A church which went ahead with a service despite a ban on gatherings, resulting in it being broken up by police, says it finds the rules “incredible”.
And an 81-year-old member of the congregation says she went home to her one-bed flat and cried after police shut down the service. She also said she had considered taking her own life during lockdown.
On Sunday night, police broke up a service being held in New Hope Community Church in the Llanrumney area of Cardiff. There were 36 people in the building at the time, all taking part in a service being led by the Reverend Wade McLennan, the church pastor.
South Wales Police said it had been called after calls from concerned members of the public.
A statement on behalf of the church from the organisation Christian Concern says police officers arrived in a van and began flashing torches into the building and knocking on the windows.
Pastor McLennan said he let officers in despite not wanting to as the service was not concluded. He said officers asked him if there was a disco taking place inside, and claimed they “appeared visibly uncomfortable” when they realised they were breaking up a church service.
They asked worshippers to leave the premises, and one member of the congregation said she left and went home to her flat, where she lives alone with no nearby family and no internet.
June Russell, aged 81, said the church was her only outlet.
“I have to admit that during this pandemic I have contemplated suicide as I was in lockdown for 18 weeks,” she said.
“My TV was my only connection to the outside world. My church is the only thing I enjoy, and I go three times a week. When the police came last night, I was so angry and upset, I could not sleep. I cannot meet anyone online and a phone call is not the same as meeting in person. The Welsh Government has gone too far.”
Another member of the congregation told police at the service “you’ll be asking us not to believe next”, while another said: “I cannot believe they are making church illegal. This is not communist China.”
Christian Concern said government-imposed closures were “unprecedented in the UK”, and that churches should be used as places of refuge, prayer and worship during times of crisis. However, they have been closed since Wales went into a ‘fire-break lockdown’ at 6pm on Friday, October 23.
New Hope Community Church, which has a congregation of 150 people, normally holds three services every Sunday, something it said provided for “the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the congregation and local community”.
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The church said it implemented best practice when it came to mitigating the risk of coronavirus and even checked each worshipper’s temperature before they entered the building.
“It is incredible to be told that it is illegal to come and worship our God,” said Pastor McLennan.
“We are told that it is illegal to sing and it is only Christians who sing during religious services. We felt deeply saddened and upset by what happened. When the government says to me that I cannot worship my God at church, they have crossed a line. The freedom to worship is not given by government, but by God.
“We have been running Covid-compliant church services and care deeply about everybody’s wellbeing. But the government does not understand how important spiritual well-being is to people’s lives. That is what the church does, it provides for people’s material, emotional and spiritual needs in times of personal and collective crisis.
“The government must not prohibit church services any longer and I feel sorry for the police who are having to enforce these regulations.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting the church, said: “This church has provided the safe place, and the family space, for many who otherwise have nothing. To forbid gathering in this circumstance is cruel to the most vulnerable in the community.
“We are supporting a separate group of church leaders who are challenging the lawfulness of this restriction. Pastor McLennan and the members of New Hope Community Church are also, according to their consciences, challenging the lawfulness of this worship ban by seeking to obey God in the best way they can in their circumstances rather than man.”
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A spokesperson for South Wales Police said: “Police attended New Hope Community Church in Ball Road, Llanrumney, on Sunday afternoon, following a report of a COVID-19 breach.
“Officers followed the policing style which we have adopted throughout the pandemic of explaining the rules and encouraging people to comply. Officers moved outside the church to allow five minutes of prayer after which all those present left.
“No fixed penalty notices were issued. We know civil restrictions are frustrating and disheartening for people, but by following them, we can all play a part in protecting our communities and the National Health Service.
“Please take time to understand the latest regulations, all of which can be found on the Welsh Government website.”
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