2020 Survey of Parish Social Ministries


In November 2020, CSAN ran the first national survey of Catholic parishes in England and Wales on community and civic engagement.

Headline Findings

Catholic parish priests reported:

  • An overall big decrease in social ministries in 2020, especially in activities with children and the elderly that were not easily transferrable to an online form.
  • People in neighbourhoods already poor pre-pandemic had experienced more adverse social and economic impacts.
  • Few new forms of social ministry were identified in response to Covid-19.
  • Big increases in social isolation, followed by unemployment, low income and debt, as immediate and longer-term concerns.
  • In some places, ‘stalwarts’ were not returning, and parishes were uncertain how to re-connect with people.
  • The support most often requested for social ministries was on how to reach out to, and work well with, other nearby organisations.

Download the summary report (pdf, 0.4mb).

Response from CSAN

We are delighted to have completed this first survey of its kind in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. We are grateful to women religious whose support has made it possible on this occasion, and to parishes that responded.

Our first analysis has shed light on the profound impact of the Covid-19 pandemic at local and national level. We have seen that the pandemic has disproportionately hurt people in the poorest communities in our society, and caused massive disruption to Catholic parish-based social ministries for people who are most isolated. At the same time, reports from other charities tell a different story about increases in response to need in 2020, particularly food distribution that is typically organised between local churches and other community groups.

Many groups and charities continue to develop additional guidance for parishes and schools on social action. It is not always easy for parishes to distinguish between approaches or to find time to get to grips with underlying views that might not sit easily in a Catholic context. The high number of external appeals and requests to commit to programmes add to significant pressures on parishes with small numbers of regular volunteers. One of CSAN’s priorities over the coming three years is to equip parishes and schools with sound information about the choices available, and to identify the fruits of varied approaches on offer.

Note on the Survey

The survey was designed jointly between the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Division, the Church Urban Fund and CSAN, and based on a long-running Church in Action Survey of Anglican parish incumbents. Grant funding was secured and in July 2020, CSAN wrote to all Catholic parish priests in England and Wales, explaining that we would undertake the survey in late 2020. We scaled back the questions from the previous Church in Action surveys, reflecting the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the Anglican and Catholic parish surveys were run in parallel, the results are not comparable because of major differences between the geography and size of parishes in the two denominations.

Call for support

Over time we want to contribute a more insightful picture of the strength and scale of Catholic responses to changing social needs. To do this we need your support.

We believe the work is vital. Poverty in this country is increasing fast. Many people’s needs are becoming increasingly complex. In response, CSAN first needs to equip pastoral and funding decisions and social ministries effectively. This need is common across England and Wales, but capacity varies greatly between dioceses – for historical reasons that are not relevant to mission today – CSAN aims to develop the Church’s approach to good stewardship, solidarity and fruitful mission. Secondly, CSAN’s national representation of Catholic action is a key part of the Church’s contribution to justice, in dialogue with policy makers, funders and the wider public. This depends on reliable information about local responses and the difference these make for individuals and communities. Our data has to be broadly consistent and at scale to be acted on by politicians. As the national infrastructure body for Catholic social action, CSAN is best placed to fulfil this role; a single approach to mapping national needs is considerably easier and more cost-effective than multiple local approaches. However, support for this kind of infrastructure tends to be overlooked by many funders. We consider that leaves many local churches in poorer parts of the country without the support they want and need, and results in the Catholic Church having less public voice than its collective contribution merits.

Will you support CSAN’s investment in helping to address poverty more effectively, and equip more Catholics to meet the challenges God is sending them?

Please pray for the fruitfulness of CSAN’s ministry, and if you can make a donation, every contribution counts.



Picture: Underpass in St Ann’s, Nottingham. Staff photographer.