The bishop of a popular black church has launched a furious broadside at police after officers turned up at a service to check on Covid rule breaking.
Bishop Jonathan Jackson could barely contain his anger in a Facebook post over what he called police ‘disrespect’ and ‘intimidation’ at the New Testament Church of God at Spring Hill, known as The Rock, in Hockley.
He claimed plain clothes officers turned up and accused the church of flouting the rules by letting in too many worshippers – wrongly, say the church, as the number inside was well within assessed limits.
West Midlands Police said uniformed officers had visited the church following a call from a member of the public about a ‘large number’ of vehicles at the site. It said no issues or breaches were found.
In his video message, the bishop said: “I am so annoyed today that the police can just roll up and start intimidating like this is Southern America.
“You must be mad when people are out there getting killed and getting massacred and all you can do is walk around looking for churches to find out if they are breaching rules.
“This is the beginning of Black History Month and I am not taking this foolishness sitting down.
“We work hard day and night, I can’t sleep worrying about all of these changes….and the disrespectful police in Birmingham can do this in the middle of our service and can come in ready to drill us without even knowing the rules.
“Me for one is not closing my mouth on this until I get a formal apology from those undercover police.”
Bishop Jackson described the rules on worshippers as ‘draconian’, comparing them to the freedom that allowed people to still gather in pubs.
Bishop Jackson said the church had battled to ensure every worshipper was kept safe and every Covid rule is stringently followed before reopening its services last week.
Visitors to the church are temperature checked on entry, worshippers must sit in household groups and obey social distancing rules, while the church also has separate entrances and exits, hand sanitiser and strict cleaning regimes – all set out in line with guidance from the city’s public health team.
He said the church has worked with the city’s director of public health Dr Justin Varney to assess risks and meet every rule to keep people safe.
The church can normally hold up to 500 people – under Covid rules this is limited to up to 150 people for congregational worship only.
Rev Dr Desmond Jaddoo, who chairs the West Midlands faith in action group, wrote in support of Bishop Jackson to police Chief Constable Dave Thompson after being informed of the issue.
In his email he wrote: “It is with the utmost of regret that I have to write to you regarding the actions of your officers in visiting black churches; some which have just reopened, following months of closure.
“It is concerning that today Bishop Jonathan Jackson of the New Testament Church of God at Spring Hill known as The Rock has reported that plainclothes officers visited his church today telling them that they are not allowed to have any more than 50 people in the church.
“This is not in line with the advice from Dr Justin Varney, director of public health for Birmingham.
“The advice given to churches is that providing it is regular worship, the churches will be allowed to have as many people as it can socially distance 2 metres apart, with households sitting in bubbles and everyone wearing face masks, with no singing.
“Furthermore, churches have risk assessments in place, track and trace systems and also sanitisation along with entry and exit procedures.
“Why is it at the beginning of Black History Month have your officers visited churches, advising they have a list of churches to visit, which is reminiscent of the southern United States of America in the 1960s.
“There are so many issues on the streets of our city right now and your Officers are now seeking to intervene with our worship. What next?”
He said he would be raising the issue at the next meeting of West Midlands Faith in Action, which meets regularly with the police.