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Church News

Cathedral carol services boost happiness, says study

by Heather Preston

New research has shown that Cathedral Christmas carol concerts can improve people's mental health. 

A survey was conducted at Liverpool Cathedral in 2019 to access the mental well-being of over 1,000 attendees before and after its Christmas carol services.

The study - using the psychometric scale, known as the Oxford Happiness Inventory, found a marked improvement in visitors' moods at the end of the service compared with the start.

Overall, people demonstrated a significantly higher score at the second test than the first test, suggesting that attendance at the services made the participants happy and had a significant impact on their mental health and well-being.

Rt Rev Dr Sue Jones, Dean of Liverpool told Premier the study was conducted to better understand why people attended services and what positive impact they were having.

She says Christmas events can bring a sense of belonging and nostalgia to visitors: "It brings memories of traditional services and of being part of families going to services in their childhood. 

"Carol services seem to remain very popular within the life of churches and cathedrals and attract people who don't normally come but will come at this time of year and feel that it is their cathedral even if they only come once a year."

Rt Rev Jones says these results encourage her that the Gospel is on display: "We see it as we are sowing the seeds, we can't influence those seeds once people leave, but then God can work in those lives.

"Hopefully what we provide is a space where people feel comfortable and loved and cared for and it may lead them to ask the bigger questions of life, God and faith."

"The Cathedral is adding something to Liverpool's sense of wellbeing. And I praise God for that," she added. 

There have been a number of recent reports highlighting the growth in cathedral visitor numbers or showing the social and economic impact cathedrals have on their local communities and beyond, but there has been less work done to assess the psychological benefit on visitors and participants at special events.

This paper, published at the beginning of December, was part of broader research into the positive impact of Anglican cathedrals on their local communities and the relationship between religion and happiness.

Co-author Leslie Francis, Professor of Religions and Psychology at the University of Warwick, and Canon Theologian at Liverpool Cathedral explained: "Liverpool Cathedral is committed to using the best scientific tools to evaluate its mission and ministry and to use that evidence to shape its priorities for the future. 

 "It is important to test the research in peer-review journals before inviting the Church to take it seriously and I am pleased to say these findings can be taken seriously.

"But, as a scientist, further research is always needed to test and build on findings and we look forward to examining Christmas in other cathedrals, as well as other highlight events and services at different times throughout the year in Liverpool Cathedral," he added.

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