Studying religion means working Sundays

Gero Menzel, Research Associate, Goethe University Frankfurt

Going into the first field, the Diocese of Limburg, I came prepared to also work Sundays. After deciding to postpone the second case, Islam, because field access turned out to be more complicated than expected, I moved on with our third case study on Hinduism, not expecting Sunday to become the focal point of my research activity again. But that’s how it was My contact person from our cooperation partner invited me to join her to visit the temple on Sunday.

The first thing I want to reflect on, is that researching religion, at least in many contexts, conflicts with the academic work schedule and with how we organize our ‘work-life-balance’. Sundays in Germany are usually regarded as days of non-work, days of leisure. At the same time, they are workdays for religious workers and it is a day of non-work or a day of informal work for visitors of religious services; the second being the role we tend to get assigned and/or accept as researchers.

The second thing I want to dwell on, is that when and on which days we conduct our research is also important. Our impression of the research field might be influenced drastically by when we visit. To generate a contrasting case for my research in the first case study, the Diocese of Limburg, I visited a week day service. It was a Tuesday service and it fit well into my work schedule. I could go there before heading to the office. The experience was completely different from Sundays; I was the youngest by far. Of course, while my schedule allowed me to go to Church on a Weekday morning, everybody else except retirees was not able to attend. So ethnographic research includes adapting our schedule to our research field or deciding why we deviate from our field’s usual schedule, be it for pragmatic or methodological reasons.

By getting to know the rhythm, the schedule of our field, we also learn something about it (Elliott et al., 2016). Which days are important in living religion and for whom? We have to ask, whose schedule or which sub-schedule are we adapting to? How far can we adapt with our personal life, our employment conditions?

Sunday being the day for communal, for religious gathering is linked to how Christianity shaped the work schedules in Germany and other Christian majority countries and still does, together with labor unions and other forces of civil society. By looking at when religious communities gather, we can learn about how they relate to the majority and other religious communities. In how far Sunday becomes the day for religious activities and gathering, might also show how religious communities might relate to European secularity sedimented in temporal orders. It might also show us how established religious communities are, by how far they are able to follow their own temporal orders.

Studying religion means navigating and reflecting the temporal practices.


Elliott, S., McKelvy, J. N., & Bowen, S. (2016). Marking time in ethnography: Uncovering temporal dispositions. Ethnography, 18(4), 556–576.

Image credit: Image provided by the author

What drives decision making about whether to maintain virtual services?

Dr Sean Durbin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University

On the evening of March 23, 2020, as the reality of the deadly nature of the COVID-19 pandemic set in in the UK, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced[1] the UK would enter a national lockdown. The following day, The Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England sent a letter[2] to all clergy informing them that church buildings were to be closed for both public worship and private prayer. The Church of England’s decision meant that individual parishes around the country had to quickly adapt and come up with ways to livestream their services to their respective congregations.

Over the past six months I have spoken with a number of Church of England leaders of congregations in London about their experience of transitioning online and their decision to either maintain and end their online services after restrictions were lifted. In line with the findings of some of our previous research[3], most found the transition online unsatisfactory. But what is also interesting is the different ways some have framed their decisions to either keep or curtail online services in theological language.

For example, one pastor I spoke with told me how their transition online was a “pretty steep learning curve” but the younger demographics of the congregation in both age and occupation meant that they were quite tech-savvy, which made the transition easier. An unforeseen consequence of livestreaming their services on Zoom was that they ended up reaching more people virtually than they had ever had in person; According to the pastor on an ordinary pre-pandemic Sunday they might have 80 people, whereas he told me that some of their early livestreamed services had over 100 people tuning in from geographically distance places, who would not or could not be there in person even if they had been allowed to.

When restrictions eased and they were able to go back in person, like many congregations, they began with a hybrid model. This helped to maintain these large numbers by mixing in person attendance with virtual offerings on Zoom. However after brief period of this hybrid model, the church made a conscious decision to end their online offerings in a bid to encourage people to come back in person. This was justified theologically on the grounds that online church was less authentic. Their senior pastor explained it to me like this:

“It was an interesting time reflecting on what church actually is. And we felt in the end, that church is very much about meeting in person. And I’m not sure you can really do Church online, effectively, in a biblical way. So it … crystallized for us that church is not just about getting some input from the front by way of a Bible talk. It’s, it’s God’s people gathering together. That’s the New Testament, the Greek word for church, Ecclesia; it literally means a gathering. And I think the gathering element of churches is fundamental to what church is about.”

At another congregation that I have been working with, the Vicar also felt that the lockdown and pandemic was a time to reflect on what church was about. As a church they are especially focused on working with and in their community, and this made conducting worship services on Zoom particularly difficult because they lacked that kind of community connection. Despite this, the conclusions arrived at were somewhat different.

Using the parable of the lost sheep from Matthew 18:10-14[4], the vicar described how the pandemic and lockdown became a time to reflect on issues of equity for those who are most marginalized in society. As he described it, the pandemic was a reminder of the reality that people with disabilities, people who work shift work, people with caring responsibilities or anything else in their lives that that makes coming in person on a Sunday impossible, don’t have the same ease of access as many others. Rather than deny anyone the opportunity to participate, this congregation made the conscious decision to maintain their online offerings in order to engender wider participation. From his point of view, “if we’re not listening to them [the most marginalized], we’re not doing it right.”

As a result, this church continues to offer its services on Zoom, as well as morning prayer every Wednesday on a Facebook live. In their view it doesn’t affect in-person attendance, and doesn’t require much extra effort to set up. In my observations, these virtual offerings don’t appear to be taken up by large numbers of people. But, in line with the theme equity, the church maintains them so that they are available if needed.

