Christian group challenges Government on Sunday trading plans as churches remain restricted

(Photo: Unsplash/Hanson Lu)

A Christian campaign group has questioned the Government on why it is prepared to trust large shops to re-open for longer on Sunday but not churches.

The Government is reported to be drawing up plans to boost the economy by easing Sunday trading laws so that larger shops like department stores and supermarkets can stay open for longer.  At present, small shops can open all day but larger shops are limited to opening between the hours of 10am and 6pm. 

It comes at a time when the Government is yet to give the green light for churches to open for public worship or other large gatherings, although buildings can open for private prayer from June 15. 

The Government had been reluctant to permit churches to re-open, initially setting the date at July 4, but caved after pressure from church leaders when restrictions on places like markets and car showrooms started to be eased.

The Sunday trading plans have been criticised by Christian Concern, which said: "The Government therefore trusts large business, but does not trust churches to minimise the risks of infection." 

"Churches are not even allowed to host informal prayer meetings for those who may wish to attend with appropriate social distancing and cleansing.

"Meanwhile, hundreds of people will be allowed to visit supermarkets where they will open fridge doors and handle goods which others may have handled very shortly before.

"Churches can easily be made safer than supermarkets, but the Government does not trust churches enough to even allow small-scale informal prayer meetings with appropriate precautions." 

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, said churches should be free to make their own decisions about what activities are appropriate to host inside their buildings. 

"The Government should not be dictating to churches in this way. Church ministry is independent of the government and blanket restrictions are unprecedented and completely disproportionate," she said. 

"The latest news reveals that the Government is prepared to relax rules for the benefit of the economy whilst maintaining strict rules that hinder church ministry.

"The Government therefore appears to be worshiping at the 'altar of mammon', while disrespecting the importance of Christian ministry both for individuals and society as a whole." 

She called on the Government to remove all restrictions on church ministry. 

"We call on the government to recognise the vital importance of church ministry and the principle of church autonomy from the state," she said. 

"Private prayer only, while supermarkets are in full flow is not enough."