A quarter say ban on public worship harmed their mental health

A new Amarach Research poll commissioned by The Iona Institute has found that 25pc of regular church-goers said the ban on public worship (which was only lifted on Monday) harmed their mental health to some extent. Ireland had the longest prohibition on public worship in the whole of Europe. Other countries permitted public worship after the first lockdown last year, so long as limits were placed on attendance, because no evidence showed it was unsafe.

The Iona Institute has commissioned a number of polls since the pandemic began to track religious practice during the various lockdowns. We think it was important to do this because the situation was so unprecedented and the information will be of great interest to Church-leaders, academics now and in the future, and to ordinary Christians.

A key issue was whether the pandemic might weaken people’s faith. Once they were not able to go to Mass and other religious services, would they tune into online services, would they pray more or less, would their relationship with God weaken or strengthen?

You can find the results of previous surveys here and here.

These are the main results of the latest poll which used a nationally representative online sample of 1,000 people:

  • 12% of adults say the Coronavirus outbreak has made their religious faith stronger (8% weaker, 48% no change)
  • If we exclude those adults who say they are not religious, then 18% of believers say their faith is stronger
  • 15% of adults say they are praying more than usual during lockdown (5% less, 37% the same)
  • If we exclude those who adults who say they don’t pray, then 26% of prayers are praying more than usual
  • Among those who are Roman Catholic and were regular Mass-goers before the pandemic, 25% say that not being able to attend church during lockdown has harmed their mental health to some extent (more so for men than women), 61% say it is not harmed, 14% are not sure
  • 20% of adults agree that Ireland will be ‘more spiritual than before’ as a result of our experience of the pandemic (down from 31% in April 2020)
  • A third of adults would be willing to go into a church next week if it was open (same as November last year, up from 27% in June 2020) – 65% of regular mass goers before covid would go to a church next week if it was open. (The poll was conducted shortly before public worship resumed)
  • Just over a third (34%) of Irish adults feel that Ireland has lost her soul (rising to 43% of regular mass goers pre-covid).

Hopefully this will be the last lockdown and public worship will not be banned again. Apart from the first lockdown when we were not sure what we were facing, the ban was disproportionate and unjustified.

However, it is encouraging to find that religious believers continued to practice their faith during the three lockdowns and as more and more people are vaccinated and confidence returns, hopefully we will see church attendance bounce back to pre-Covid levels.

PS. You might be interested in what Dr Gladys Daniels of Queen’s University Belfast has written about our previous polls, and other, similar ones. You can find her articles herehere and here.