Worshiping virtually: how Covid-19 will change religion
Illustration: Kaitlin Mechan

The Covid-19 pandemic has infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives. It is guaranteed that there will be huge repercussions and changes even after we come out of lockdown. One area that will change fundamentally in the aftermath of the Covid-19 is religion. Following the pandemic, attitudes towards religion will have changed, and faith will have grown. In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, religion is the rock that many will turn to for support.

With places of worship closed to the public, or being re-opened for private prayer only, religious belief has become a personal affair during the pandemic.  We have seen this happen before throughout history; the rise of humanism, for example, in the 15th and 16th centuries encouraged believers to focus away from the church and encourage a more individual approach to prayer.

Practices which are foundational to belief systems have been severely affected by the lockdown. For example, there were concerns at the beginning of Ramadan about the difficulties of having access to the right foods. Furthermore, at the end of Ramadan, there is normally a celebration and exchange of gifts, which is something that has had to take place virtually this year. Additionally, Christians have missed out on the practice of Holy Communion or the Eucharist, which involves the sharing of bread and wine. Even after the return to church, this is something that will likely not begin again for a long time, due to the risk of spreading infection that arises from multiple people drinking from the same cup. 

However, despite the issues that religion is facing, Covid-19 may have a positive impact on the religious traditions of this country. We have seen that the mental health of young people has declined over this period, and many are turning to religion, with Bible sales at one site rising by 55% in April. Although Covid-19 could cause some to question their beliefs, it could cause others to return to those same beliefs. The question is whether religious traditions can retain their new followers once normality returns.

As religion has had to adapt to the new circumstances, more virtual forms of worship have been taking place over various social media platforms, and I myself have been participating in online church services over YouTube. Whilst these are only a temporary solution, they have been able to reach wider audiences. It is easier to experiment with religion when one can access the practices online, without having to go out and visit a place of worship. It also makes communal worship flexible – you can skip parts if you want to, speed it up, or watch it at any time you want (making it easier to have a lie-in on a Sunday, for example!) The spiritual gain of this cannot be underestimated. It is impossible to predict the future, but I believe it is likely that when worship returns to normal, many people may continue to believe in the faith that they found during the lockdown.

So, where does religion stand in a post-Covid world? We may see a focus on personal faith, with many preferring to worship at home or in private. We may also see an upsurge in young people turning to religion, following the sense of hopelessness that many of us have felt during this time. There may also be significant doctrinal changes – for example, perhaps missing Sunday mass will no longer be a sin under the Catholic Church, given that so many have not been attending due to the lockdown. Perhaps we may also see the decline in the importance of sung worship, given that singing is not recommended currently. I am certain, however, that religion in the UK will not remain the same after the pandemic.