While different churches might use different theological reasoning to explain their choices to keep or get rid of some or all of their virtual offerings, there are very practical reasons at play here as well. One South London Parish I have just started working with still stream their Sunday Mass on Zoom but have cancelled streaming all the other services, such as morning prayer and evening Mass. When I asked if this was to encourage people to come back, or for any particular theological reasons, the answer was much more simple than I expected: They had to cancel streaming them because they simply couldn’t guarantee that there would always be someone capable of setting up the livestream at those mid-week services.



Image credit – Image by Patrick from Pixabay –

Studying religion and community in “post-pandemic” Britain

Emmanuel Chiwetalu Ossai, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University
1. Introduction  

Among other things, the UK ReCoVirA team aims to study whether and how the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated rise in the use of digital technology have affected the way the leaders and lay members of religious groups in Britain understand the boundaries of their faith communities, and the kinds of people who make up the communities. Furthermore, we are interested in the relationship between digitisation and communal life within religious groups in Britain, and how the religious groups have generated and sustained a sense of community among their members before, during, and after the pandemic.

We have selected three major religious communities in Britain for our study, namely, one established majority tradition – the Church of England, an established minority tradition – the Buddhist community, and a new or unestablished tradition – the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Founded in Lagos, Nigeria in 1952, and started in Britain around 1988, the RCCG has been referred to as “the fastest-growing church in Britain” (Akomiah-Conteh 2021, 31).

I and my fellow postdoctoral research associate, Sean Durbin, are using a hybrid ethnographic approach that involves in-depth interviews which are conducted in person and virtually, participant observation in physical and virtual spaces, and the examination of the websites and social media accounts of the religious groups we are studying. In addition, we are exploring secondary sources of data, such as leaflets obtained from the religious groups.

In this research update, I shall consider some of my fieldwork experiences that are influencing my thoughts about religion and community in a Britain that is emerging from COVID-19. I shall discuss the hospitality that I have been shown by Buddhists and Christians who received me in their religious spaces, and my participation in two major events held at a Buddhist centre in Manchester and a church in Preston, namely, the Buddhist Day of Vesak, and Mother’s Day.

Before this discussion, I would like to comment on the meaning of community and what aspects of religious community in Britain are currently being studied by the UK ReCoVirA team.  

2. What is community?  

The term community may be used in a locational sense, to refer to a geographical area or locality within which people live. In addition, it has been used in a relational context, for groups or networks of people who share a common origin, language, racial or ethnic identity, purpose, and so on – without any determinative interest in these people’s current physical environment or location (Clark 1973; Obst, Smith and Zinkiewicz 2002).

For instance, Community ABC might refer to a physically accessible area where blood-related or non-blood-related people reside, but it may also be a name given to the people who live in this area, or another set of individuals who may reside in distinct areas but belong to, or identify as being part of, a group or “nonterritorially based networks of relationships” (Heller et al. 1984, 138).

Related to these territorial and sociological notions of community is a more psychological understanding that concerns the way community is experienced or felt by an individual. The term “sense of community” is often used in community studies to refer to part of the ways community is experienced. Community psychologist Seymour Sarason first proposed the concept of “psychological sense of community” in 1974 as “the key to the understanding of one’s society’s most pressing problems” and “the dark side of individualism manifested in alienation, selfishness and despair” (Sarason 1974, 157, in Cicognani 2014, 5834).

Some terms used in community studies to refer to dimensions of a sense of community, or as synonyms of the concept, include “sense of solidarity” (Clark 1973, 403), “we-feeling” (MacIver and Page 1961, 293, in Clark 1973, 403), feelings of “interdependence”, relatedness, and “mutual responsibility” (Cicognani 2014, 5834, cf. Sonn and Fisher 1996), sense of belonging, et cetera. One important sentiment connected to a sense of community or solidarity is “a sense of significance”, which is like what MacIver and Page (1961, 293) have referred to as “role-feeling” (see Clark 1973, 404). This is the understanding that one has a role to play, a function to perform, and a level of importance or relevance in a community (Clark 1973, 404; MacIver and Page 1961, 293).

The ReCoVirA project is interested in these territorial, sociological, and psychological aspects of community. The following fieldwork experiences are related to these three dimensions of religious community, and the discussion presented in sections four and five below consider how these aspects of religious community in Britain have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased use of digital technology that it motivated.       

3. Fieldwork experience
A. Hospitality    

The Buddhist and the Christian communities that have participated in my research have shown me immense hospitality. For example, this has been my experience at the Ketumati Buddhist Vihara, Manchester, the RCCG Haven of Rest, Preston, and the RCCG My Father’s House, Salford. The Ketumati Buddhist Vihara is a Theravada Buddhist monastery founded around 1999 to serve the Sri Lankan expatriates in the northwest of England and other parts of Britain. On the first day I visited the Vihara on Friday 3 February, the monk who received me invited me into the kitchen to make a cup of tea for myself. At that point, I was an outsider and had not met the monk before, but that did not prevent the Temple from opening its doors to me the way it did. Since February, I have visited the Vihara several times to conduct interviews, participate in meditation sessions, and attend other events. I have been shown kindness, not only by the monk I met on the first day I visited, but the other monks who reside at the Vihara, and lay devotees with whom I have meditated.

Similarly, when I visited the Kadampa Meditation Centres in Manchester and in Preston to interview residential teachers, the teachers offered me tea and were hospitable. At the Centre in Manchester, I and the female teacher sipped from our teacups as we conversed about her and the Centre’s religious experience. Like the monks at the Vihara and the teacher at the Kadampa Centre in Manchester, the residential teacher at the Kadampa Centre in Preston showed me a welcoming attitude on our first meeting that made me feel like I was not an outsider. This attitude says something about how these religious communities relate with Buddhists and non-Buddhists in their local areas and beyond. In section four of this update, I shall share my thoughts about this welcoming attitude and how it has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the related rise in the use of digital technology in Britain and beyond.  

