London churches flout coronavirus lockdown rules through secret worship services
12/03/2020 // Ramon Tomey // Views

A number of London churches have held worship services in secret amid the country's lockdown orders. Church leaders interviewed by The Observer said they have been "breaking the law" by holding "clandestine" worship services, which is forbidden under the current coronavirus restrictions. One pastor said: "It feels weird for us to act this way. People have said it feels more like an underground church in China. The fact that we have to sneak around to worship God, in fear of criminal prosecution, is alarming. But we do what we have to do."

Invitations to these secret worship services are passed by word of mouth to trusted people, with only a little information regarding the time and directions given alongside a request for discretion. Once everyone is assembled in a place "away from prying eyes" such as a remote barn or secretly at a regular church building, the church service begins. The attendees consisting of Christians who have gathered will pray, read verses from the Bible, sing hymns and listen to a sermon.

However, U.K. police have caught wind of some of these secret worship services – and have acted accordingly. Police officers prevented worshippers from holding a service on Nov. 15 at The Angel Church in the north London neighborhood of Clerkenwell, following pastor Regan King's announcement to hold a baptism in defiance of current lockdown restrictions. Despite being stopped by law enforcement, King expressed plans to hold further services.

The pastor said his congregation wants to comply with the law as much as possible but remarked that there was a "greater law" than the ones made by the state. King added: "Since I went public, I have been contacted by many preachers, pastors and leaders who are continuing to hold services – and many others who wish they could."


Police also arrested two men on Nov. 15 at the Mustard Seed tea room and bookshop in Nottinghamshire's Gedling district after they refused to cooperate with law enforcement. The arrests came a day after police officers reportedly visited the business, which cited Magna Carta and common law as reasons why they remained open. When police returned a few hours later, they found the business "locked with a large number of people inside."

Worshippers now torn between obeying God and following state orders

Christian Concern Chief Executive Andrea Williams remarked that churches in the U.K. are "going underground." The head of the conservative evangelical group added: "These are not isolated cases – and the longer it goes on, more churches will join the movement. Never before have churches been forced to comply [with closure orders] or be criminalized."

London church minister Andrew said his congregation has "carried on as normal" and is holding services every Sunday which sees about 160 people attending. Despite the lockdown, he said that they have asked people "to be discreet." Andrew remarked: "This is not a stunt we're pulling, we're not seeking publicity. It was a big decision: I've never practiced civil disobedience before." (Related: AG Barr: Coronavirus lockdowns "greatest intrusion on civil liberties" since slavery.)

According to Andrew, the U.K. government had overreached itself with the lockdown restrictions. "I don't believe the government has the authority to tell the church ... it can't gather for worship. They have provided no evidence ... [for classifying worship services] as non-essential, [but] we believe worship is the most essential thing in life. We answer to a higher authority: When there is a contradiction between the laws of the country and God's command, the Bible is very clear that God's command must win out."

Other church leaders said they followed public health guidelines on social distancing and face masks despite holding illegal services, and acknowledged it would be distressing if a worshipper contracted COVID-19 after a service. "[But] the virus is not within our control. Coming to [a] church building is safer than going to a supermarket," Andrew commented.

A number of American cities have also implemented restrictions on worship services similar to that of the U.K. In September, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department ordered the closure of the city's Gas Works Park to prevent a Christian prayer rally from being held there. Earlier in July, Chicago officials threatened to bulldoze two churches if they refuse to comply with the city's existing coronavirus public health guidelines.

However, President Donald Trump has said worship services are essential – and has ordered states to reopen churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship.

Based on data from Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. currently has a 13.4 million COVID-19 caseload with 267,438 deaths. Meanwhile, the U.K. has a 1.6 million caseload with 58,545 deaths. gives you the latest news about coronavirus restrictions on churches.

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