THE Covid-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of human experience. It has had an impact on physical, mental, and spiritual health. But what has been the connection between the impact on body, mind, and soul in the Christian community? This was one of the questions that the Covid-19 and Church-21 Survey was designed to address.
This aspect of the survey attracted responses from 1878 Anglicans living in England. We asked them to rate how they thought their physical health had changed during the pandemic on a five-point scale, ranging from “poorer physical health” to “better physical health”. In the overall sample, 28 per cent reported poorer physical health, 48 per cent reported no change, and 25 per cent reported better physical health.
We were interested in what factors might predict who fared better or worse. Not surprisingly, physical health was poorer among those who had had Covid, and among those who needed to shield. More interestingly, basic personality factors had a part to play: introverts fared worse than extraverts, as did those who tended to be generally emotionally volatile. Additionally, change in physical health was not related to personal factors (sex or age).
WE ALSO asked respondents to rate how they thought their mental health had changed during the pandemic on a similar five-point scale, ranging from “poorer mental health” to “better mental health”.
In the overall sample, 36 per cent reported poorer mental health, 50 per cent reported no change, and 15 per cent reported better mental health. Mental health deteriorated more among men than among women; more among the young than among the old; and more among those who tended to be generally emotionally volatile.
For both physical health and mental health, we did not find any relationship to ecclesial factors such as whether someone belonged to a particular tradition in the Church of England.
For spiritual health, our main focus of interest, we used a larger set of items to rate how respondents perceived changes during the pandemic. The responses are shown in the table below.
While roughly equal numbers of the participants had reported negative and positive changes in physical health, and twice as many had reported negative change in mental health than reported positive change, a different picture emerged in respect of spiritual health.
Higher proportions of the participants reported positive change in spiritual health than reported negative change. While 42 per cent reported increased trust in God, only six per cent reported decreased trust in God. While 48 per cent reported increases in personal prayer, just 17 per cent reported decreases in personal prayer. Improvement was also expressed in quality of spiritual life (38 per cent), spiritual health (37 per cent), and Bible-reading (29 per cent).
Improved spiritual health was associated with personal factors (being female and older), psychological factors (emotional stability, intuitive types, and feeling types), and ecclesial factors (being Evangelical and Charismatic).
ONE interesting question was whether improved spiritual health might be associated with improved physical or mental health.
Using statistical techniques to rule out other factors showed that those who reported improved spiritual health tended also to report better physical and mental health. In other words, soul care during the pandemic was associated with better physical health and better mental health.
According to our data, key components of soul care during the pandemic concerned nurturing trust in God and supporting personal prayer. Additional qualitative responses provided to the survey suggest that provision of online worship from the local church (that built up and sustained the sense of local community and fellowship) may have had a core part to play in this area.
Our work during the pandemic has shown that sudden adversity can, for many Christians, improve their spiritual life; which, in turn, is connected to their mental and physical health.
The Revd Andrew Village is Professor of Practical and Empirical Theology, and Canon Leslie J. Francis is Visiting Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, at York St John University.
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