B. The Buddhist Day of Vesak

The Day of Vesak, or the Day of the Full Moon, is “the day most sacred to Buddhists, who commemorate on that day the birth of the Buddha, his attainment of enlightenment and his passing away” (UN 2000, Paragraph 2). On Sunday 7 May, I joined followers of the Buddha to mark the Day of Vesak at the Ketumati Buddhist Vihara, Manchester. The event was attended in person by more than sixty adults and twenty young people, and those who attended virtually via Zoom were fewer in number.

The Buddha’s followers offered a variety of special gifts at the altar of the Buddha and his disciples, such as biscuits, cakes, oranges, and beautiful flowers. I and the devotees, who mostly wore white clothing, shared a special meal after the morning meditation session. The foods, including Sri Lankan favourites such as rice and curry, were specially prepared by members of the community and brought to the temple for the event. Most or all the attendees were originally Sri Lankan. As a result, the devotees communicated in English and Sinhalese before, during and after the formal worship sessions.

C. Mother’s Day with Christians

On 19 March, I participated in a special Sunday worship at the RCCG Haven of Rest, Preston, which marked the year’s Mother’s Day in the UK. After the formal worship session, during which women led most activities, the women, men, and children stayed back to enjoy various kinds of foods and drinks provided to celebrate the mothers. This session of the programme lasted nearly as long as the main worship, as we sat around about seven tables, eating as a family and discussing a variety of issues, including the performance of women at the church that day, personal matters, the political and socio-economic situations in Nigeria and Britain, and several other topics.

To celebrate mothers and women, most of the activities that took place during the worship were led by women, including singing, the delivery of the sermon, praying, and bible study. Recognising that the women were excellent in the way they performed these roles and organised the entire day, I and the men on my table briefly considered how we could ensure that our Father’s Day becomes as good as the Mother’s Day. A woman with us reminded us that “it’s better we understand that we will be needing the women’s help to make that happen,” and we laughed as we admitted within us that, truly, the men needed their women to achieve that.

Members brought up personal matters as we sat together. One person shared the good news that he was getting married and that he had made plans to visit Nigeria to see his fiancée. We were happy for him, and wanted to hear more about how they met, when and where the wedding would take place, and how we could support them. Political and socio-economic issues in Nigeria were discussed, given that the 2023 presidential elections in the country had been conducted some weeks before, on 25 February. Also, one of us arrived in Preston recently to study, and this our “party” was an opportunity to hear about how he was settling in, ask about his current adaptational needs, and offer useful advice.      

4. Religious gathering, the physical space, and community

Among other things, these events that I attended in Manchester and Preston, and the hospitality I have been shown in churches and Buddhist centres, have made me think about some aspects of community that have been affected by the restrictive measures implemented in Britain since early 2020 to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, I have considered the “spatial and environmental aspects” of communal life within religious groups (Williams 1963, xix, in Clark 1973, 397) and the role of the physical place in the formation and sustenance of the Christian and Buddhist communities I have been studying. In addition, I have reflected on the notion of “community as social activity” (Clark 1973, 399ff), including how communal life is affected by the social relations taking place within and outside the physical space of the community – such as a Buddhist meditation centre or a church building. Furthermore, I have been considering how a sense of community is cultivated by the religious groups I am studying in the face of digitisation.

Normally, before COVID-19 emerged, the religious leaders at the Buddhist centres and the churches I have attended for this study welcomed fellow followers of the Buddha and non-Buddhists, and Christians and non-Christians into their religious spaces. The leaders supported them to attain spiritual growth and psychological wellbeing, which were provided by the religious centres through their peaceful environments, the words and prayers of the teachers, the relations among the members of the community, and the general sense of belonging that the religious groups foster. When the performance of this function was hindered by the COVID-19 shutdowns, religious groups adopted digital technology to continue to work virtually. Although the digital platforms were useful mediums of communication, the religious leaders I have spoken to are pleased that they are now allowed to continue receiving insiders they know and outsiders they have not bet before (like I was on the first day I visited the Vihara and the Kadampa centres) into their peaceful physical spaces. But one may ask, has the pandemic had a “long-term” effect on the way the religious communities in my study perform this important function? I observed that it has had a positive impact.

Now that the shutdowns are no longer in effect in Britain, the doors of the religious communities are open to the public, but something has changed about the way the communities’ resources are provided to, and accessed by, the public. In addition to welcoming insiders and outsiders to their physical religious spaces, such as the Ketumati Buddhist Vihara in Manchester and the RCCG Haven of Rest in Preston, some religious leaders now use digital technology in a way they did not apply them before the pandemic to support people who may benefit from the religious resources they offer. Some of the religious communities in my study have created social media accounts, developed their websites, and provided more digital resources for the public. Due to the pandemic, the churches in my study created or expanded their media teams, which have continued to use digital technology to strengthen the churches’ presence, accessibility, and impact online. Before the pandemic, a religious leader who I have interviewed was not offering as much online spiritual counselling sessions as he currently does. I have spoken to a lay Christian who started using Zoom to meet with her pastor for counselling during the pandemic and has continued to do so after the pandemic, without feeling a need to attend the pastor’s office in the church the way she used to do before the COVID-19 shutdowns were implemented in Britain in early 2020.

