A pastor who organised a car park church worship attended by more than 30 people has vowed to fight a £10,000 fine issued by police for running the event.
Pastor Chez Dyer, 47, organised the Church on the Streets event, which saw worshippers attending a church service in their vehicles before being fed outdoors, at the Top House pub car park in Bulwell, Nottingham, on Saturday.
However the event was shut down by Nottinghamshire Police officers who said they had been advising the organisers for ‘the past few weeks’ that the events ‘are not allowed’.
The pastor, who has been running similar events ‘since August’, said the services she holds also help to feed ‘between 15 and 20 homeless people’ each week.
The Church on the Streets event was held at the Top House pub car park in Bulwell, Nottingham, on Saturday
The event consists of worshippers attending a car park for a church service in their vehicles before being fed outdoors
Pastor Chez, who held the event in the car park of the Top House pub, claimed it was a legal place of worship and said the service also involved feeding the homeless
Pastor Chez claimed it was a legal place of worship and called out the Government guidelines for being ‘unclear’.
The pastor told Nottinghamshire Live: ‘It’s disappointing receiving the fine but I will be contesting it and going the whole way with it.
‘My biggest concern is the effect it’s going to have on the service and the people we have coming to us regularly.’
The event organiser works as part of the Cornerstones Fellowship Nottingham UK scheme, which helps to support people in the community including feeding the homeless.
It runs church events in car parks across the city, having held Church on the Streets services in Bulwell, Sneinton and St Ann’s in the past.
‘With what’s going on and with people’s mental health, so many people are on the brink of suicide,’ Pastor Chez added.
‘We’ve had it all, and that alone makes me determined to take up my legal rights to worship. We are the spiritual doctors that aren’t on furlough.
‘I work alongside the police, it’s not a them against us thing. We’ve got our part and they’ve got their part, it’s just all about them exercising their part when their inspector tells them to.
‘They’ve got a job to do, but as spiritual life savers we’ve got a job to do.’
Police officers speak with worshippers at the Top House pub car park in Bulwell, Nottingham, on Saturday
Officers were called the outdoor event this weekend after receiving reports from the public
Guests and worshippers were ordered to get into their cars and officers described the event as a ‘gathering’
Police were called the event on Saturday after receiving reports from the public, before ordering guests to get into their cars.
Officers described it as a ‘gathering’ and told members of the congregation to disperse or get into their vehicles.
Inspector James Walker said: ‘Over the past few weeks we have been advising this group, having been made aware of events they have held in Bulwell.
‘Initially, we have been engaging, explaining and encouraging as to the importance of following the current national lockdown restrictions, which is to protect the NHS, save lives and keep people safe.
‘This has been our immediate approach throughout the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to be.
The event organiser said the services also helped to support people in the community
‘Over the last week in particular, we have absolutely clarified that these events are not allowed, and we have since made it explicitly clear that whilst we wholeheartedly support the number of religious groups that can be found in our communities, there are certain restrictions that must be adhered to in order to keep people safe.
‘Whilst the rules state you can attend places of worship, this car park is evidently not a place of worship and, despite the warnings given over the last week in particular, this event continued to go ahead and that is why today we have implemented our last resort of enforcement.’
What is considered a ‘place of worship’ and what are the rules on voluntary services?
Under the Government’s guidelines, a place of worship refers to a building used for regular religious ceremonies, communal worship or similar gatherings by religious organisations.
However it also includes the use of surrounding grounds, for example, adjoining carparks, courtyards or gardens for which the venue managers are also responsible.
Places of worship also cover premises used for religious gatherings, even when that is not their primary purpose e.g a community centre.
These premises will only be able to be used where they are permitted to be open and additional guidance may be applicable.
The guidance does not cover educational establishments public parks, private homes, cultural sites or other open spaces, such as woodlands.
Where food or drink are essential to the act of worship, they can be used, however the sharing of food should be avoided.
Under the national lockdown, a place of worship that is being used to provide food to the homeless or vulnerable can continue.
Activities that are ‘reasonably necessary’ for the provision of voluntary or charitable services are permitted.
However those attending should not mix or mingle with other households.
A place of worship can also be used for essential voluntary and public services such as the provision of food banks or to offer support for the homeless.
Under the current guidelines, a place of worship is described as a building used for regular religious ceremonies, communal worship or similar gatherings by religious organisations.
It includes the use of surrounding grounds, for example, adjoining carparks, courtyards or gardens for which the venue managers are also responsible.
The guidance also states that premises that are used for religious gathering, even when that is not their primary purpose, can also fall under a ‘place of worship’.
Educational establishments public parks, private homes, cultural sites or other open spaces, such as woodlands are not covered.
In November, Scotland Yard slammed faith leaders for ‘deliberate, dangerous and flagrant attempts’ made to ignore coronavirus regulations.
The force issued the stark warning to religious bodies across the Capital after officers dispersed some 30 worshippers who had gathered at The Angel Church in Clerkenwell, London, for a service.
Lead pastor Regan King, 28, said he wanted to hold the baptism in defiance of the restrictions because he ‘served a greater good’.
Just a month earlier, worshippers slammed police after their church service in Llanrumney, Cardiff, was shut down for breaking strict Welsh coronavirus rules.
South Wales Police later revealed the force was called by concerned members of the public.
A spokesperson for South Wales Police said at the time: ‘Police attended New Hope Community Church in Ball Road, Llanrumney, on Sunday afternoon, following a report of a COVID-19 breach.
‘Officers followed the policing style which we have adopted throughout the pandemic of explaining the rules and encouraging people to comply.
‘Officers moved outside the church to allow five minutes of prayer after which all those present left.
‘No fixed penalty notices were issued. We know civil restrictions are frustrating and disheartening for people, but by following them, we can all play a part in protecting our communities and the National Health Service.’
The latest fine comes as Boris Johnson vowed to unveil his ‘roadmap’ in a statement to the Commons this afternoon.
The first steps out of lockdown will prioritise getting children fully back into classrooms in a fortnight’s time, while people will also be able meet one friend or family member in the park for a coffee or a picnic from March 8.
However, the next stage of loosening will not be until March 29, when the Rule of Six will make a comeback – and be extended to allow two households to gather.
The roadmap, which runs to around 60 pages, is set to include modelling supporting the government’s tentative strategy.
It will be published alongside more positive news about the effectiveness of jabs in reducing transmission, with vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi saying the evidence ‘looks good’.