Police in riot van shut down church service in Cardiff saying it is ‘illegal’26 October 2020 Issued by: Christian Concern
South Wales Police have shut down a church service in one of the most deprived areas of Cardiff for breaking Welsh government Covid regulations.
Last night, Sunday 25 October, a police riot van and one police car with five police officers, arrived at New Hope Community Church in Llanrumney, Cardiff, after receiving calls from members of the public.
Since 6pm on Friday 23 October, Wales has been in a ‘firebreak’ lockdown that has seen churches closed by the Welsh Assembly.
Government-imposed church closures are unprecedented in the UK, and throughout history churches have always been places of refuge, prayer and worship during times of crisis.
The story follows church leaders from across Wales threatening legal action over the Welsh Assemblies decision to close churches for three Sundays, and possibly beyond.
‘We have the right to come in anyway’
Rev. Wade McLennan, pastor of New Hope Community Church, was leading a service with 36 people of all ages when the police arrived and blocked off the car park. Officers began flashing torches into the church building and knocking on the windows.
The church, with a congregation of 150 people, holds three services each Sunday, to provide for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the congregation and local community. There have reportedly been three suicides in the broader community in the past week, which has gone up since the lockdowns
Pastor McLennan opened the door and was asked by officers what was happening inside and if ‘there was a disco’ taking place.
Officers said they wanted to come in and take a look around to make sure there was no one inside.
Pastor McLennan said that he did not want them to come in as they were in the middle of a church service.
He said that when officers realised it was a church, they appeared visibly uncomfortable at what they were enforcing.
Implementing Welsh government law
The policeman said that they were implementing Welsh government law and demanded that: ‘‘we have the right to come in in any way.’
Feeling intimidated, Pastor McLennan believed he had no option but to let them in and feared otherwise they would ‘kick the door down.’
The church emphasises that it implements best practice to mitigate the risk of the coronavirus spreading, even checking each person’s temperature who enters the building.
In recorded footage, police can be seen coming in to building and walking the length of it. A toddler can be seen walking in the church aisle as the police pass.
On the wall of the church a quote from the gospel of Mark 11:17 can be seen which says: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’
One officer then stands at the front of the church and announces that government regulations prohibits the gathering of more than six people in doors.
A member of the congregation shouts: ‘It’s an unlawful regulation.’
The officer continues to describe the gathering as ‘illegal’ and tells the congregation they have to leave and to: ‘worship at home and worship in other ways.’
An elderly member of the congregation calls out: ‘You’ll be asking us not to believe next!”
The policeman says: ‘We are not politicians; we are enforcing government regulations.’
They pray for the police
The congregation packed up their things to leave the building and the police allowed them to pray for them.
The person shooting the video then says: ‘I cannot believe they are making church illegal. This is not communist China.’
One member of the church, 81-year-old June Russell left the church and went home to her one bed flat, cried and did not sleep.
She has no family nearby and no internet, so the church community is her only outlet.
‘I have contemplated suicide’
She said: “I have to admit that during this pandemic I have contemplated suicide as I was in lockdown for 18 weeks. My TV was my only connection to the outside world. My church is the only thing I enjoy, and I go three times a week.
“When the police came last night, I was so angry and upset, I could not sleep. I cannot meet anyone online and a phone call is not the same as meeting in person. The Welsh government has gone too far.”
Pastor McLennan said: “It is incredible to be told that it is illegal to come and worship our God. We are told that it is illegal to sing and it is only Christians who sing during religious services.
“We felt deeply saddened and upset by what happened. When the government says to me that I cannot worship my God at church, they have crossed a line. The freedom to worship is not given by government, but by God.
“We have been running Covid-compliant church services and care deeply about everybody’s wellbeing. But the government does not understand how important spiritual well-being is to people’s lives. That is what the church does, it provides for people’s material, emotional and spiritual needs in times of personal and collective crisis.
“The government must not prohibit church services any longer and I feel sorry for the police who are having to enforce these regulations.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting the church, said: “This is a community that feels forgotten by the Welsh government. This church has provided the safe place, and the family space, for many who otherwise have nothing. To forbid gathering in this circumstance is cruel to the most vulnerable in the community.
“We are supporting a separate group of church leaders who are challenging the lawfulness of this restriction. Pastor McLennan and the members of New Hope Community Church are also, according to their consciences, challenging the lawfulness of this worship ban by seeking to obey God in the best way they can in their circumstances rather than man.”