In short, most of the religious communities I am studying continue to keep their doors open to everyone, but there has been an increase in the use of digital technology in some communities. This has enabled them to show hospitality to those who are not able to visit their physical religious spaces in person and make their spiritual resources accessible to a large and diverse population that extends beyond their local areas. However, participating in public religious events within physical spaces has shown me the importance of in-person activities for religious community even in our age which is pervaded by digital technology.

Eating and conversing with Buddhists in Manchester on the Day of Vesak and with Christians in Preston on Mother’s Day has reminded me of something I read some years ago in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. First published in 1958, the novel depicts how the traditional Igbo society in Eastern Nigeria encountered the White missionaries and the British colonial government in the late 19th century. Okonkwo, the protagonist, was a warrior and strong respecter of the Igbo traditions, religion, and culture. Until he took his own life, Okonkwo resisted the growing presence and influence of the Christian religion and the political and socio-economic systems of the colonial government, such as the Western justice system, in his village, Umuofia. During a meeting of kinsmen at which Okonkwoprovided satisfying foods and drinks for his extended family who were present, an elderly man and family member said:

A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so (Achebe 1996, 118).

The Buddhists and the Christians with whom I shared meals to celebrate the Vesak and Mother’s Day gathered to mark these special days partly because coming together for the events in their physical religious spaces was good for the community, for what was referred to as the “bond of kinship” in Things Fall Apart (Achebe 1996, 118). Members took their time to make the foods, purchase the drinks, and bring them to the gatherings. Among other important things that happened at these events, attendees shared the meals, prayed and rejoiced together, conversed and learnt as a community, and went home with a renewed sense of shared purpose.

5. Questions about digital religion and community

It seems one reason the virtual practice of religion is not satisfactory for many religious believers is its inability to allow the kind of activities that effectively promote a sense of community among the members of a religious group, such as the activities marking the Day of Vesak at the Ketumati Buddhist Vihara, Manchester, and the Mother’s Day at the RCCG Haven of Rest, Preston.

But one may ask, is it true that virtual religious spaces poorly enable the experience of community? If that is the case, why have some Buddhists continued to attend weekly meditation at the Ketumati Buddhist Vihara virtually via Zoom since the temple was re-opened for public in-person activities after the COVID-19 shutdowns? Could it be that they truly do not experience community in the positive ways that the physical attendees do, but they chose the virtual participation due to other factors, such as practical considerations? I and many devotees physically attended the Day of Vesak at the Vihara, but some people joined us virtually through Zoom. Do these virtual attendees form a different community, or do they experience community in a manner that is affected by their absence from the physical space in which I and tens of other attendees were?  

Although I do not have satisfactory answers to these and related questions at this stage of the study, I am thinking about them as I examine the data that I have and collect additional data. For this research, I have participated in Buddhist meditation sessions and public Christian worship virtually using Zoom, and interviewed Buddhists and Christians who continue to worship virtually since the COVID-19 restrictive measures were lifted. These interviews and my observations at the online gatherings will enable me to address the questions I have asked above and several other related ones. Nonetheless, as I work to achieve this, I would like to make the following observation.

Digital religious spaces foster a sense of community, even though religious experience within a virtual space is different from the experience emerging from a physical gathering of worshippers within a physical religious place. For this study, I have virtually participated in online-only meditation sessions offered by the Buddhist Centre Online, which was launched around 2013 by the Triratna Buddhist Community. Although the daily meditation sessions mainly started in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the Centre continues to offer them now that no COVID-19 shutdowns exist in most of the West, and they are well attended by people from Britain, Europe, the Americas, Asia, and other regions. According to the Centre’s website (, Paragraph 2), it helps to “build a different kind of web platform to promote participation in Buddhist community throughout the wide and diverse Triratna world.” Through my participation in the Centre’s online meditation sessions and my review of the diverse resources available on its website, I have observed that the Centre has been performing this task of promoting participation in the international Triratna community.    

6. Next steps

From this August to October, I shall collect more data and continue to transcribe the interviews manually. The data analysis will not be completed until next year. However, as the research progresses, I shall gain more understanding about the issues I have discussed in this update and will share more research updates on our website.

Currently, I am preparing to present some of my findings at the 2023 conference of the European Association for the Study of Religion (EASR). The conference will take place in early September in Vilnius, Lithuania (see It will be attended by my fellow ReCoVirA team members who are exploring the pandemic’s religious effects here in Britain and other European settings, including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Poland, Slovenia, and Sweden. I shall discuss some of my discoveries with them and hear what their own studies have revealed. After the conference, I shall share an update on our website to inform our readers of what I observed at the gathering.

In the meantime, if you want to participate in our study or share your feedback, please kindly contact the team via or email me directly using

I sincerely thank everyone who has kindly participated in our study, and I hope you find this update useful.

Thank you for reading.   


Achebe, Chinua. 1996. Things Fall Apart (Expanded Edition with Notes). Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers.

Akomiah-Conteh, Sheila. 2021. ‘Rivers in the Desert: The Story of African Christianity in Britain’, Anvil: Journal of Theology and Mission 37:3, 24-31.

Cicognani, Elvira. 2014. Sense of Community. In Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research, pp 5834–5838, edited by A.C Michalos. Dordrecht: Springer.

Clark. David. B. 1973. The concept of community: A re-examination. The Sociological Review 21(3): 397-416.

Heller, K., R. H. Price, S. Reinharz, S. Riger, A. Wandersman, and T. A. D’ Aunno. 1984. Psychology and Community Change: Challenges of the Future. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Maclver, R. M. and C. H. Page. 1961.  London: Society, Macmillan.

