MORE than 9000 churches switched at very short notice to offering a variety of home worship when the first Covid-19 lockdown began in March last year.
Live-streamed or pre-recorded services were offered at more than 8000 churches, while 5000 offered services that were downloadable from a website, or emailed. About 4000 offered printed and posted services, and 2000 provided telephone or dial-in services.
Dr Ken Eames, of the Church of England’s Research and Statistics Unit, who analysed data from 12,700 churches, said: “It would have been fascinating to have asked people early in 2020 whether they thought the Church of England would be able to switch at a moment’s notice to worshipping online and in other innovative ways. My guess is that the Church of England massively exceeded expectations.”
He found that 78 per cent of churches, 80 per cent of parishes, and 91 per cent of united benefices offered Church at Home services during the first lockdown. The majority were still offering these services in October — three months after the lockdown ended — even though most were by then open for in-person, collective worship.
The findings show that rural churches were as successful as urban churches in providing remote worship, once the size of parishes’ pre-pandemic congregations was taken into account.
The Archbishop of York said: “Online services and videos have become part of a toolkit for how churches can offer worship. I thank God for the work of the churches over the pandemic, including the huge effort that was made to provide worship at home. This has been a source of comfort and strength to so many people during a very difficult and challenging time.
“It has also meant that many have been able to discover the Christian faith and hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time. It is inspiring to see the life of our parishes sustained and revitalised in this way.”
The figures do not include the Church of England’s weekly national online service, remote worship provided by cathedrals, or the free Daily Hope phone line which offered music, prayers, and reflections, as well as full worship services. That was called more than 500,000 times, with more than seven million minutes of listening.
Additionally, hymns were downloaded more than a million times as part of a resource provided by St Martin-in-the-Fields , in London, working with the Royal School of Church Music.
The Church stepped up its programme of schooling in digital communication for congregations and clergy to help remote worship, training 7000 people in live- streaming and running online communities — seven times the figure for the previous year.
One benefice providing worship at home during the pandemic was Broughton Gifford, Great Chalfield and Holt, in Wiltshire, which attracted thousands of viewers to YouTube explanatory “Faith In Our Village” videos. Its broadcast online services had an “attendance” of up to 400 viewers, compared with a maximum congregation in person of about 120 before the pandemic. The Rector, Canon Andrew Evans, said: “We had never thought of broadcasting online before the pandemic. We have been thrilled by the results.”