Pastors plead with UK's leaders not to shut down churches again

(Photo: Unsplash/Aaron Burden)

Over 20 pastors have come together to urge the UK's Prime Minister and First Ministers to "refrain from socially damaging restrictions" as the country faces the prospect of a second national lockdown.

The pastors come from across the UK and particularly call on the UK's leaders "not to close churches again". 

In an open letter to Boris Johnson and the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they say that keeping churches open is essential to the wellbeing of the nation, while policies to limit the spread of Covid-19 have negatively impacted the disadvantaged and most vulnerable, and eroded individual freedoms. 

The church leaders argue that with strict hygiene measures and social distancing in place, public worship "presents a hugely lesser risk of transmission" than pubs, restaurants, gyms, offices and schools, while being "more important than them all".

"Our God-given task as Christian ministers and leaders is to point people to Jesus Christ, who said he came to bring 'life in all its fullness'," they write.

"Therefore we are troubled by policies which prioritise bare existence at the expense of those things that give quality, meaning and purpose to life.

"Increasingly severe restrictions are having a powerful dehumanising effect on people's lives, resulting in a growing wave of loneliness, anxiety and damaged mental health.

"This particularly affects the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, even as it erodes precious freedoms for all. In our churches many have been working tirelessly to provide help to those most affected." 

The church ministers go on to say that they cannot support policies that, while aiming to eliminate or suppress the virus, "cause more damage to people, families and society - physically and spiritually - than the virus itself."

"The public worship of the Christian church is particularly essential for our nation's wellbeing," the letter continues.

"As we live in the shadow of a virus we are unable to control, people urgently need the opportunity to hear and experience the good news and hope of Jesus Christ, who holds our lives in his hands.

"The supportive relationships that churches nurture between people are vital, and simply cannot be dispensed with again without significant harm. And most of all, we know that regular gathering to worship God is essential for human life to be lived to the full." 

They conclude by saying that they "must not be asked to suspend Christian worship again".

"For us to do so would cause serious damage to our congregations, our service of the nation, and our duty as Christian ministers," they said. 

"We therefore call upon the Westminster and devolved governments to find ways of protecting those who truly are vulnerable to Covid-19 without unnecessary and authoritarian restrictions on loving families, essential personal relationships, and the worship of the Christian Church." 

Signatories of the letter include Rev Dr William Philip, Minister of The Tron Church, Glasgow, Rev Dr Peter Sanlon, Rector of Emmanuel Church, Tunbridge Wells, Rev Tim Vasby-Burnie, vicar of St George's, Shrewsbury, Rev Reuben Hunter, lead pastor of Trinity West Church in London, and Rev Paul Levy, Minister of the International Presbyterian Church Ealing.