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'Freedom to worship is given by God, not government': Pastor defends having church during lockdown after police shut down service

by Tola Mbakwe
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A pastor in Wales has said the Welsh government ordering places of worship to close to the public during lockdown is neither moral nor legal, after police interrupted and ended his Sunday evening service. 

Officers turned up at New Hope Community Church in Llanrumney, Cardiff, after receiving calls from members of the public.

After being allowed in by the pastor of the church, Wade McLennan they told the congregation they were breaking the law and needed to go home.

In a 22 minute Facebook Live video filmed during the ordeal, a member of the church shouts: 'It's an unlawful regulation.'

The officer continues to describe the gathering as "illegal"' and tells the congregation they have to leave and "worship at home and worship in other ways".'

Pastor McLennan told Premier it was an upsetting moment for some for the church members and insists the government shouldn't have the right to stop public worship. 

"It was quite distressing for many of them. One of our older ladies, she actually went home and what she said to us is she cried all night long.

"Worship is something that's given to us by God. It's not something that's actually given to us through government, that's given to you by your Creator. 

"One of the things in Wales is you can't sing.  The Christian faith is one that singing has always been a part. We have an entire book of the Bible given towards singing, it's the centrepiece of the scriptures."

The congregation obeyed police ordered but Pastor McLennan told Premier they will most likely have another service this upcoming Sunday. 

"We've had so many people that have said 'it's wonderful what you're doing and 'we're glad that you're standing'. But not many people want to do the standing themselves. 

"We're not a lawless kind of people. We're not out riding and destroying things but we wanted to gather, and certainly we should have the liberty to gather."

Pastor McLennan said the church has put all Covid-19 safety protocols in place during its services. The 150 member church has been holding three services every Sunday in order to obey social distancing rules. 

A Welsh Government spokesperson told Premier: "We appreciate how incredibly difficult these restrictions are for many, but they have been introduced for two weeks to prevent the spread of this deadly virus and save lives. 

"We support all faiths in Wales and have not stopped people from worshipping, but we face a very serious situation; people are dying every day as a result of coronavirus. We need everyone to work together to make this firebreak successful if we are to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and even more people losing their lives over the weeks and months ahead.

"We are absolutely aware of the serious impact loneliness can have on individuals, and we are determined to do everything we can to support people through these difficult times. We have made changes to our regulations to allow people to form an "extended household" if they live alone, whilst our Looking Out For Each Other campaign offers advice about how we can support others."

Meanwhile, South Wales Police told Premier: "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."

Last week a group of Christian leaders in Wales urged the Government to not close churches during the firebreak lockdown.

They wrote to First Minister Mark Drakeford asking him to review the restrictions and threatened also threaten legal action against the Welsh Government for an "extreme interference" of the Human Rights Act.

Listen to Premier's interview with Pastor Wade McLennan here: 

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