Church leaders urge government to reopen churches

Keep the Faith were given the opportunity to ask a question at one of the Government’s daily COVID press briefings on Sunday 31st May.  

Our columnist, Pastor Stephen Brooks, posed this question: “Social distancing has an important role in limiting further transmission of coronavirus, yet congregations and the assembling of ourselves is intrinsic to our faith. When restrictions are eased, will the government give churches clear instructions to prevent any unnecessary breakout of COVID-19, similar to the COVID-19 guidance for educational settings?”

In response, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick responded by stating that churches can open for individual prayers from mid June. However, they won’t be able to engage in worship or congregational singing.

He said: “I think the first logical step is probably to open places of worship for individual or private prayer, and that’s what we’re working towards with the faith leaders, and then that will be a springboard, hopefully, conditional on the rate of infection obviously, to small weddings, for example, again very important to many people, and then in time to services.”

The Housing Secretary’s comments came in the wake of a letter, signed by leaders of some of Britain’s high-profile churches, that was sent to the government, asking ministers to urgently review lockdown measures that uniformly ban churches from opening.

The letter argued that the blanket lockdown restrictions imposed on all churches were unlawful and unnecessary, asking the government to prioritise reopening churches as part of the government’s exit strategy.

The letter stated that if the government fails to address the matters, the group will seek a judicial review of the ban.

Signatories included:

Rev Ade Omooba MBE and Dr David Muir, Co-Chairs of the National Church Leaders’ Forum, A Black Christian Voice

Rev David Hathaway, President, Eurovision Mission to Europe 

Rev Dr Brad Norman, Salvation For The Nations International Churches

Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Senior Pastor, Kingsway International Christian Centre

Bishop Alfred Williams, Presiding Bishop, Christ Faith Tabernacle International Churches

Pastor Dennis Greenidge, Senior Pastor, Worldwide Mission Fellowship

Pastor Chris Demetriou, Senior Pastor, Cornerstone The Church

Bishop Lovel Bent, Presiding Bishop, Connections Trust

Pastor Sunday Okenwa, Regional Overseer, Deeper Christian Life Ministry

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, President, Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue (OXTRAD)

Canon Yaqub Masih MBE, Secretary General, UK Asian Christians; Secretary General & Founder, New Horizons

Prior to lockdown, nearly all churches had already put measures into place, suspending services and small groups. Whilst recognising the urgency with which the government acted in March, the letter says that blanket impositions on churches are unnecessary, and are preventing church leaders from putting responsible measures in place to restore worship.

Rev David Hathaway said: “The government has failed to recognise the centrality of faith to a Christian’s life. Sunday worship and access to church buildings have been treated like a mere hobby or pastime, rather than foundational to national and Christian life.”

Pastor Ade Omooba MBE, one of the signatories of the letter, said: “It cannot be right that at present it is lawful to go to a bike shop, to B&Q, visit a chiropractor or dry cleaner, and not be allowed to receive Holy Communion or engage in silent prayer in a church. Churches have traditionally been at the centre of communities, able to offer counsel, prayer and comfort at times of national crisis. They are at the heart of our communities, helping to combat mental health problems, addictions, risk of suicide, domestic violence, poverty and risk.

“Churches deliver an essential service to the community. The government should not be putting churches as the lowest priority services for reopening from the lockdown. We look forward to the response from the government to this letter, and hope that we can engage with the government to see church ministry prioritised as we start to exit the lockdown.”

                                             by Marcia Dixon

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