The York Minster Choir perform anthems to mark the resumption of choral signing at York Minster (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Churches say no to second lockdown

Hundreds of Ministers say closing again would damage congregations and their duty as Christians

Almost 700 church leaders have told Boris Johnson they must not be asked to close their churches again and have given a strong hint that they won’t conform the next time he tries to suspend services in the name of virus prevention.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister and the leaders of the devolved administrations, Church ministers say a closure of churches “would cause serious damage to our congregations, our service of the nation, and our duty as Christian ministers.”

The letter has been signed by ministers of several denominations in all four parts of the UK and is a strong hint that Christians in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who up to now have acquiesced to coronavirus legislation, may defy a future instruction to shut their doors.

The Christian ministers say they have “carefully followed government guidance” on Coronavirus and “entirely support proportionate measures to protect those most vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2.” But say they “question whether the UK Government and the devolved administrations have it in their power either to eliminate this virus or to suppress it for an indefinite period while we await a vaccine”.

One of the authors of the letter, Rev. Dave Gobbett, Minister of Highfields Church in Cardiff, said:

The government is in an impossibly difficult situation, seeking to balance competing needs within society, but we wanted to show how vitally important it is that churches remain open. Christians live in a tension between being called to obey our governing authorities on the one hand, and realising that our final authority is God, on the other. Certainly in the book of Acts we see the apostles continuing to preach the gospel even when they have been ordered to stop. Ultimately we answer to God and not the state.

 Under current regulations worshipers are required to socially distance, wear masks and are not permitted to sing inside a church building. But Gobbett, whose church is part of the FIEC, a loose grouping of evangelical churches, says the Government has prioritised the economy over the freedom to gather and worship and believes there are “massive inconsistencies with mask wearing”:

There might be 100 people in a pub or a gym not wearing masks, and yet since we’ve reopened our church we have four seats between each person or household and everyone needs to mask-up before we go in.

We have a big student population at our church and even before lockdown we were seeing a rise in people seeking help with their mental health. The church is one of the most Covid-secure places you can go. Amongst everything else, it’s vital that we don’t stop face to face pastoral care.

Another author of the letter, Rev. Matthew Roberts has criticised the government for closing “the one place on earth that has a real answer to a pandemic”. Writing for The Critic he said that it was impossible for authorities to eliminate death but that “a vast amount of dehumanising damage is being done in the attempt”.

150 Church of England ministers have also signed the letter which suggests a growing rift between the Anglican hierarchy and ordinary clergy. When the lockdown was first announced several vicars defied Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he told them they must film services from their own homes even when they were alone in churches and broadcasting live on the internet.

In the latest tightening of lockdown measures the government notably stopped short of closing churches. But with a priority on schools and the economy, and government panic levels rising, many Christians fear places of worship will be a prime target for any new government restrictions. It’s clear that some Christians  contemplate the prospect of resisting Caesar with more resolve than others but those who do have given a strong hint this week that they will not conform to future laws ordering them to cease religious activity in the name of suppressing a virus.

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