worst recession in 300 years, with the national debt at 100% of GDP.
As real as all this is (or soon will be) for real people in real-life situations, facing unemployment and hardship, unable to feed the children, unable to pay the rent, struggling with childcare, coping with disability, queuing in foodbanks, on the brink of homelessness, it is the weakest and poorest who always suffer most. And then there’s the loneliness and isolation, the depression and tears, the desperation and suicides.
New research from the Allchurches Trust reveals that two-thirds of churches across the UK are gearing up to tackle the surge of loneliness and isolation in their communities. The Centre for Mental Health forecasts that at least half a million more people in the UK may experience mental ill health as a result of Covid-19, and it’s the Church that is stepping up to meet the need.
Patrick Regan, CEO and Founder of mental wellbeing charity Kintsugi Hope, has trained over 300 church leaders to enable them to run groups that will provide a safe and supportive space for those feeling overwhelmed. This comes in response to the Allchurches Trust survey, which asked church leaders what they thought the greatest need to be. They responded:
1. Loneliness and isolation 78%
2. Adult mental health and wellbeing 53%
3. Physical health needs for those who are still at risk/vulnerable/older 40%
4. Spiritual input 38%
5. Worship 37%
6. Continued demand for online worship 32%
7. Re-building community cohesion 30%
8. Food poverty 29%
9. Financial advice/debt support 26%
10. Bereavement support 25%
They were then asked what kind of support and activities did their church plan to offer in direct response to the changing needs caused by the Coronavirus pandemic:
1. More online worship 70%
2. Initiatives to tackle loneliness and isolation among older people 60%
3. Prayer groups/bible groups 59%
4. Foodbank or other food provision 44%
5. Additional online activities 35%
6. Additional online support groups 25%
7. Mental health and wellbeing groups for adults 22%
8. Digital/online training for older members of congregation/community 21%
9. Initiatives to tackle loneliness and isolation among young people 20.5%
10. Technology equipment/resources to help people access online services/support 20.3%
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who acted as Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health before her ordination 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.”
When asked what the principal barrier would be to serving the community, church leaders responded:
1. Lack of funding 71%
2. Lack of volunteers 50%
3. Anxiety from community about visiting physical premises/gathering in groups 43%
4. Maintaining buildings 36%
5. Lack of staff resources 32%
6. Difficulty in running both online and physical worship services 27%
7. Community reluctance to engage with church 26%
8. Insufficient or inappropriate space in buildings 24%
9. Lack of digital knowledge among staff/volunteers 20%
10. Equipment that is not fit for purpose 19%
The harvest is plentiful, the labourers are few, and the cash is sparse.
Tea and cake doesn’t cost very much (nor does a phone call), but in order to help address No.1, the Allchurches Trust have introduced a grant called ‘Hope Beyond’, which aims to enable churches and Christian charities to meet changing need within their communities as the longer term impact of Covid-19 becomes clearer. Allchurches Trust Chairman, Tim Carroll, explains: “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.”
This is mission; this is being and doing Church; this is serving the community; this is loving one’s neighbour.
Applications for the Hope Beyond grant are open from today July 15th, 2020. To find out more, please visit the Allchurches Trust website.
Sadly, despite all the socialising and spiritual edification that goes on on the Archbishop Cranmer blog, he doesn’t qualify.