Church ministers have reported a surge in interest in faith from people during the pandemic.
With Covid restrictions bringing our lives to a crashing halt, many people have for the first time been given the time and space to ponder life’s bigger questions.
‘Prayer’ was the most searched word on Google in relation to spirituality during the first lockdown of 2020.
But even before the pandemic, the Barna report in 2015 showed that 20% of millennials were accessing the Bible at least once a week.
Disillusionment with materialism and the fast-paced nature of modern life was cited by ministers from across the presbytery of Aberdeen and Shetland.
Robert Smith, minister at Rubislaw Parish Church, said: “In times of great national distress, we often find greater numbers engaging with faith more urgently and often more deeply.
“I believe that is certainly the case over the past year.
“Faith can be an anchor in our fast-paced world and provide a peace and focus that is not dependent on the next purchase or Amazon delivery.
“I think people are discovering that more and more now, and not just because of the pandemic.”
Ministers have been forced to conduct their services online, and have been taken aback by the response to the pandemic, particularly by those they feel would never usually engage with the church and its message.
“I think people are finding it more convenient than at a set time on a set day in a set place,” said Mr Smith.
“There is also the anonymity of it – they can present their hopes, fears and doubts as they listen to a service online in the privacy of their own homes.
“They can pray, cry, sing, rant or whatever they are feeling without worrying about others’ judgements.
“This is something we will continue to offer after the pandemic is over.”
He said that the pandemic, added to a general disenchantment with modern life, had created a “perfect storm” of conditions which has people everywhere increasingly concerned about the future.
“Though church attendance has been on the decline for a long time in Scotland, many people still have a sense that something or someone is lacking in their lives.”
Louis Kinsey, minister at St Columba’s Church in Bridge of Don, said his experience of Covid has been “nothing short of a revelation.”
Having discussed for five years the idea of streaming services online, the congregation’s first virtual service went live five days after lockdown began in March.
Where pre-pandemic the church might have had 150 people of faith attending on a Sunday, there are now “many hundreds” tuning in, many from other parts of Scotland and some even from abroad.
“Going digital has enabled us to continue to reach out to the congregation and to the community in ways we never thought possible,” he said.
“Social isolation is a problem in every community.
“It’s a problem in ours.
“Live streamed worship allows us to do something to mitigate that.
“People stuck at home are able to ‘come to church,’ albeit virtually, where otherwise they would have stayed at home and had no engagement with their friends and others.
“We find that people are interested in what we have to say, when we present our message in a manner and at a time that suits them, and not us.
“We have expected busy people with busy lives to drop everything and come to our church buildings, usually at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning.
“This has proven to be unrealistic, and unproductive.
“Going forward, we want to adjust to the patterns and timetables of other people, and not simply expect them to conform to us.
“This will mean irreversible change for the Church, if we are genuinely serious about our vocation and our purpose.”
Dyce Parish Church minister Manson Merchant said: “I think people are increasingly becoming disillusioned by materialism, and there seems to be a growing belief that life has more to offer.
“During the pandemic there has undoubtedly been a growing interest in faith, and more people have been turning to prayer.
“I have had encounters with a couple of people in the village which would appear to back up the belief that there is a growing discontent with what the world offers.
“And these are people who had never been inside the church.”
Duncan Eddie, minister at Holburn West Church in Aberdeen, spoke about the search for faith during the pandemic.
He said: “The pandemic has forced us all to consider more carefully the fundamental matters of life and mortality, how we are social beings, have we had the correct priorities in our lives?”
He said a sense of being connected with something bigger, a higher power, helps us cope with changing and trying circumstances.
“As the well-known hymn expresses it,” he added, “‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?’”