Minister defends church services, but says position is under review

The Minister of Cross Free Church (Continuing) has defended the church’s decision to hold services open to the congregation yesterday (Sunday, March 22nd) saying that they had followed government guidelines.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 23rd March 2020, 4:00 pm

The church was one of a small number of local churches that held open services at the weekend and which were the subject of a number of attacks on social media for holding public gatherings in alleged contradiction of the government’s guidance. 

Cross FC(C) minister, Rev. Greg MacDonald said that the decision to hold services was a matter for local Kirk sessions, and said:  “I know that where Kirk sessions have made the decision to remain open it is very much on a day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis, because so much is changing so fast.

“I don’t know any congregation that has made a decision saying that we will be open come rain or shine irrespective of what happens. That’s certainly not a responsible position, and not one that I know of having been made.

Sign up to our daily Stornoway Gazette Today newsletter

“We deliberately encouraged folk in different vulnerable categories to remain at home. We’ve been streaming our services here live for years now, so there was an already made alternative for people.

“Our numbers were about half of what we would ordinarily expect and most of the ones who were there were younger folk and not so many of the older folk. Sensibly, they had stayed away.”

“Government guidance is changing fast”, Rev. MacDonald continued, “I could not say that I am fully up-to-date on the guidance today, but certainly by Friday and Saturday last week we were carefully looking at it, and the key points seem to be avoiding physical conduct, so we don’t shake hands at the door, we have actually reduced the manning at the door with only one man standing to greet those coming in. 

“We are wiping down surfaces. We are removing pew bibles and pew psalm books as potential source of infection. We are practising social distancing within the church so people are sitting very far apart. 

“Sadly the days of our church being packed to the gunwales are long since gone. Our church can take just over 200, and we had, I think, 19 people out last night [Sunday], who were at the four corners of the church, quite literally, and far more distant than it would be if they went to get their shopping in Tesco, for example.

“If we had packed churches we would be looking at it differently, but as far as we can tell we are following the guidelines, and we are encouraging people as they leave the service to go straight to their cars - usually they mull around and chat, but that obviously is another point of social contact, so we are trying to avoid that. 

“So, all these things are in place. We are trying to be sensible. We are aware that there is a lot of fear and we feel it ourselves, we are not immune to that. We are not somehow foolishly thinking that because we pray we will be okay. That’s not our view at all. I know there is a caricature of us in that way, but I think that is deeply unfair. […] There are folk who find any reason to have a go at the church, so we are aware of that and we have dealt with that before and we’ll deal with that again. That doesn’t greatly concern us. 

“We do believe”, Rev MacDonald concluded, “in carefully seeking to preserve the law of the Lord in the 6th commandment - though shall not kill - which requires us to preserve the lives of ourselves and our neighbours.

“That’s a requirement of God’s word. So we are doing everything we can to ensure that we are complying with that Biblically. We would want to do that anyway, irrespective of what government advice was.

“I’m not saying that we will be open in two weeks’ time or a month’s time. Everything is with the proviso that this could change.”

An NHSWI spokesperson said: “We are surprised and disappointed that some churches did not choose to follow the UK and Scottish Government advice on social distancing and continued to hold services in church.

“However, we are gratified that so many of our faith congregations have taken the advice seriously and have been able to find alternative formats and ways to worship, including supporting those who are self-isolating due to vulnerability or symptoms in these difficult times.”

Rev. MacDonald confirmed that an emergency meeting of the presbytery is due to take place tomorrow. 

Last Thursday the Catholic Church in Scotland suspended all public celebrations of mass in response to advice on halting the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

A day before, the Church of Scotland had cancelled all church services and its general Assembly, due to take place in May.