Stock photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Stock photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

COLUMN: Churches: Open? Closed? What difference does it make?

The contributions of churches to their communities are unparalleled

By Marcyne Heinrichs and Johanna Campbell

During this past year churches have spent thousands of dollars in order to comply with COVID restrictions. While many other venues have remained open, often without limitations on numbers, churches have remained severely curtailed in their ability to accommodate their worshippers and serve their communities. This is in spite of every effort to meet the demands. It is also without consideration given to the percentage of distancing space a church may have available.

So does this matter? Here is why it should.

The contributions of churches to their communities are unparalleled. There are tangible and intangible benefits to the public at large. Many of the following points are based on research by the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities (CCCC).

At the basis of a church’s teaching is spiritual health. The Scriptures provide a moral and ethical framework which equips people of faith to serve their communities out of consideration of others, love of neighbour and peace (be kind, be calm). A house of worship is a source of inspiration and this flows outward through a variety of resources:

• Counseling/mental health for coping skills; help for depression and addictive behaviours; overall improved well-being

• Social health – friendships; buffer that provides early intervention for reduction of crime, suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse. More responsible choices are made among all age groups.

• Physical support for the disadvantaged – food services to homeless, breakfasts in schools

• Charities and treatment centres – financial support and volunteers

• Youth – mentoring in life skills during the impressionable years of life; wholesome activities, fostering trust-building relationships

• Seniors, elderly – care, support, connectedness

• Daycare – safety, loving nurture of children

• The lonely – comfort and companionship

• Immigrants – housing and support, empowerment, ESL classes

• Families – seminars for marriages and parenting, mom’s morning out

• Summer camps for a variety of ages including family camps – in B.C. alone, this represents over 35,000 campers

• Homeless – shelter during the coldest seasons where churches had the facilities

Further research by the CCCC shows the local church improves the neighbourhood viability index. It is a better, safer place to live. Crime is expensive so this represents an economic benefit as well. When a church leaves the neighbourhood, the quality of life in that area suffers.

There are tangible community benefits in terms of social capital with an 11-times return on investment related to tax concessions. Due to their low overhead and their ability to use volunteers, churches produce a socioeconomic value to their local communities of about 4.5 times their operating budgets.

The difference between what a house of worship spends and the higher value it adds to the community is three to five times a church’s annual budget. This represents millions of dollars of benefit.

Statistics also show those who attend church weekly enjoy better quality of life, improved personal outcomes with better educational attainment and employment achievement.

They are other-centred, ordering their lives around giving and volunteering for the betterment of their surroundings. They invest twice as much in secular charities as non-religious donors.

The benefits to poverty and inner-city cores are enormous. These benefits span the spectrum, to those of faith or not. The church is not a taker, it is a giver. To curb its efforts to bring spiritual, emotional, social and economic health to our communities is counter-intuitive.

How is the provincial government compensating for these losses? Where is the data to substantiate these restrictions?

What is the evidence that churches pose an extraordinary risk to their communities? A senior said recently, “My church is my family in Abbotsford. My small group is my support group to keep me sane and happy as I live alone.”

Will our servants in public office be kind to our churches – and to our communities? Will they consider their vast array of benefits? If ever there was a time when places of worship and their services were needed, surely it is now.

Marcyne Heinrichs and Johanna Campbell are both long-time members of the local faith community.

Religion