Pandemic sparks surge in church goers


St George’s Cathedral during Christmas 2020 – a time that many people of faith spent in lockdown across the globe. Picture: Meleva Thorn

Perth church leaders have seen greater numbers of locals turning to religion during the COVID19 pandemic.

Notre Dame University theologist associate professor Glenn Morrison says many Australians are exploring faiths to seek comfort during a time in which they feel “lost”.

“If it is the case that Australians have ‘turned’ towards religion during Covid, this is quite startling as Australia is a very secular country, and religion is not easily something that is spoken openly about,” Prof Morrison said.

“In mainstream society, there seems to be much apathy about religion and its value.”

According to the Pew Research Centre, about 10 per cent of Australians say their religious faith has become stronger due to the pandemic.

St Albans Anglican Church Reverend Mark Dale said he had seen a change at his Highgate parish in Perth’s northern suburbs.

“Anecdotally there is some evidence of a noticeable increase in the number of people connecting with local churches during the pandemic,” Mr Dale said.

“A lot of this has come about through an increase in the online presence of churches.

“Many churches, like St Alban’s have moved to either live streaming their services or posting pre-recorded services and other material on line.

“This has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people connecting with the church. In the case of St Alban’s, this has at times resulted in [a] between 50 per cent and 100 per cent increase in the number of people connecting with us on a Sunday.

Mr Dale said it is difficult to judge the extent that people were non-Christians connecting for the first time.

“Certainly, we have had people re-connecting after a long absence. As to why, that is a more difficult question to answer,” Mr Dale said.

Both Curtin University visiting chaplain Bruce McCourt, and University of Notre Dame philosophy and theology lecturer Peter Christofides, described numbers at their local churches increasing.

Many other religious groups in Australia, however, have not seen the same outcome as this during the pandemic.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Perth Administration Centre in fact saw a decrease of members during the pandemic.

“A lot of our congregation are elderly and they are fearful of contracting the disease so have taken safety precautions,” a spokesperson said.

“Also, during breakouts in WA limits were placed on our congregation attendees so our numbers are at an all-time low.”

Individuals of Islamic, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths, and of other Christian denominations, as well as multiple academics, were contacted for comment.