*** DEBUG END ***

Benefits of soul care are more than spiritual  

22 July 2022

It might also be associated with better physical and mental health, Leslie Francis and Andrew Village suggest

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.

Readers can follow the publication of reports and articles here

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

8 September 2022
Church Times Cricket Cup: North v. South
Join us to watch the match at the Walker Cricket Ground, in Southgate, north London.

26 September 2022
What am I living for? God
Sam Wells and Lucy Winkett begin the St Martin-in-the-Fields autumn lecture series in partnership with Church Times.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)