CARDIFF, Wales — Police in Wales shut down a church service of 36 people on Sunday evening, noting that current regulations prohibit more than six people from gathering during a government “firebreak” COVID lockdown.
“You need to stay at home. [The government has] prohibited gatherings of more than six people,” one officer states, as recorded by a member of the church and streamed live on Facebook. “What I’m asking you to do is to leave. Worship at home or worship in other ways …”
According to reports, the incident took place at New Hope Community Church in Llanrumney, a suburb of the capital city of Cardiff. Wade McLennan, who pastors a church of 150 people, had been leading three separate services each Sunday to accommodate his members in smaller groups. He says temperatures were also taken of each person and attendees wore masks.
On Sunday evening, police in a riot van arrived at the building, knocking on the windows and using flashlights to look inside, Christian Concern reports. McLennan opened the door and was asked by the officers, who said that they were responding to complaints, what was happening inside and if there was a “disco” underway.
They stated that they wished to come in and make sure there was no gathering taking place. McLennan then advised that he was in the middle of a church service and preferred not to have them enter. Police remarked that they were simply enforcing the law and had the right to do so.
Video footage of the matter shows McLennan attempting to reason with one of the officers, who said that the gathering must disperse.
“This is really strange. And I say it respectfully, we love you guys as police officers, and we are not law-breaking people,” he contended. “But when they say to us that it is illegal to come and worship our God — this is the West; this isn’t a nation somewhere far off somewhere else.”
Police argued that is not illegal to worship, but that it can’t be done with more than six people right now. One woman remarked, “You’ll be asking us not to believe next,” to which the officer replied that he identifies as a Christian himself and that his mother has also had to find other ways to worship.
McLennan soon instructed the congregation to pick up their belongings and led them in prayer for the officers and the country before they departed.
Christian Concern reports that one elderly church member, 81-year-old June Russell, stated that she had contemplated suicide after previously being isolated for many weeks, and church was the only outlet she had to meet with others.
“When the police came last night, I was so angry and upset [that] I could not sleep. I cannot meet anyone online and a phone call is not the same as meeting in person,” she stated. “The Welsh government has gone too far.”
“[T]he government does not understand how important spiritual well-being is to people’s lives. That is what the church does, it provides for people’s material, emotional and spiritual needs in times of personal and collective crisis,” McLennan also said.
“The government must not prohibit church services any longer, and I feel sorry for the police who are having to enforce these regulations,” he stated.
The six-person gathering limit is in effect until Nov. 9, and the “circuit breaker” also applies to restaurants, gyms and non-essential businesses. According to the UK-based Christian Institute, a number of church leaders in England and Wales have written to the Welsh government to contest the closures, which went into effect on Friday.
Firebreak, or circuit breaker, lockdowns are those that last for a short time — anywhere from two to four weeks — in an effort to cause a significant slowdown to the public transmission of COVID-19. The goal is to combat the virus while also limiting the effect on the economy.
“These are weary, confusing days for our nation. The government is in an impossibly difficult position and they remain in my prayers,” said Dave Gobbett, lead minister at Highfields Church, also in Cardiff. “But Jesus Christ is the only hope for a hurting and divided world, and we close the doors to Him at our peril.”