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Coronavirus lockdown sparks surge in online worship

Before the pandemic, 44% of faith communities in Ireland did not provide online worship; that has now fallen to 13%.

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The coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in online worship (Niall Carson/PA)

The coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in online worship (Niall Carson/PA)

The coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in online worship (Niall Carson/PA)

The coronavirus lockdown has sparked a surge in online religious worship.<br></br>​<br></br>Before the pandemic, 44% of faith communities in Ireland did not provide online worship; that has now fallen to 13%.

The situation has also seen denominations reach out, with 74% from the largest – Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist – providing social services to the wider community, according to research.

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Father Tim Bartlett installs Covid-19 social distancing measures at Belfast&rsquo;s oldest Catholic church, St Mary&rsquo;s in Chapel Lane (Niall Carson/PA)

Father Tim Bartlett installs Covid-19 social distancing measures at Belfast’s oldest Catholic church, St Mary’s in Chapel Lane (Niall Carson/PA)

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Father Tim Bartlett installs Covid-19 social distancing measures at Belfast’s oldest Catholic church, St Mary’s in Chapel Lane (Niall Carson/PA)

The findings come from a study carried out by academics at Queen’s University Belfast.

Dr Gladys Ganiel, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, questioned people of faith about coping with the pandemic.

She said many faith leaders revealed “surprising” numbers of people tuning in for online services, including some who they believe would not have entered a church building.

“Moving faith online has created new opportunities for religious practice. In some cases, lay volunteers have assisted faith leaders in moving faith online,” she said.

“This is an opportunity to increase and enhance lay involvement in many aspects of ministry and should be encouraged.

“Religious practice will continue to feature a mixture of online and in-person elements. Faith communities should invest in training and resources for faith leaders and laity to develop blended online/offline ministries.”

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Keith Kidd, a deacon at Maghaberry Elim Pentecostal Church, Craigavon, sings during a drive-in service (Brian Lawless/PA)

Keith Kidd, a deacon at Maghaberry Elim Pentecostal Church, Craigavon, sings during a drive-in service (Brian Lawless/PA)

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Keith Kidd, a deacon at Maghaberry Elim Pentecostal Church, Craigavon, sings during a drive-in service (Brian Lawless/PA)

The research also found that 70% said they would retain aspects of online ministries after lockdown, 46% of faith leaders said their ministry had been more stressful than usual, and 82% who are cocooning for age or underlying health conditions have continued their ministry.

The survey was distributed to more than 2,000 faith leaders across Ireland via direct email, with 439 responses received between May 6 and 22.

Of the respondents, 35% were Catholic, 18% Church of Ireland, 14% Presbyterian, 9% Methodist, 23% other Christian and 1% other religion.

– The full report, entitled People Still Need Us, is available here: https://www.irishchurches.org/covidsurvey.

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