The Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada (WICC), Canada’s largest Christian women’s interdenominational organization, is committed to helping women grow in faith, prayer, and action. On behalf of WICC’s Marketing & Communications (MarCom) team, I created a survey that would provide a glimpse into how Christian women are faring spiritually on this side of the Covid pandemic. In September and October 2023, 51 women responded to the survey. About 60% of the responses came through We-Connect, WICC’s digital newsletter. The other responses came through direct requests from me to people I knew asking them to participate. All survey responses were received anonymously.
Most of the respondents were over the age of 55 (90%). Ten percent were between the ages of 35 and 55. Over 75% were either paid church leaders or active lay leaders.
Fifteen questions were asked to determine how the pandemic impacted the individuals’ faith and faith practices and what lessons were learned during the experience. Several of the questions were open-ended. I will be highlighting the most significant or most interesting results.
The results of the survey reveal a truth that we often don’t want to acknowledge – trials and difficulties can be effective in strengthening our faith.
- CHURCH ATTENDANCE
Over 33% of respondents said their church attendance either online or in-person had increased over the past six months. No one reported that they had stopped attending church (online or in-person) altogether.
- BIBLE READING, PRAYER, AND SPIRITUAL REFLECTION
Approximately 33% of respondents reported an increase in personal Bible reading since the pandemic began and close to 60% reported praying more frequently and engaging in deeper spiritual reflection. Four percent reported they pray less now.
Forms of spiritual reflection reported included gratitude, meditation, reflecting on worship music, writing prayers for public worship, and connecting with others like a spiritual director or with other believers online.
USE OF TECHNOLOGY DURING AND AFTER THE PANDEMIC
During the pandemic, nearly 60% of respondents increased their use of technology to connect with other Christians as seen in the first chart below. Interestingly, the second chart shows that about that same number of people reported an increase in in-person fellowship over the past 6 months. This would suggest that although many people embraced the use of technology for worship, fellowship and connecting with others, in-person experiences are now preferred.
AWARENESS OF INEQUALITIES AND INJUSTICES
The global pandemic created a heightened awareness of inequalities and injustices, with nearly 75% of respondents expressing this sentiment. The most common injustices people became aware of were:
-how understaffed and ill-prepared long term care facilities were for this crisis, the impact of isolation during lockdowns and the devastating loss of life among seniors
-inequality in accessing vaccines of people in other countries as compared to Canada but even in our country there was not equal access depending on location and race
-the “digital divide” that impacted students when classes went online and seniors who did not have access to computers or the skills to benefit from the use of technology to connect with their churches or with friends and family
-increase in domestic violence and few options for victims of violence during a lockdown
-food insecurity made more acute when transportation and availability of goods were interrupted
Here are some of the ways respondents took action:
❝ The pandemic increased the amount of donations I give for areas of the world who are hard-hit by famine, etc.❞
❝ It was difficult to know the number of people who had no or very little access to Internet. (I) Tried to offer assistance and training on how to use online platforms.❞
❝ How blatant police violence, racism, and sexism is and joined social justice sessions online with groups like the NAACP and the Poor People’s Campaign.❞
❝ I became more aware of the difficulties in LTC (Long Term Care). I joined a discussion group working towards better care, attended a speaker night on better models of care and prayed for those in homes.❞
❝At home, the injustice of the elderly and sick who were placed in isolation to suffer alone was beyond comprehension. While I understand decisions were made with public safety in mind, we failed to address the mental health of those who relied on others for their day-to-day care. As a result, this situation increased my desire to pray for these oppressed people and to spend time taking care of those around me.❞
UNDERSTANDING OF AND LOVE FOR GOD
Respondents reported varying experiences in their understanding of and love for God. Many felt their understanding and love deepened, appreciating God’s presence and blessings during trying times. However, some admitted their faith was tested, leaving them with unanswered questions about God and prayer.
IMPACT ON FAITH (Respondents could choose more than 1 answer.)
Respondents reported amazing spiritual growth as a result of living through the pandemic :
- 66% said their trust in God was strengthened
- 56% said their prayer life was deepened
- 23% stated that they now have stronger connections with other Christians
However, not everyone grew spiritually. Some respondents reported it raised many unanswered questions (16%); they feel less connected to their church (8%); they feel more confused and unsure about their faith (2%).
❝ I am weary, and the overarching challenges the church is facing make it hard to be in a leadership position.❞
❝ Some doubts as to God’s goodness and care because of inequality of access to vaccines, etc.❞
❝ Many Christians are walking away from the Church. It is very discouraging to see my friends walk away. It is difficult and awkward to discuss it with them. Churches were divided about if we should obey the government regarding closing our churches and getting vaccines. This divided churches, families, and friends. It was obvious that Satan was at work, and it seemed at times that he was successful in hindering the cause of Christ.❞
ANSWERS TO PRAYERS AND GRATITUDE
God has obviously been at work as many women shared answers to prayers in many areas of their lives such as health and family, learning to listen to God’s Spirit and responding with acts of service like taking baking to a neighbor, calling someone on the phone or helping in practical ways. Several respondents experienced God’s provision for a need at exactly the right moment, including the presence of family at the bedside of a dying loved one. Others prayed for their churches and God answered in unexpected ways.
