A pastor in Belfast has decided to defy Northern Irish lockdown rules and keep his church open during the upcoming coronavirus lockdown in the country.
On Thursday, the Northern Irish executive announced all places of worship will only be allowed to open for weddings and funerals with a maximum of 25 people for two weeks starting 27th November.
But for Rev Paul Burns of the Adullam Christian Fellowship in Belfast, his duty to God comes before his duty to the state.
“The church is separate to the state," he said. "We are a separate entity. Therefore, the government has to respect that."
Burns continued: “We will work with the government, we will work with communities, we will work with government associations. But there comes a time where the church has to say, 'As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.'”
He went on to explain that the government does not appreciate some of the secondary effects that a lockdown might have.
“I will give you an example: I'm doing a baptism service this Sunday. A young lady had to travel from the middle of Africa. That woman, if she had stayed in her country, would have been killed or imprisoned, and her child taken off her.
“What was I meant to say to her if the baptism was next Sunday, instead of this Sunday? 'I'm sorry you've travelled here. You've risked your life to come to a Christian country… but I'm sorry, the British government and the Northern Irish Assembly says I'm not allowed to bring you in and give you support when you´ve travelled so far?'
“No, I will be opening because I'm taking the commandment of my Father. And we are doing the right precautions.”
The new set of restrictions are very similar to those imposed in March with the only difference being that schools will remain open. Northern Irish ministers argue the measures are designed to act as a circuit-breaker and reduce the need for further actions before Christmas.
However, for Rev Burns, closing his church in the run-up to Christmas demonstrates a lack of faith. He thinks that keeping the doors open is a clear demonstration of belief in the power of Jesus Christ to heal people and heal the land.
When asked whether potential coronavirus outbreaks being linked to his church would worry him, Rev Burns said he has a track and trace system in place and knows “every name and every telephone number” to get in touch if needed. “We're not causing coronavirus,” he added.