Coronavirus: Clerics tell Boris Johnson and Arlene Foster restrictions are more damaging than virus - and warn not to close churches again

Almost 700 clerics from across the UK - including some 60 Irish leaders - have signed an open letter to Boris Johnson and regional first ministers warning that “authoritarion” Covid restrictions are causing more damage to society than the virus itself - and saying that they “must not be asked to suspend Christian worship again”.

By Philip Bradfield
Thursday, 24th September 2020, 12:48 pm
Updated Friday, 25th September 2020, 10:44 am
Almost 700 clerics from right across the UK have signed the letter.
Almost 700 clerics from right across the UK have signed the letter.

They also called on Westminster and devolved governments to find ways of protecting those most vulnerable to Covid-19 “without unnecessary and authoritarian restrictions on loving families, essential personal relationships, and the worship of the Christian Church”.

The online letter is gathering signatures as national and regional governments across the UK implement tighter restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of Coronavirus as winter approaches.

But Rev David Johnston, a retired Presbyterian Church in Ireland cleric who served in Bangor, is one of five clerics from across the UK who drafted the letter, urging government to think again about the direction it is heading.

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It was co-written by Rev A Paul Levy of Ealing International Presbyterian Church in London, Rev David M Gobbett of Highfields Church in Cardiff, Rev Dr William of The Tron Church in Glasgow and Rev Dr Matthew PW Roberts of Trinity Church in York.

The clerics wrote: “As church leaders from across the four nations of the UK, we have been deeply concerned about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic across society. We have carefully followed government guidance to restrict its spread. But increasingly our concern relates to the damaging effects of anti-Covid restrictions on many of the most important aspects of life.”

“Our God-given task as Christian ministers and leaders is to point people to Jesus Christ, who said he came to bring ‘life in all its fullness’. Therefore we are troubled by policies which prioritise bare existence at the expense of those things that give quality, meaning and purpose to life. Increasingly severe restrictions are having a powerful dehumanising effect on people’s lives, resulting in a growing wave of loneliness, anxiety and damaged mental health.”

The restrictions particularly affect the disadvantaged and vulnerable, whom churches have been working tirelessly to provide help for “even as it erodes precious freedoms for all”.

The clerics “entirely support proportionate measures” to protect the most vulnerable but question whether the UK Government and the devolved administrations have it in their power “either to eliminate this virus or to suppress it for an indefinite period while we await a vaccine. And we cannot support attempts to achieve these which, in our view, cause more damage to people, families and society – physically and spiritually – than the virus itself”.

They added: “The public worship of the Christian church is particularly essential for our nation’s wellbeing. As we live in the shadow of a virus we are unable to control, people urgently need the opportunity to hear and experience the good news and hope of Jesus Christ, who holds our lives in his hands. The supportive relationships that churches nurture between people are vital, and simply cannot be dispensed with again without significant harm.”

The clerics gave assurances that they will continue to be careful to apply rigorous hygiene, social distancing and appropriate risk assessments in churches, believing that this makes them an especially low risk activity.

They added: “As a result, church worship presents a hugely lesser risk of transmission than pubs, restaurants, gyms, offices and schools; and it is more important than them all. We therefore wish to state categorically that we must not be asked to suspend Christian worship again. For us to do so would cause serious damage to our congregations, our service of the nation, and our duty as Christian ministers.”

They concluded: “We therefore call upon the Westminster and devolved governments to find ways of protecting those who truly are vulnerable to Covid-19 without unnecessary and authoritarian restrictions on loving families, essential personal relationships, and the worship of the Christian Church.”

The letter has been signed by almost 670 church leaders and counting.

So far, 209 signatories are Baptist, 139 Anglican, 117 Presbyterian and four are Methodist.

Fifty-five clerics have signed themselves as from Ireland, 57 from Scotland and ten from Wales.

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