Digitisation of the church has led to ‘new people engaging in the life of faith’

By Laura Parnaby, PA
·2-min read

The Archbishop of York has said the digitisation of church services over lockdown has led to “new people engaging in the life of faith”.

The Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell said the coronavirus “crisis” has had the effect of a “spiritual unlocking”, while also urging politicians to adopt a united approach to help the poorest in society who are suffering from the impact of the virus the most.

He told the first formal General Synod meeting to be held online that some church congregations have more than quadrupled in size since lockdown began in March, because “everyone within the nation has been forced to confront their faith and mortality in ways we are usually quite good at avoiding”.

98th Archbishop of York enthroned
The Archbishop of York has said the digitisation of church services over lockdown has led to new people engaging in the life of faith (Danny Lawson/PA)

The 98th Archbishop of York said: “A crisis like this, when everyone within the nation has been forced to confront their faith and mortality in ways we are usually quite good at avoiding, reveals and is revealing, a spiritual, religious and biblical illiteracy, a lack of coherent faith, but also a spiritual longing.”

He said the development of the Church of England’s “online presence” since lockdown began has been “incredible” and has “created all sorts of new communities of faith and found new people engaging in the life of faith”.

“Whatever our future holds, we must continue to express our life in this digital landscape,” he said.

“Churches that used to have congregations of 30 or 40 on Sunday morning now sometimes report 140 online.”

He added that people attending online services “won’t automatically start coming on Sundays when all this is over” and urged religious leaders to “find new ways of being a mixed-ecology church”.

The archbishop added the pandemic has also revealed “scandalous” and “terrible” social inequalities which urgently need tackling by a “joined-up Government” effort.

He told the General Synod: “The poorer you are, the more likely you are to get coronavirus, and the poorer you are the more likely you are to suffer disproportionately from the restrictions that are imposed to control the virus.

“Inequalities of wealth and opportunity, poor housing, poor nutrition, prejudice and xenophobia, they are a scourge and a disgrace, and we the Church of Jesus Christ, must be in the forefront of not just pointing out these inequalities, but in providing a narrative of hope.

“In order to do this we need a more joined-up Government, yes, between political parties, but also between the devolved governments that make up our United Kingdom, and between the different regions within them, especially here in the north.”