853 exclusive: A Greenwich Council-backed church which has advertised in council media told worshippers they would be safe during the Covid-19 epidemic.
New Wine Church, which was given a civic award by the council in 2017, told its congregation on its website: “You will not lose your loved ones; your loved ones will not lose you.” The message is still on the website at 1pm on Friday, although was removed from the front page following a call from 853.
The Pentecostal church, which is based in Woolwich, falsely claimed that the UK government had “advised that there is no reason to be unduly concerned as the medical professionals are well-prepared to handle any escalation in the spread of the virus”.
“We encourage you not to panic or be readily swayed by what you read in the news,” it said.
In fact, as long ago as 12 March, prime minister Boris Johnson called the coronavirus outbreak “the worst public health crisis for a generation”, adding: “I must level with you, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” The advice since Monday has been to stay at home if possible.
The government has advised against mass gatherings. Both the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England have suspended public worship, while the Muslim Council of Britain has called for the suspension of services at mosques.
New Wine had been carrying on with business as usual at its Gateway House HQ in Woolwich, but has ceased services from today and dropped the claims that its followers would be safe from its latest update, published yesterday. As late as 6pm yesterday, it was still promoting services on its social media.
As of yesterday, 144 people had died from the disease in the UK, with the global death toll now over 10,000 worldwide. As of yesterday morning, 33 people had been officially diagnosed with Covid-19 in Greenwich borough.
New Wine, which has described itself as “the melting pot for both the civic and religious leaders of the community”, has long had a close relationship with Greenwich Council and local Labour politicians, and the council leadership has been reluctant to cut ties with the church despite embarrassment caused by its stance on homosexuality and equal marriage. The church is said to have a big influence on branch Labour parties in the east of the borough.
Its annual report boasts that its Christmas hamper scheme is distributed with “the assistance of the mayor of Royal Greenwich [sic], members of parliament and the Deputy Lieutenant (representative of HM the Queen)”. The hamper scheme earned it a civic award from Greenwich Council in March 2017 and in December 2018 council leader Danny Thorpe posed for a selfie with the church’s current pastor, Adekola Taiwo, to promote the hamper scheme. The church has been a regular advertiser on the council’s big screen in Woolwich.
In June 2017, 853 revealed that its founding pastor, Tayo Adeyemi, had called homosexuality as “a warped sexual identity” that is used to “tear down the family”, linking it to rejection by fathers in a video that remains available on YouTube. His successor, Michael Olawore, had also referred to homosexuality and gay marriage as being part of “the darkness”. The council pledged to review its civic award services, but later allowed the church to advertise on its big screen in Woolwich once again.
Only last year, New Wine invited a preacher who compared equal marriage to “polygamy, bestiality and all other forms of sexual perversion”, Creflo Dollar, to Woolwich. At the time, Thorpe insisted that the church had signed a pledge to serve all communities equally. That same pledge also commits New Wine to “address social and community needs” and “to share best practice to help other faith-based groups become service providers”.
When contacted by 853 this morning, when the statement was still accessible from the website’s front page, a New Wine spokesman, who refused to give his name, said: “It’s a message directed at our congregation, not the general public.”
He added that the church had since “moved on” from that stance and had now moved its services online.
Later in the morning, the church responded by email: “Your enquiry via our website about ‘New Wine inviting people into Church’ is noted. However, the latest statement that we released on Thursday 19th of March informed people that our services will be online. As always, we take public safety and cooperating with government guidance seriously.” The church did not address why it had told followers they would be safe from coronavirus.
A Greenwich Council spokesperson told 853 today: “The council expects everyone to follow government guidance.”
Story updated at 12.50pm with later statement from New Wine Church.
- Official figures on virus spread
- Official info: Government | Greenwich | Lewisham | Bexley
- Volunteer to help your neighbours: Greenwich | Lewisham | Bexley | NHS
- Don’t stockpile, give to a food bank: Greenwich | Lewisham | Bexley
- NHS advice | Stay at home | Wash your hands more often
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