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Why I've decided to break the law and open my church during lockdown

by Tola Mbakwe
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A pastor in London has decided to disregard England's government lockdown rules that forbid in-person church services. 

Pastor Regan King of The Angel Church in Islington insists he isn't a law breaker and wants to respect the guidelines, but has to prioritise his responsibility to God, his congregation and community. 

Corporate worship has been banned from 5th November to 2nd December. Places of worship may only open for individual prayer, funerals, broadcasting or filming an act of worship, childcare, public services and support groups.

Last week Pastor King said he had just over 30 people in attendance for a church service. Fifteen of them were involved in producing the live stream of the service. 

"The guidelines stipulate that you can have as many people as possible who are necessary for the act of worship to be broadcast.

"Some people would say that's a flagrant violation of the rules. I would prefer to say that we were pushing the guidelines to their absolute max. I would be confident that after the service the church has rendered to the community in this time that we would have a lot of backing and support."

The church has provided 11,000 meals to those in need during the coronavirus pandemic and has helped the homeless and vulnerable in the community. 

Pastor King said he took into account the spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health needs of the community when he decided to keep the church doors open to the public on Sundays. 

"We're called to love God, and love our neighbour. So we have to consider when God's teaching and commands diverge from government, consistently the example in the Bible we see… we must obey God rather than men because his ways are fully righteous and just.

"You can't love someone in a way that someone tells you to that's not actually meeting their needs. You have to show them love in the way that they need to be loved. Many of these people need meals, they need some company, they are totally isolated, they need some meaningful human interaction and so that's what we've sought to give."

When asked why the church couldn't endure the Government's rules for just four weeks, Pastor King said he believes there's no guarantee the lockdown will be over when the Government said it would. He cited the many extensions of the first national lockdown, which ended up lasting for 12 weeks. 

"I knew people who were mentally well prior to lockdown, who because of it are on the verge of psychosis and are undergoing treatment for it. I cannot in good conscience cut them off, or say just do Zoom when they can't even do Zoom, some of them don't even have the means to do Zoom… a telephone call, they're sick of. They need meaningful human interaction.

"The spiritual needs of people are as essential as the physical. The supermarkets are open for the body, but what about that food for the soul that's found in Christ alone?"

Government guidance states that serious breaches and failure to comply with enforcement notices are against the law with serious fines and even imprisonment for up to two years.

Pastor King said he's willing to pay this cost. 

"It's not done in a spirit of anger. It's not done in a spirit of insubordination, but with respect, and a recognition that while there may be costs, we may at some point be fined, suffering, even for doing good is a blessed thing."

He insists that the church maintains strict social distancing and coronavirus hygiene protocols during services. 

The church plans to hold a baptism service on Sunday.

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