A magistrate’s court in central England has thrown out a case against a pastor whom police had fined $21,000 for holding a church gathering for the homeless in a car park during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Nottingham Magistrates Court has ruled that Pastor Chez Dyer, 47, who organized an outdoor service for the Church on the Streets in Nottingham during the February lockdown, that she will not have to pay the fine and ordered the government to pay her legal fees, said the Christian Legal Centre, which supported the clergy.
“I am so relieved that this case has been thrown out and justice has finally been served,” Chez was quoted as saying. “We stood in the gap for the most vulnerable when others would not or could not. We had people who urgently needed our support and some who said we had prevented them from committing suicide. … We were the spiritual doctors who were not on furlough. People were suffering and needed us.”
Around 30 people took part in the outdoor service Chez held in February, for which she was handed the fine.
Officers from Nottinghamshire Police said at the time that tents and a sound system had been set up, and food was being served.
While churches in England were permitted to hold limited in-person services during the lockdown, Nottinghamshire Police said at the time that the pub car park was “evidently not a place of worship.” They said the event had taken place “despite previous warnings” and that the fine was issued as a “last resort.”
The pastor said at the time that a place or worship includes “premises when being used for religious gatherings, even when their primary purpose is not for religious gatherings, such as a community center.”
However, she was convicted in her absence and was unaware of the proceedings against her, CLC said, adding that the court had fined her $21,000 in her absence.
“This Christian ministry was supporting the most vulnerable in their community materially, emotionally and spiritually during the lockdown. How was it that they were the ones chased down by police in riot vans?” CLC Chief Executive Andrea Williams asked. “It is state overreach to shut down Churches and their ministries when they are very often the final hope.”
Williams added that she hopes the outcome of this case “sends a clear message to the government and police of the vital role Christian ministry plays in our communities and how it must be protected, supported and encouraged at all times.”
Chez added: “We reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ during the toughest of times. This is what the church is and what the church should do. For this, however, I was treated like a criminal. We are a church with limited financial resources, so to face fines of this magnitude for helping the homeless was devastating.
“I hope my story can show people the vital role Christian street ministry plays in our country.”