Churches may have closed their doors, but more Australians are opening their minds to spirituality and prayer.  Researchers have found Australians say they have been praying more during the COVID-19 crisis, suggesting the pandemic has led many to reassess their priorities in life. Katie Stringer from Leichhardt in Sydney, a teacher and mother of three children aged from 6 to 13, said she and her family had been praying more at home together during the pandemic. They read passages from the Bible during family meals and in the car during school drop-off. Mrs Stringer said the closure of their local Anglican church forced them to “assess their spiritual connection”.  “It reminded us our faith is also our responsibility and not just the responsibility of the minister in our church,” she said. “We needed to be proactive in talking to God.”

Social researcher Mark McCrindle surveyed 1002 people and found more than a third (35 per cent) said they were praying more and 41 per cent were thinking about God more. A quarter said they were reading the Bible more. Nearly a half (47 per cent) said they had thought more about their mortality and the meaning of life. “The research is showing that this COVID situation has rattled Australians and got them thinking about the big purpose of life,” Mr McCrindle said. “It’s got them re-prioritising their life.” Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Ruth Powell, who studies Australian spirituality said she was not surprised by the survey results. Her own research as director of the National Church Life Survey has shown a third of Australians pray or meditate “in normal times”. “In this context when a proportion say I think I am praying more, it’s not surprising if it has been heightened at this time,” she said.

“What we know from our own research is that Australians are already moderately religious or spiritual. “It’s often in times of crisis that you do go to the big spiritual questions.”  Macquarie University Professor Marion Maddox, an authority on the intersection of religion and politics, said it was not surprising many people would be thinking more about their spirituality and mortality during an existential crisis. “The bushfires would have had similar effects of making people think about the meaning and purpose of life or questions about environmental concerns and our relationship to the human world,” she said. “It’s at the same time that churches and places of collective worship are closing, so people aren’t able to gather and do their spiritual reflection as easily together. They can do it online, but it’s not quite the same.”

Anglican Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead said he has received anecdotal feedback that parishioners were reading the Bible and praying more. “The enforced slow down and isolation of the COVID restrictions have meant that people have been forced to step off the treadmill and realise there is more to life than the endless grind of work and pursuit of material ends,” he said. “It has given people an opportunity to reflect more deeply on what is the ultimate meaning of life and hence to dig into spiritual resources to help answer those kind of questions. “There is a degree where we are all thinking about our own mortality now and that is forcing a reconnection back to God.”  Brian Houston, Senior Pastor at Hillsong Church said he had no doubt more people were asking questions about faith and their relationship with God during the pandemic. He said the availability of church online had made services “more accessible to people in the privacy of their own homes”.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher welcomed the McCrindle survey saying “when you consider that only 16% of the population attends church regularly and we’ve got more than 25% praying more during this period it shows there’s a level of spiritual practice in Australia, beyond what might get measured by church attendance”.  Professor Stephen Pickard, director of the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre at Charles Sturt University said for some, the coronavirus pandemic was a time for slowing down, welcome solitude and more time with family. But for others, it was a time of loneliness, isolation, fear and financial hardship. He said the McCrindle survey suggested that sustained periods of isolation had been conducive to prayer and the discovery of spiritual resources people may not have realised they had. The stress of the coronavirus pandemic had “opened up a crack in the universe as we know it” and for some “a window to God’s presence that we hadn’t anticipated”.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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