Obst, Patricia, Sandy G. Smith, and Lucy Zinkiewicz. 2002. An exploration of sense of community, Part 3: Dimensions of psychological sense of community in geographical communities. Journal of Community Psychology 30(1): 119-133.

Sarason, Seymour B. 1974. The Psychological Sense of Community: Prospects for a Community Psychology. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sonn, Christopher C. and Adrian T. Fisher. 1996. Psychological sense of community in a politically constructed group. Journal of Community Psychology 24(4): 417-430.

UN. 2000. A/RES/54/115. United Nations General Assembly, 8 February 2000.

Williams, W. M. 1963. A West Country Village. Ashworth: Routledge, and London: Kegan Paul.

Image credit: AI image generated by the author using Clipdrop by Stability AI

Practices During the Pandemic as a Glimpse of the Future

Hybrid Worship Gathering: Create an image of a congregation in a church building with some members physically present while others join remotely through digital means, representing the potential future of blended worship experiences.
Lena Roos, Professor, Study of Religions, Södertörn University

Did the covid 19 pandemic accelerate already existing processes of change within religious communities in Europe? Can a study of changes during the pandemic thus be used as a tool to look into the future? This article will address those questions based upon a series of studies done the Church of Sweden.

Sweden did not have hard lockdowns during the pandemic. Rather, the main strategy was to issue “recommendations” such as working from home when possible, avoiding travel during peak hours and when possible conducting meetings and other gathering online. Some restrictions were however imposed. From March 12th, 2020, gatherings of more than 500 people were forbidden. A little more than two weeks later, on March 29th, the maximum number was lowered to 50. November 24th the maximum was further lowered to eight. Funerals were excepted and allowed 20 participants. As an increasing number of the population had been vaccinated, and the pandemic seemed to have started to abate, the restrictions were gradually loosened, the final being removed on September 29th, 2021.[1]

The restrictions affected the religious communities of Sweden, even if less so than in many other countries. Less, because the restrictions were less strict, but also because in reality, many congregations, especially outside larger cities, rarely gathered more than 50 worshipers at the same time. When the maximum number was lowered to eight, however, all congregations were forced to seek alternative strategies for their activities.

A few studies have already been published on the effect of the covid 19 pandemic on a selection of religious communities, mostly Christian, in Sweden. Most data have been gathered concerning the largest denomination, the Church of Sweden whose members comprised 52,8 per cent of the population in 2022.[2] These studies generally indicate that most congregations preferred to find alternative forms for their gatherings, rather that cancelling activities altogether. This is also similar to what has been found in most international studies.[3] I most cases, the Swedish congregations adopted what Heidi Campbell calls a ‘transfer strategy’, meaning that they simply transfer their regular format to a digital format, for instance by setting up a camera in the church and filming the service or streaming it online. In some cases a ‘transform strategy’ was employed, meaning that the analogue format was abandoned and a completely digital format adopted, for instance through online meeting rooms.[4] Some studies seem to indicate that congregations in the Church of Sweden have been less creative than churches in other countries when it comes to finding alternative forms for their activities, possibly due to less restrictions.[5]

Two sets of questionnaires were sent to vicars in the Church of Sweden in 2020.[6] One was part of periodically gathered statistics by the Church of Sweden research unit; one was part of the international research project CONTOC, Churches Online in Times of Corona.[7]

Many of the vicars describe that the most difficult members to reach during the pandemic were those belonging to risk groups, e.g. elderly or/and living in different kinds of assisted living facilities. Although Swedes by international comparison have good internet access, it is estimated that about one million Swedes rarely or never use the internet.[8]

Generally the vicars report on three different types of strategies: 1. Activities were cancelled. This was often the case for activities for senior members, for instance sewing gatherings and Bible study groups, as well as activities for new immigrants. 2. Activities were postponed. This was mainly the case for baptisms and weddings, that were postponed until the restrictions were lifted. 3. Activities were continued in a different form. This was usually the case for the main service of the week, that was often digitized, but 4 out of 10 congregations also report having transferred their youth groups or confirmation classes to a different format, often online.[9] The reason is obvious: since the younger members are more comfortable with and generally have access to digital meeting forms, it is easier to digitize those activities, even if the need may be greater for other groups, such as the elderly, who were more isolated during the pandemic, and generally also more active members of the church. A contributing factor may also be that Church of Sweden staff working with youth had an online presence already before the pandemic, e.g. through the so called ‘net wanderers’ (nätvandrare), who are present on various social fora where young people might risk bullying and other forms of abusive treatment.[10]

One part of the work of the Church of Sweden that was greatly reduced was that done by volunteers. In some cases, less volunteers were needed because activities were cancelled, in other cases, it was because the volunteers themselves belonged to risk groups.[11] This seems to strengthen a trend that was visible already before the pandemic, that the number of volunteers decreases.[12]

There is an interesting difference between female and male vicars concerning pastoral counselling during the pandemic. Whereas many male vicars report that they have reduced the time dedicated to pastoral counselling due to restrictions during the pandemic, many female vicars report the opposite, that they have increased this time, by using digital forms like WhatsApp, Skype, Messenger or regular phone calls. This difference can be linked to differences in their use of social media before the pandemic. Previous research has shown that women use social media more, and in a different manner from men, in order to maintain and deepen already existing relationships.[13] It can also be related to differences between female and male clergy that has been shown in a recent study of young clergy in the Church of Sweden and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland. In this study the participants were asked to evaluate what aspects of their profession they thought most important. Women ranked being a listener, a companion and an enabler as their most important roles, whereas men gave priority to skills in preaching and liturgy.[14]

There is also an interesting difference between younger and older vicars. Younger vicars as a group state that the worship service in the local church, especially the communion, has become more important for them after having experienced the Covid restrictions. They stress the centrality of the service, whereas they believe that other gatherings, such as meetings with coffee whose main purpose is social will be less important for them in the future. Older vicars, however, say almost the opposite, that the physical church building has become less important for them during the pandemic, and that they hope to continue some of the activities that replaced regular services in the church during the pandemic, for instance meetings in smaller groups and outdoor activities such as communal walks.[15]

There have also been gains in the move to digital formats. Out of those congregations who have used different kinds of digital formats, more than half (54 percent) report reaching new people. This was especially true for those congregations who had digital activities several times per week. 70 percent of these congregations also report that they want to continue with activities in alternative forms, digital and others, after the pandemic as well. [16]

So, if we try to use the developments during the Covid 19 pandemic as a lens to look into the future, what are some possible developments?

