Pastors – hold on to your church keys

17 July 2020

Andrea Williams gives an update on our church lockdown case.

Churches around the UK are beginning to resume services as the Westminster and devolved governments start to relax lockdown rules.

As you probably know, we’ve been supporting church leaders to challenge the situation in England, where church services were banned and church buildings shut even for private prayer. The government gave guidance to businesses, trusting them to put safety procedures in place, but treated churches as non-essential and untrustworthy.

The group of church leaders wanted to see the hard, blanket restrictions on in-person ministry removed. The government’s approach was understandable at the peak of the pandemic, but was stepping over important church-state boundaries – a disproportionate action since churches were already putting measures in place. Until 4 July, many routine church activities were illegal and held criminal penalties, no matter how many precautions were taken.

Two weeks ago today, new regulations were published that ended nearly every legal restriction. The government guidance published was just that – guidance. Churches were able to meet again, with strong government recommendations on how to do so safely.

To the best of our knowledge, most churches that have reopened have followed the guidelines to the letter. Others have adapted them to fit their unique situations, responsibly mitigating risk while maximising fellowship.

This is how it should always have been. The legal case was never about disrespecting the government or being reckless with people’s health – it was about allowing the Church to be the Church; free to open to catch those who would be fall through the net of online ministry. It was about the Church being free to be open to help the sick, sorrowing, mentally, spiritually and emotionally challenged. It was about the Church being free to do ministry; free to worship; it was about seeing churches treated fairly.

As we spoke to the government about these concerns, their representatives largely understood – and we saw restrictions lifted quicker than many expected. And government lawyers wrote to us last week, confirming our understanding that the new regulations had dealt with our concerns, thereby making our legal challenge ‘academic’.

The church leaders are still deciding whether to withdraw their challenge completely or to continue with the claim, seeking to uphold the important principle of church independence.

Our culture portrays many things as dangerous to health – including Christian beliefs and positions on sexual ethics, transgenderism and abortion. Covid-19 may be with us for a long time, as will other transmittable diseases. There will always be health risks of worshipping together – but there will also always be great rewards.

During Covid-19 we have seen the government liberalise laws on access to abortion, we’ve seen no-fault divorce introduced and a parliamentary push to ban therapeutic help for people who choose to move away from unwanted sexual behaviours. This is a dark record in a time of trouble. It is not a record to be proud of; it is not a record that instils confidence in us of a government that knows what is best for the health of the nation or the flourishing of the gospel.

In this culture, it is dangerous to hand over the keys of the Church to the government, even on ‘health and safety’ grounds. I fear that too many significant church leaders have taken their lead and priorities wholly from the government.

Rise up, strong and courageous pastors – hold on to the keys to your church.

Find out more about Church lockdown
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