NI Baptist pastor says ‘only the Lord can legislate for worship’ after PSNI speak to Church about coronavirus rules

A Baptist pastor has explained his reasons for opening his Church on Sunday in spite of coronavirus regulations in Northern Ireland in religious terms.

By Niall Deeney
Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 3:55 pm
Tandragee Baptist Church. Image: Google StreetView
Tandragee Baptist Church. Image: Google StreetView

Tandragee Baptist Church in Co Armagh opened for Sunday services in spite of the two-week circuit-breaker coronavirus restrictions prohibiting the opening of Churches for anything other than “private prayer, weddings, civil partnerships and funerals”.

The news was first reported by the Co Armagh-based newspaper the Ulster Gazette.

The PSNI has now confirmed that the Church was “spoken to” by police regarding the rules.

But the pastor responsible for the Church, David Patterson, has issued a brief statement about the opening of the Church on Sunday.

“The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer of His people (called the Church), and He is the sole Head of His Church (Ephesians 1:22-23),” Mr Patterson said.

“Therefore He alone has the right and authority to legislate for the worship of God by His people.”

The pastor added: “As a company of His redeemed people we seek to humbly serve our great God and Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A PSNI spokesperson, meanwhile, said: “Police received a report of a suspected potential breach of Health Protection (Coronavirus Regulations Northern Ireland) Regulations in the Tandragee area on Sunday evening (November 29).

“The church was spoken to by police and they were encouraged to follow the regulations that are in place.”

Earlier, the PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd had explained that enforcement is the police service’s “last resort” when it comes to breaches of the regulations.

“The vast majority of our community are complying with the restrictions, which we all recognise, are asking people to restrict their personal and professional lives in a way none of us would ever have thought possible,” he said.

“While enforcement is our last resort, those who recklessly or repeatedly breach regulations, when detected, can expect to receive a fixed penalty notice.”

The restrictions placed on Churches has been a source of controversy in recent weeks.

Last month, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Eamonn Martin insisted he was not aware of evidence that Churches are a “source of contagion” and stressed the “mammoth effort” that had gone into making Churches as safe as possible.

And just last week, an evangelical pastor in Belfast vowed to keep his church doors open despite the coronavirus lockdown.

Pastor Paul Burns of the Adullam Christian Fellowship in Sandy Row said he will continue to “serve the Lord,” as his first duty is not to the state.

Speaking to the Premier Christian News website, he said: “The church is separate to the state. We are a separate entity, therefore, the government has to respect that.

“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.’”

Last month, the Banbridge Baptist Church was forced to halt services after an outbreak was linked to the church.

And Free Presbyterian Churches in Hillsborough and Moneyslane also temporarily closed due to confirmed Covid cases, while Hebron Free Presbyterian in Ballymoney was linked to “multiple cases”.