Seeking spirituality in crisis: the new rise in ‘civil religion’

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Marc James from St Albans has found that more people are connecting

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Marc James from St Albans has found that more people are connecting online and reaching out for peace at this time of anixety amid coronavirus. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

It is not uncommon for people to turn to God or practice other forms of spiritual expression and soul-searching in times of panic or powerlessness, and the current pandemic is seeing this trend re-emerge.

Are people turning to faith amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic? Picture: ipopba

Are people turning to faith amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic? Picture: ipopba - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Many of us will remember how when Princess Diana died there was an outpouring of love in terms of flowers and tributes, as we entered a period of national mourning, even among people who perceived themselves to be atheists.

There was also a massive upsurge in church attendance at that time, as people sought solutions to their grief and confusion.

Sociologists and theologians have written extensively about the soul-seeking that can be triggered in times of national discomfort. Known sometimes as ‘civil religion’, it is recognised that implicit values and acts shown by a community can alter at times such as this.

Football stadium behaviour, for example, can also come under that phenomenon - a coming together with a mutual belief or shared cause.

The Herts Ad has been looking into whether or not this has been a recent trend in our district amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Guitarist and worship leader Marc James, who grew up in St Albans, has set up a live online session called ‘Peace in the Storm’, where he talks to the camera about uncertainty and hope, sings a few songs and finishes with a prayer.

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Marc also asks for people to get in touch with him individually if they want a chat or feel isolated.

Marc said: “It’s been a really interesting time, many people are really anxious and facing uncertainty. We are finding ways to bring hope and connect with people.

“The response to the Facebook Live daily online sessions has been amazing. People are telling me it is helping them to find peace in the middle of the storm.

“I want people to know the message of Easter; Jesus died and rose again so that whoever believes in him does not have to be afraid of death. What this means to me is that people can access God’s love as a real experience.”

Associate Minister Rev Peter Crumpler of St Paul’s Church agrees that the lockdown is providing opportunties for the church as a whole to reach more people.

He said: “We’ve always said that the church is not the building, but the people, and now we are seeing exactly what that means.

“Churches are putting services online and seeing many more people engaging with them than would normally come through the doors on a Sunday. People are coming across Christian messages on the internet and responding to them in ways they were not doing before.

“With everything so uncertain just now, the Christian message offers hope through faith in Jesus Christ when many people are feeling afraid, despondent and unsure of the future.”

Adam Zagoria-Moffet Rabbi of St Albans Masorti Synagogue agreed: “I do think, like many crises, [coronavirus] can provoke people to think more about religion.

“If so, that’s only because they are confronted with a truth that we’re normally adept at ignoring: the fragility of life.

“I have had more people interested in understanding how to place disease and illness within a framework of faith, although even more than that I’ve seen that people are in more need than ever of the social and emotional connection that comes from religious life.”

The rabbi said he thinks that in the absence of the usual stressful work-life balance, people are more interested in connecting with things that are deeper.

He also has noticed that the current crisis has “exposed how transient and temporary much of what we take for granted is” and attributes that as one of the biggest drivers of religious understanding.

Yoga teacher Lola Conrich of Kalma Yoga said people are still wanting to tap into moments calm. Lola usually holds sessions in the community but had to think on her feet in response the current restrictions.

She said: “Since the new guidelines of social distancing we quickly put in place an online live streaming version of our yoga classes.

“I literally had to turn my living room into a home yoga studio. Through this dark and uncertain time, we are so thankful we are able to provide people with their yoga fix online.”