– That the use of alternative forms, digital and others, will be greater than before the pandemic.
– That the number of volunteers will remain on a lower level than before, and possibly continue to decrease.
– That as older vicars retire and those who belonged to the younger group of vicars during the pandemic remain, there will be an increased emphasis on liturgical services, mainly communion services, possibly with a decrease of other types of activities in the congregations.

Lena Roos, Professor, Study of Religions
Södertörn University


Campbell, Heidi 2020a. ”What Religious Groups Need to Consider When Trying to Do Church Online”. I Campbell, Heidi (red). The Distanced Church: Reflections on Doing Church Online. Digital Religion Publications.

Chow, Alexander & Kurlberg, Jonas 2020. ”Two or Three Gathered Online: Asian and European Responses to covid-19 and the Digital Church”. Studies in World Christianity 26:3.

CONTOC, Churches Online in Times of Corona:

Fransson, Sara; Gelfgren, Stefan; Jonsson, Pernilla. 2021. Svenska kyrkan online. Att ställa om, ställa in eller fortsätta som vanligt under coronapandemin.

Fransson, Sara. 2022. ”Församlingslivet under coronapandemin. Svenska kyrkan”, Josefson, Ulrik, Wahlström, Magnus (eds.). 2022. Svensk frikyrklighet i pandemin. En studie av församlingen i corona och corona i församlingen. Forskningsrapporter från institutet för pentekostala studier 9, 196-214.

Ganiel, G. (2020). People still need us: A report on a survey of faith leaders on the Island of Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hagman, Patrik & Kejonen, Eetu 2019. ”Kön, kyrka och kyrkligt ledarskap. En teologisk studie av unga prästers uppfattningar i Finland och Sverige”. Scandinavian Journal for Leadership & Theology, vol 6.

Kühle, L., & Larsen, T. L. (2021). ‘Forced’ Online Religion: Religious Minority and Majority Communities’ Media Usage during the COVID-19 Lockdown. Religions, 12(7), 496.

Larsen, T. L., Mauritsen, A. L., Sothilingam, S. A., Kühle, L., Borup, J., & Fibiger, M. Q. (2021). Religiøs forandring i en krisetid-Et case-studium af aarhusianske religionsgruppers håndtering af COVID-19-pandemien i efteråret 2020. Religion i Danmark, 10, 92-113.

Lundgren, Linnea. 2022. Trossamfunden och Covid 19. En undersökning om hur pandemin påverkat lokala församlingar i Sverige. Myndigheten för stöd till trossamfund.

[1] Lundgren, 2022, 6-7.

[2] Medlemmar i Svenska kyrkan 1972-2022.pdf

[3] E.g. Ganiel, 2020; Kühle & Larsen, 2021; Larsen et al., 2021.

[4] Campbell 2020.

[5] Chow & Kurlberg 2020.

[6] Fransson et al, 2021.


[8] Fransson et al, 2021, 32.

[9] Fransson et al, 2021, 32.

[10] Fransson et al, 2021, 37.

[11] Fransson et al, 2021, 38-39.

[12] Fransson, 2022, 209.

[13] Fransson et al, 2021, 62-64.

[14] Hagman and Kejonen, 2019.

[15] Fransson, 2022, 201.

[16] Fransson et al, 2021, 73-74.

Image credit – Generated by using the prompt “Hybrid Worship Gathering: Create an image of a congregation in a church building with some members physically present while others join remotely through digital means, representing the potential future of blended worship experiences.

ReCoVirA Deutschland – Zeiten der Erholung?

Gero Menzel, Research Associate, Goethe University Frankfurt

Am 8. April wurden die letzten Corona-Maßnahmen, die FFP2-Maskenpflicht in Krankenhäusern und Apotheken, nicht verlängert. Damit ist Deutschland zumindest politisch in einen post-pandemischen Zustand eingetreten. Der größte Teil des gesellschaftlichen und auch des kirchlichen Lebens ist schon länger zu einer Art ‚neuer alter Normalität‘ zurückgekehrt.

Als wir Mitte März in die Feldphase eintraten, erlebten wir, das deutsche ReCoVirA-Team, ein Feld, in dem die Auswirkungen der Pandemie noch präsent waren. Die Zahlen der Gottesdienstbesucher sind oft niedriger als vor der Pandemie, die Menschen zögern immer noch, sich die Hände für den Friedensgruß zu schütteln, die Hände werden vor der Spendung der Eucharistie desinfiziert und einige andere Hygienemaßnahmen sind noch immer in Kraft. Doch viele ist momentan in Bewegung. Der beliebte Livestream aus der Bischofskapelle in Limburg, der im März 2020 gleich zu Beginn des ersten Lockdowns seinen Anfang fand, wurde nach einem Stream Ostermesse eingestellt. Viele Arten von Veranstaltungen, Gottesdiensten und Zusammenkünften, die während der Pandemie entstanden sind, wurden bereits eingestellt, werden derzeit eingestellt oder an die neuen Gegebenheiten angepasst. Ramadan 2022 war der erste Ramadan seit zwei Jahren ohne Corona-Beschränkungen, Ramadan 2023 bereits der zweite.

