Communal worship ban: priests put faith in the High Court

Islington clerics support legal action against coronavirus rules that restrict gatherings in church

Friday, 27th November 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Regan King IMG_3885

Police broke up a baptism service led by Pastor Regan King at Angel Church

RELIGIOUS leaders who signed a legal challenge say they will not give up their fight for the right to hold church services – with Christmas Eve mass just four weeks away.

Under current coronavirus restrictions, places of worship remain open for individual prayer and support projects such as foodbanks, but communal services are banned.

Scores of clerics say their human rights are being infringed and have applied for a judical review of the rules at the High Court. A judge was expected to review the papers on Monday this week but the case has been delayed.

Pastor Regan King, from Angel Church in Chadwell Street, said: “It would appear it keeps being kicked into the long grass by the administrative court office. Hopefully this does not see a failure to provide a verdict eventually.”

A new three-tier system of restrictions will come into effect next Wednesday when the month-long national lockdown is ended.

It was announced yesterday (Thursday) that London will be in tier 2.

Carol-singing looks set to be banned in areas with the toughest restrictions in an attempt to cut the spread of the virus and social distancing will mean congregation sizes are cut.

Pastor George Platt is backing judicial review calls

Father Gideon Wagay, from Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Holloway, said he agreed communal worship should not have been banned, adding: “We learned from the first lockdown that mental health is a real issue.

“As ministers of religion, we are privy to what is really going on in our community. We are the ones who are having conversations with our members and you see a lot of people, especially the elderly, who are depressed.

“Communal worship is really helping the mental wellbeing of the members of the church community. Never mind the word spiritual but mental wellbeing is really very important.”

Father Wagay said the church in Eden Grove will be holding a traditional midnight mass service for members on Christmas Eve.

Last week Pastor Regan King, of Angel Church in Chadwell Street, insisted his building “is probably safer than a supermarket” after police broke up a gathering for a baptism.

Mr King has joined the legal challenge, as has Pastor George Platt of Highgate Chapel. The pair, who met at the Angel Church nearly 10 years ago when Mr Platt was training, are among more than100 religious leaders who are backing the judicial review over government rules.

Angel Church in Chadwell Street

Mr Platt said: “The shops are open for food but we think in church we find food for our soul and that is, we believe, even more essential than our necessary food for our bodies.”

He added: “We couldn’t really understand why ­other important places in society were treated differently such as schools, universities, colleges.

“We feel that spiritual health has been very much overlooked in the government’s priorities.”

The challenge, however, is not supported in all churches. Reverend Alexandra Lilley, from St George’s and All Saints Church in Tufnell Park, said: “I think one expression of loving our neighbour is protecting those who are vulnerable.

“I have been happy to abide by the rules of closing places of worship or placing our church to stand in solidarity with everyone else who is having to struggle with missing places that are important to them.”

She added: “For some people closing a gym is very significant, and obviously a church plays a very different function, but I have supported the government’s decision to go into lockdown.”

Rev Lilley said the church will hold a small service on December 13 with readings rather than communal carols to abide by the social-distancing rules.

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