Council approves first drive-in church in England

20 June 2020

A surfing Newquay vicar has had permission granted for the first drive-in church service in Britain, after a local council U-turned on its decision.

Rev. Matt Timms, 43, Reverend of Wave House Church in Newquay – one of the UK towns hit hardest economically due to the coronavirus – will host the service in a Cornwall County Council car park on Sunday 21 June.

Delivered in partnership with two other local churches, the service will involve members of the public staying socially distant in their vehicles, listening to a talk from the Bible, worshipping, praying, and a watching the surfing film ‘Unstoppable.’

Drive-in church services have been taking place in Northern Ireland since May, but there is no clear guidance from the government on drive-in church services for the rest of the UK.

Told ‘worship not a specified activity’

Matt gained permission from the local council and police after ensuring that the arrangements were ‘Covid-compliant’. His aim was to find an alternative way of holding a church service in the wake of the government continuing to categorise churches as ‘non-essential’ and refusing to allow them to open, despite lockdown restrictions easing.

However, after advertising the service on his church’s Facebook page, Matt received a call from Cornwall County Council’s health and safety team telling him it could not go ahead.

Rev. Matt explains: “I was told that having a drive-in church service was not in the government’s regulations. I asked what that regulation was and was told ‘worship is not a specified activity.’  I was stunned and felt like I was being discriminated against. Drive-in cinemas are allowed, why not a drive-in church?”

After support from the Christian Legal Centre and local MP Steve Double, as well as pressure from the local community, on Thursday evening (June 18) the council U-turned and granted permission for the service to take place.

Rev. Matt Timms, the surfing vicar, got the go-ahead for a car park ‘drive-in’ church service after the local council U-turned on its decision.

‘Christian faith is not something that happens in private’

“I was amazed at the turn around and elated that they granted permission,” Rev Matt said. “I see it as miracle and an act of God.

“Now that we can go ahead with this service we have a real opportunity to bring some hope to the people of Newquay and to inspire other church leaders across the country to hold their own drive-in service and to get out into the community and reach people with the gospel.

“Worship is a very powerful thing and Jesus’ ministry was very public. Christian faith is not something that happens in private. Sharing the gospel and public worship are essential to what it means to live out your Christian faith.”

Church provides an essential service

Wave House Church is heavily involved in the local community with initiatives that include running a multi-agency response that provides over 1,000 meals per week to the most vulnerable in Newquay and providing a 17-bed supported Housing Project for homeless young people.

Asked what life has been like for vulnerable residents in Newquay during lockdown, he said: “Mental health issues are escalating. I have been dealing with an increase in young people contemplating suicide and vulnerable elderly residents who have not seen another human being in months.

“Church provides an essential service to the community under ‘normal’ circumstances, but during this pandemic the material, emotional and spiritual hope is needed now more than ever.”

Drive-in cinemas allowed

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Rev. Timms, said: “We are delighted that common sense has prevailed in this case and that this drive-in service will go ahead.

“It cannot be right that drive-in cinemas are allowed, shopping centres are open, but an outdoor church service that is offering real hope to a community in need is banned.

“The government is dictating to church leaders what church is and how it should function, which is unprecedented.

“It is also incredible that the government is liberalising and extending Sunday trading at the same time as restricting church services and criminalising even informal prayer meetings.

“This church in Cornwall demonstrates what is possible when social action is combined with the life-changing message of the gospel.

“It is time for church leaders across the UK to show the same courage and determination to reach people with the gospel despite continuing government restrictions.”

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