Die Gesellschaft und mit ihr die Religionsgemeinschaften scheinen sich auf ein Leben nach der Pandemie eingestellt zu haben. Das bedeutet nicht, dass die Auswirkungen der letzten drei Jahre einfach verschwunden sind, aber in einem Zustand der Erholung, eine etwas begrenzte Übersetzung des englischen Wortes recovery, nach dem sich Akronym ReCoVirA bildet, haben sich die Praktiken verändert. Wie Stephan Lessenich in seinem Buch Nicht mehr normal beschreibt, ist Normalität etwas, das durch alltägliche Praktiken hergestellt wird. Das Gleiche gilt für Prozesse der Wiederherstellung oder der Rückkehr zur Normalität. Das bedeutet, dass wir in diesen Zeiten der Erholung beobachten können, welche Praktiken und Mechanismen in einem post-pandemischen Zustand zur Anwendung kommen, wie sie verhandelt werden und welche Prioritäten sich herausbilden.

Anknüpfend an einige Vorgängerstudien (CONTOC, midi, ReTeOG…) geht es nun um die Frage: “Wie formieren sich Religionsgemeinschaften angesichts aller Herausforderungen, Veränderungen und der in der Pandemie entwickelten Kreativität?”. An diese Frage knüpft an eine andere an, nämlich wie sich die Rolle der Religion im öffentlichen Leben verändert hat und verändert. Der Religionsmonitor 2023 legt nahe, dass die Religion in der Corona-Krise, wenn es Angebote im Umgang mit Krisen geht, nicht mehr den gleichen gesellschaftlichen Stellenwert wie zuvor hat. Es hat sich gezeigt, dass Politik und Medizin im Krisenmanagement und der Orientierung in Krisen von den Bürger:innen als wichtiger wahrgenommen wurden. Religiöse Einrichtungen sind für religiöse Menschen nach wie vor eine wichtige Ressource und eine wichtige gesellschaftliche Institution in Krisenzeiten, aber ihre gesellschaftliche Wahrnehmung scheint sich verändert zu haben.

Die Einschränkungen durch die Pandemie haben die Religionsgemeinschaften gezwungen, sich für digitale Formate und eine digitalisierte Öffentlichkeit zu öffnen. Allerdings sind nicht alle Religionsgemeinschaften online gegangen und nicht alle haben sich mit diesem Umfeld vertraut gemacht. Wird dies insbesondere traditionelle Religionsgemeinschaften in den gegenwärtigen Zeiten multipler Krisen auf einer tieferen Ebene beeinflussen? Wie gehen die Religionsgemeinschaften mit der digitalisierten Öffentlichkeit um, insbesondere die der jüngeren Generationen?


Churches Online in Times of Corona (CONTOC) (2021). Ergebnisse zur CONTOC-Studie, Sektion Deutschland. Aufbauend auf die erste ökumenische Tagung am 13.4.2021. PDF-Bericht.

CONTOC2 (28. September 2022). Für die evangelischen Kirchen in Deutschland und in der Schweiz. Foliensatz.

Hillenbrand, C., Pollack, D., & El-Menouar, Y. (2023). Religion als Ressource der Krisenbewältigung? Analysen am Beispiel der Coronapandemie. Religionsmonitor: Vol. 2023. Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Hörsch, D. (2020). Digitale Verkündigungsformate während der Corona-Krise.: Eine Ad-hoc-Studie im Auftrag der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland. Evangelische Arbeitsstelle midi.

Hörsch, D. (2021). Gottesdienstliches Leben während der Pandemie.: Verkündigungsformate und ausgewählte Handlungsfelder kirchlicher Praxis – Ergebnisse einer midi-Vergleichsstudie. Evangelische Arbeitsstelle midi.

Lessenich, S. (2022). Nicht mehr normal : Gesellschaft am Rande des Nervenzusammenbruchs. Hanser.

Reimann, R. P & Sievert, H. (2021). Studie zu Online-Gottesdiensten 2021: Update der Befragungsstudie „Rezipiententypologie evangelischer Online-Gottesdienstbesucher*innen während und nach der Corona-Krise“.

Schlag, T., & Nord, I. (2021). Kirche in Zeiten der Pandemie: Erfahrungen – Einsichten – Folgerungen : Einblicke in die internationale und ökumenische CONTOC-Studie. Deutsches Pfarrerblatt. Advance online publication.

Image credit: AI image generated using Leonardo.AI
“An illustration showcasing the use of digital tools, such as smartphones or tablets, by religious leaders or practitioners to connect with their communities virtually”

ReCoVirA Germany – Times of recovery?

Gero Menzel, Research Associate, Goethe University Frankfurt

Recently, on the 8th of April, the last corona measures, ffp2-masks being compulsory in hospitals and pharmacies, were not prolonged and Germany has now at least politically entered a post-pandemic state. Most of social life as well as religious life had already reverted back to a somewhat “new old normal”.

Entering the field phase in mid-March, we, the German ReCoVirA team, experienced a field were effects of the pandemic were still present. Attendance is often lower than before the pandemic, People are still hesitant shaking hands for the rite of peace, hands are disinfected before the administration of the Eucharist and some other hygiene measures are still in place. Currently there is a lot of change. The popular livestream from the bishop’s chapel in Limburg, which was established in March 2020, was discontinued after Easter mass. Many types of events, services and gatherings adapted during the pandemic have been discontinued, are being discontinued or adjusted to new circumstances. Ramadan 2022 marked the first Ramadan in two years without corona restrictions, Ramadan 2023 already the second.

