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PA Wire Niall Carson
PA Wire Niall Carson
PA Wire Niall Carson
PA Wire Niall Carson
Church News

Concern that church guidance caters more for 'sacramental ministry' and not evangelical experience

by Cara Bentley

As places of worship begin to reopen across the UK, some are calling on the Government to acknowledge that not all churches are able to conduct their normal services yet because there are still too many limits. 

The current rules in all parts of the UK are that churches can open for private prayer and services if social distancing is maintained. Many are choosing not to return, either because there is not enough demand yet or due to the difficulties in deciding how to limit numbers and plan a service with all the guidance in place. Some also have not changed because of the success of online services. 

The current Government guidance also makes holding a typical evangelical or contemporary service more complicated than a Catholic mass. 

For example, no communal singing is allowed, a group of amateur musicians cannot sing together, food and drink is not permitted after the service, people are not meant to interact with people from other households and the services should be done as quickly as possible with people encouraged to leave promptly. 

John Stevens, national director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, which oversees 630 churches, told Premier: "I think the challenge for many Christians and churches is that church feels very different from what most of us expect church to be like. Church is a gathering of the people of God to build one another up and to edify and I think some of these restrictions have taken away many of the things that we regard as most precious about church. 

"It's easy to feel that the regulations are really shaped for churches that have a more sacramental ministry, where essentially people come, they take communion, they leave and that's their understanding of what church is. The regulations don't seem to fully appreciate the nature of what evangelicals believe church to be."

Those in a Zoom call with the Government on places of worship also raised the fact that it seems the economy is being put above everything else - evident in the fact that a group of professional singers can perform outside to a church family and rehearse and record inside but amateurs cannot. 

Mr Stevens commented: "Amateur groups of singers should not be singing indoors under the current guidance - so that clearly has an impact on what some churches have been doing. And it's important to remember that the definition of a professional singer for these purposes is someone whose main job is singing. The whole situation with singing is unsatisfactory. The Government is conducting pilot studies and conducting research that may allow a relaxation on the rules of singing in the future but that's the current position of the guidance."

He acknowledged, however, that the disparity between denominations was not malicious and that more socialising means more risk: "I think that the Government is seeking to try to open up all sections of life as fully as they can, while taking account of the risks and there is no doubt that gatherings of large numbers of people in indoor spaces is the context in which the virus has the most potential to spread from one to another. I think in many church contexts, we have to recognise that quite a lot of our people in our congregations are those who are in the most vulnerable categories."

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