Responding to England’s Second Lockdown and Closing of Churches
As a second national lockdown was announced in England, FIEC has been representing its churches to the media and Government.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a second national lockdown in England on Saturday 31 October which included the closure of places of worship from 5 November. Churches will only be able to open for funerals, to broadcast acts of worship, individual prayer, formal childcare, or essential services such as blood donation or food banks.
Representing FIEC churches
Throughout the pandemic, FIEC has been seeking ways to encourage and support churches and their leaders through the crisis, but also to represent them on the national stage.
National Director John Stevens has been doing just that in the days since the announcement and was quoted on the BBC News website commenting on the new restrictions alongside The Catholic Church Bishops' Conference and The Muslim Council of Britain.
He commented especially about the “significant and emotional blow” for couples whose planned weddings have been disrupted, and went on to say:
"For people in church and other religious communities it seems a very unfair restriction - churches have put a great deal of effort into coronavirus measures and they are much safer than other settings which are still allowed to be open like secondary schools."
There has been regular contact with the Minister for Faith at Number 10 throughout this time, and John will be meeting them again this evening (Monday 2 November) at 6pm on a Zoom call with other senior faith leaders to share the frustrations of church leaders across the nation.
The issue at hand
Recently the National Churches Trust commissioned a study which showed that the financial value of the services and support that church buildings provide - foodbanks and holiday clubs for example - is around £12billion a year. So, it is right that these new restrictions would allow such services to continue in places of worship.
However, in an interview about the study’s findings last week (worth a watch below), John noted that the heart of what churches are is in fact gospel ministry – the very thing which is being restricted.
“The church should always prioritise the work of disciple making, and it is out of the work of disciple making that they show love to the wider community,” he said.
This, in addition to the great lengths churches have gone to in order to reduce transmission of the virus, and the lack of evidence to suggest they are places where the virus is spread, shows there is a strong case that church buildings should be allowed to stay open in the current COVID secure way they are.
Graham Nicholls, Director of Affinity and pastor at FIEC church Christ Church Haywards Heath, said in a statement: “Church gatherings in person are an essential part of the Christian life and are good for all of society - and as essential as education and other activities such as elite sport, which continue to be permitted. Therefore I cannot agree with this decision.”
“We urge the government to reconsider this decision and we will be prayerfully reflecting on the best way to respectfully make the case for churches to be allowed to remain open.”
As church leaders look towards a month ahead without physical gatherings, John Stevens suggested on Twitter: “Might it be worth shifting your plans for next Sunday (8th November) and holding a physical service on evening of Wednesday 4th November instead? It might be last opportunity to gather for public worship for the next month.”
The Leadership in Lockdown webinars have been a help to many church leaders over the past months. During one of these webinars just two weeks ago (recorded on 21 October), John suggested some ways to respond to the fluid situation that church leaders find themselves in:
- Be realistic about restrictions coming and going as the infection rate increases and decreases;
- Be prepared for churches to open, but also prepare for them to be closed. Churches would be wise to invest in online technology for ministry and evangelism;
- Be pastoral and minister into frustration, not fear. How can we maximise opportunities for pastoral support within our current restrictions?
- Be evangelistic and outwork looking, not inwardly distracted.
You can watch again below.