Society and with it religious communities seem to have moved on to a post-pandemic life. That doesn’t mean that the impact of the last 3 years has just disappeared, but in a state of recovery, on which the acronym ReCoVirA models itself, practices have shifted. As Stephan Lessenich points out in his book Nicht mehr normal, normality is something produced by every-day practices. The same can be said to processes of recovery or reverting back to normalcy. This means in these times of recovery we can observe which practices and mechanisms are invoked in a post-pandemic state, how they are negotiated and which priorities emerge.

Following up on some predecessor studies (CONTOC, midi, ReTeOG…), the question transforms to “How do religious communities (re-)shape themselves in light of all challenges, changes and creativity of the pandemic?”. This question link to another about how the role of religion in public life changed and changes. The Religionsmonitor 2023 suggests that following the corona crisis religion does not have the same social standing as before, when it comes to dealing with crisis. Politics and medicine have shown to be perceived as more important to citizens, when it comes to crisis management and orientation in times of crisis. Religious institutions remain an important resource for the religious as well as an important social institution in times of crisis, but their social perception seems to have changed. The restrictions of the pandemic have compelled religious communities to open up to digital formats and a digitized public sphere. But not all religious communities went online and not everyone became familiar with these surroundings. Will this affect especially traditional religious communities in the current times of multiple crises on a deeper level? How do religious communities engage with the digitized public sphere, especially the younger generations?


Churches Online in Times of Corona (CONTOC) (2021). Ergebnisse zur CONTOC-Studie, Sektion Deutschland. Aufbauend auf die erste ökumenische Tagung am 13.4.2021. PDF-Bericht.

CONTOC2 (28. September 2022). Für die evangelischen Kirchen in Deutschland und in der Schweiz. Foliensatz.

Hillenbrand, C., Pollack, D., & El-Menouar, Y. (2023). Religion als Ressource der Krisenbewältigung? Analysen am Beispiel der Coronapandemie. Religionsmonitor: Vol. 2023. Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Hörsch, D. (2020). Digitale Verkündigungsformate während der Corona-Krise.: Eine Ad-hoc-Studie im Auftrag der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland. Evangelische Arbeitsstelle midi.

Hörsch, D. (2021). Gottesdienstliches Leben während der Pandemie.: Verkündigungsformate und ausgewählte Handlungsfelder kirchlicher Praxis – Ergebnisse einer midi-Vergleichsstudie. Evangelische Arbeitsstelle midi.

Lessenich, S. (2022). Nicht mehr normal : Gesellschaft am Rande des Nervenzusammenbruchs. Hanser.

Reimann, R. P & Sievert, H. (2021). Studie zu Online-Gottesdiensten 2021: Update der Befragungsstudie „Rezipiententypologie evangelischer Online-Gottesdienstbesucher*innen während und nach der Corona-Krise“.

Schlag, T., & Nord, I. (2021). Kirche in Zeiten der Pandemie: Erfahrungen – Einsichten – Folgerungen : Einblicke in die internationale und ökumenische CONTOC-Studie. Deutsches Pfarrerblatt. Advance online publication.

Image credit: AI image generated using Leonardo.AI
“An illustration showcasing the use of digital tools, such as smartphones or tablets, by religious leaders or practitioners to connect with their communities virtually”

A hybrid ethnography of religious life in post-pandemic Britain

Emmanuel Chiwetalu Ossai, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University

The Recovira team in the UK is studying how religious communities in the country have been affected by digitisation since early 2020 when the first COVID-19-related restrictions were implemented. One research approach that the team has adopted is a social scientific design known as ethnography, which researchers have used to study people’s culture.

Traditionally, the ethnographer does their research by spending a relatively large amount of time (like months or years) with the people being studied. During this time, the ethnographer conducts in-depth interviews with the people, observes the people’s activities and the happenings in their environments, and takes notes about these observations and the ethnographer’s own experiences on the field. However, this traditional approach to ethnography is no longer sufficient for some contemporary ethnographers.

A kind of ethnography that some social scientists do these days has been referred to as “hybrid ethnography.” This term is often used to refer to the ethnography in which the researcher combines the more traditional ethnography done in physical spaces, with a more digital kind of ethnography done mainly in online environments. For example, a hybrid ethnographer who is studying how a religious community operates in a Britain emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic will (a) join the community in person when it meets, for example, on Sundays for worship, and (b) attend the community’s virtual activities on Zoom or other digital spaces.

Since February 2023, one of the two postdoctoral research associates on the UK Recovira Team, Emmanuel Ossai, has been using a hybrid ethnographic approach to investigate the post-pandemic religious experience in Pentecostal Christian, Theravada Buddhist, and Triratna Buddhist communities in the Greater Manchester area. His research methods have included in-depth interviews with leaders and lay persons in the religious communities, and observation at the communities’ in-person and virtual events.

As of June 2023, Emmanuel has conducted research at two Black-majority parishes of an originally Nigerian church, and one Theravada Buddhist vihara (monastery) which is mostly attended by the Sri Lankan expatriates residing in several parts of England. Emmanuel has identified some major findings about COVID-19-driven visible and less visible changes, as well as short-lived and more long-term changes, within the religious communities. Emmanuel continues to collect ethnographic data, while he transcribes the previously conducted interviews. Currently, he is studying a Black-majority church in Salford, Manchester, and a Buddhist Centre that exists primarily on the internet and whose daily meditations are held virtually only.

Image credit: AI image generated by Clipdrop by Stability AI “An image of a computer with religious symbols on the screen.”

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