Jon Hobbs (Minister, Grace Church, Haywards Heath) said: “Christians believe they have been called by the Lord Jesus Christ to be another emergency service – visible communities of light in times of darkness, that people can come and join with each Sunday to pray and find hope, comfort and support. We therefore regard a prohibition on gatherings for worship in a time of national crisis as tragic, inappropriate, and void of any real understanding of the purpose of the church itself. It’s like closing all light houses in the middle of a great storm.”
A group of church leaders in has agreed to start a legal challenge of the government’s decision to close churches in the new lockdown set to begin this week in England.
71 church leaders from different streams and traditions have signed the pre-action letter asking the government not to impose a ban on worship services and saying they will pursue judicial review to overturn the ban if necessary.
The new restrictions, announced on 31 October and set to come into force from Thursday 5 November, state that “places of worship will be closed” with exceptions for funerals, broadcast acts of worship, individual prayer, essential voluntary public services, formal childcare, and some other exempted activities.
These restrictions will once again make it a criminal offence for Christians to gather for worship or prayer, or to go to church on Sunday.
The group of church leaders includes 25 leaders who initiated legal action against the government against the closure of churches in the first lockdown.
Following the application for judicial review, which received favourable comments from the High Court Judge, Mr Justice Swift, the government backed down and allowed churches to meet, providing guidance with virtually no legal restrictions.
In a separate judicial review of lockdown restrictions, the judge, Mr Justice Lewis, singled out the closure of churches as arguably unlawful and a breach of freedom of religion.
The church leaders involved in the new action, also includes Welsh leaders who have already sent a pre-action letter to the Welsh government objecting to the closure of churches over three Sundays for the Welsh ‘firebreak’ lockdown.
This comes after some 885 church leaders signed an open letter to the Prime Minister and First Ministers stating that “we must not be asked to suspend Christian worship again. For us to do so would cause serious damage to our congregations, our service of the nation, and our duty as Christian ministers.”
The government has no right to close churches
Pastor Ade Omooba MBE, who led the previous legal challenge, said, “Never in our history have our churches closed – not during wars, plagues or famines. Instead we have been places of respite and hope.
“The government seems not to understand the very important and long held constitutional position of the independence of church and civil government.
“Churches provide many essential services to their members, local communities, and the nation as a whole. But we can’t be relegated to a social service. The motivation and key to our service is our love for Jesus Christ and our care for the whole person, body, mind and soul. The very last thing that should be closed is churches, and then only with their agreement in times of dire emergency for a very short time.
“We call on the government to recognise the vital importance of church ministry and the principle of church autonomy from the state.
“Church is so much more than a place for individual prayer. It is a place for prayer ministry, sacraments, gathered worship, fellowship, and corporate prayer and intercession. The government should not be preventing these vital ministries.”