Free to preach the gospel on the streets of Greenwich

16 April 2021

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15, NIV)

During lockdown, the Christian Legal Centre has dealt with hundreds of calls from church leaders, street preachers and the general public, enquiring as to how they can safely and legally bring the hope of the gospel to their communities while covid restrictions are in place.

For the most part, the advice to street preachers remains the same: carry out a risk assessment; wear a mask when not preaching; and use social distancing where appropriate. With all these measures in place, anyone wishing to bring the glorious gospel of Christ to the streets of their community should be at liberty to do so.

One street preacher and physician, Charles Soper, has been engaged in open air preaching in Woolwich, South East London, for the past 16 years. When lockdown restrictions began easing again, he called the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) for advice, wanting to share the joyous and hope-filled message of the gospel during what seemed like a hopeless time.

The Christian Legal Centre’s Navaid Syed recalls speaking to Charles: “During the periods of full lockdown restrictions, he had to stop preaching but was very keen to resume as soon as he was allowed. Charles had been contacted by the police, who advised him to stop doing open air work and leafletting. As the restrictions eased, Charles wanted to resume his activities.”

Spurred on by the advice of CLC, Charles took to the streets once more, only to be stopped once again by Covid wardens from Greenwich Council.

“On two occasions I had fairly stern warnings to stop. They [the Covid wardens] didn’t ask me to relocate or socially distance, just to stop, appealing to the guidance codes. I pointed out the charitable exemption as CLC suggested, and explained it was the first of our charity’s purposes to preach. After all, proper preaching of Christ is the purest charity.”

However, the Covid wardens continued to press their point and threatened to refer Charles to the police: “They said it wasn’t their business to issue fines or PCNs, but might refer it to the police. The last warden did say he’d check with head office after hearing my case.”

Undeterred, and with a desire to keep speaking gospel truth to his community, Charles kept preaching. What happened next should serve as encouragement to us all.

“After about 20 minutes,” Charles explained, “the same gentleman materialised with a companion. He was much more friendly, though he was the less hostile of the two before. He said he wanted to apologise! I could scarcely believe my ears. He said he was sorry for interfering and wished me well.

“He had checked with the Greenwich Borough Council head office and confirmed that there should be no interruption of open-air work.

“This is a great encouragement to me and my church, and although we still wait for other restrictions to be lifted, it is a wonderful answer to prayer and gives me more boldness to resume work in the neighbouring boroughs.

“I am grateful to CLC for their timely counsel and advice, and the practical tips. The encouragement to continue was a big help.

“God be praised, for His is all the honour and glory alone.”

Commenting on the outcome of the advice given to Charles, Navaid said: “We were delighted to serve Charles and the message of the gospel in this way. The glory goes to God.”

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