THOUSANDS of parishes report that they have boosted their support for local communities during the Covid-19 pandemic, new research due to be published today says.
Facing rising levels of poverty, loneliness, and isolation, church volunteers have undertaken tasks from food deliveries and shopping to dog-walking and collecting prescriptions, a report by the Church of England and Church Urban Fund says. It estimates that about 4000 parishes nationwide increased their social involvement.
Despite restrictions that shut services such as lunch clubs and parent-and-toddler groups, parishes launched innovative schemes such as gardening projects, phone buddies, job-hunting support, and helping people to get online. Almost a quarter of the 1023 clergy who completed the online Church in Action survey last October and November reported that their churches had started a completely new activity. More than half had adapted two or more of their existing activities to continue meeting the needs of their community.
More than one third (37 per cent) of churches reported that they were providing more support for their communities. In rural areas, that figure rose to 41 per cent. The biggest area of support was the provision of food and pastoral support: nearly 80 per cent of churches are running or supporting a foodbank or other similar services such as food clubs and hot meals. Many opened foodbanks for the first time, in response to the economic fallout of the pandemic.
More than a quarter (28 per cent) reported increased involvement with local authorities on projects such as emergency food-provision.
The survey found that social problems such as isolation, loneliness, and mental-health difficulties, food poverty, unemployment, and debt were more widespread as a result of the pandemic, particularly in the most deprived areas.
It notes that, in many cases, church buildings had become symbols of hope, often adorned with flags, posters, artwork, and even “yarn-bombing” as a “form of visual outreach and encouragement” to local communities.
In a foreword to the report, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, said: “The unequal impact of the pandemic has made us more acutely aware of poverty in our midst, even in wealthier parts of the country. Tackling poverty is a fundamental part of the Church’s mission.
“Despite the enormous challenges, many churches are living out their Christian faith by doing more to support their local community, offering help, advice, and care for the most vulnerable.”
The chief executive of the Church Urban Fund, Rachel Whittington, said: “Extraordinary times, they say, call for extraordinary measures: 2020 was a year like no other, and yet — as this report demonstrates — churches across the UK rose to unforeseen challenges with undeterred compassion and unwavering determination, displaying the love in action which lies at the heart of the Christian gospel.”