Many respondents expressed gratitude for God’s faithfulness, love, mercy, compassion and answers to prayer. Others expressed gratitude for vaccines and technology. Some responses were more surprising:
❝ I thank God for allowing me to be with my son as he died.❞
❝ (I’m thankful for) An amazing relationship with my parents with whom I lived during the final years of their lives. It was an honour for me to be there when they needed more care.❞
❝ (I’m thankful for) The increased awareness of people around the world about how much we negatively impact the environment. The air was so much cleaner during the lockdowns.❞
MOST SIGNIFICANT SPIRITUAL LESSONS
The most valuable insights and lessons respondents learned over the past three years fell mainly into three categories:
1) Relationships – Respondents learned the value of listening to others, being patient and nonjudgmental, the value of deep and trusting relationships and the need to help the most vulnerable. Several mentioned not taking friends and family for granted.
2) The positive impact of technology – People were surprised at how useful technology was able to help them connect with God, with their community of faith, with friends and family.
3) God’s faithfulness – Even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, God was there.
OBSERVATIONS AND FINAL THOUGHTS
I was pleasantly surprised at the very positive responses to this survey. Most respondents experienced the faithfulness of God and their faith proved resilient. They adapted and found ways to connect with other believers, care for others and used technology to build faith and relationships.
The challenges, frustrations and losses caused by the pandemic caused believers to reach out to God in desperation. As a result, prayer lives were deepened. Every church leader I know would love to have a program that helped 56% of their congregation grow in prayer. The pandemic did just that.
That is worth celebrating but we must not forget that the pandemic caused much pain, loss and confusion. Seniors suffered and died alone in nursing homes and hospitals. Several of the respondents lost loved ones. Conflicts and strained relationships were created over differences of opinion about vaccinations and Covid protocols. Many struggled with loneliness. Distrust of the government and media created anxiety, confusion and anger. Some respondents came to doubt God’s presence, power and goodness. Many questions about suffering remain unanswered.
QUESTIONS ARISING FROM THESE RESULTS
1. Most of the respondents said they grew in their faith. Almost all of them were 55 years old or older and active in their churches. Did their age and church involvement make them more spiritually resilient? Would younger women have given different answers?
2. Will lessons learned from the pandemic remain with respondents or be forgotten as we move further from the pandemic?
a. Now that many people have returned to in-person worship, will the use of technology decrease or will churches continue to explore ways technology can help us fulfill our mission as followers of Christ?
b. Will the anger at injustices revealed in our own country and around the world wane or will it continue to feed our pursuit of justice for the vulnerable in our world?
c. Will our faith practices that we so desperately relied on fall by the wayside or will they continue to be a source of spiritual strength even though the crisis has passed?
3. I was deeply moved by the honesty of the struggles and personal losses of some of the respondents. As we move further away from the pandemic and church life becomes more normal, are we leaving people behind who have unexpressed grief, unanswered questions about faith and unresolved strained relationships? Are there safe places in our churches, communities or online where people can find help to grow in these painful areas?
This survey was intentionally limited in scope. It was meant to give just a snapshot of what it has been like for some Christian women during and since the pandemic. However, the results suggest there could be several possible next steps.
- WICC could survey women who are 35 years old and younger to complete the survey and compare the results. Did older women fare better than younger women? Did younger women have the same struggles?
- All of us could encourage those women who were impacted more negatively by the pandemic to seek safe places to work through their questions and issues. We don’t know the names of those who responded to this survey but we can be confident that there are many more women like them in our churches who are suffering.
- All of us could seek ways to promote World Day of Prayer to more people. This annual event promotes deeper, informed, and united prayer for justice issues faced by women in Canada and around the world. It is one way to keep the growth in prayer and interest in justice in the hearts and minds of Christian committed to prayer and action.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who participated in this survey, for sharing some of your most meaningful times and especially for sharing your most painful and difficult experiences. I feel privileged to have heard you. While reading the responses to these survey questions, a Bible verse came to mind. When the Apostle Paul faced a painful problem or situation in his life, he asked the Lord to remove it. Instead of doing that, the Lord made this statement.
“My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
May God’s sufficiency be your experience as well!
Rev. Shirley DeMerchant is a semi-retired Baptist minister living in Woodstock, NB.
She is a former WICC president and serves on the WICC MarCom team.