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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Oi! Keep the noise down!

“A London church has been told by Lambeth Council to reduce the volume of its worship,” the Christian Legal Centre tells us.

In an extraordinary decision, All Nations Church in Kennington, South London, has been served with a noise abatement notice by Lambeth council after complaints from a couple of local residents about the level of noise coming from the church.

This is the first complaint that the church has received since it began meeting at the premises in the 1960s. Church leaders have been ordered not to amplify its music or sermons – something which will make worship very difficult for the 600-strong congregation – some of whom are elderly and hard-of-hearing.

The decision, which imposes a restriction on the freedom of expression of religion will, according to one of the church’s pastors, Victor Jibuike, seriously affect the congregation and potentially mean that some members will leave and worship elsewhere – something he does not want to see.

The Council Noise Abatement Notice was served on the church without warning on 25 September 2009, despite the fact a meeting with the local Councilor [sic] and residents had being arranged for 20 October with the intention of addressing the neighbours’ concerns. The Pastors of the Church wanted to do everything possible to solve the matter amicably.

Pastor Jubiuke [sic: different spelling from the one above!] believes the complaints which have led to the notice may also have been triggered by the church’s plans to develop a disused school into a community centre in partnership with the Council. He said: “The complaint has nothing to do with the noise and everything to do with our faith. Lambeth Council are driving us out and we feel harassed.”

The Church is being supported in its ordeal by the Christian Legal Centre.

Andrea Williams, Director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “The real issue behind this complaint is hostility to the Christian message, and the law is being used as a pretext to harass and silence Christian viewpoints not approved by the State. All Nations Church is simply trying to make Christianity relevant to 21st[-]century Britain and it will be a great loss if the church, which is a great benefit to the community, has to curtail its activities and outreach programmes because of the Council’s actions.”

Who told the church to cancel its outreach work? The council, as far as I can tell, has told it to pipe down a bit, stop using amplified music. How does that affect the outreach programme?

And, if it’s so difficult to cater to huge congregations, then reduce them. Have separate meetings. Bring the hard-of-hearing to the front.

The fact is that, if you choose to live near, say, a nightclub, you might expect some noise, and I would hazard a guess that building regulations contain something about noise insulation. And a question I have: are churches obliged to apply for live-music permits, the way places of entertainment are?

When you live near a church, you don’t expect a huge horde of rowdy Christians belting out God’s pop songs like a strident chorus in a West End musical.

You might expect bells on Sunday (not particularly intrusive in a country that’s used to such sounds, and has been for centuries, with all of its indigenous citizens having grown up with them) or a few cars parking or moving away, maybe animated chatter – things at a human scale.

But amplified gospel singing (assuming that's part of the mix)? I think not. Not that I don’t like gospel, and have heard some fine examples of it. But that’s been when I’ve chosen to listen to it.

The Christian Legal Centre seem to be using this as yet another excuse to bash those who they perceive are bashing Christianity. Mostly, no one is bashing Christianity: they’re wanting things to be equal in the workplace, or for neighbours not to be bothered by unnecessary noise.

But Christians are as capable as Muslims of choosing victimhood over common sense.

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