Destiny Church in Auckland held a service this morning for the first time since the lockdown - and its pastor, Bishop Brian Tamaki, says it was an act of "civil disobedience".

There's a 10-person cap on religious gatherings in alert level 2, which the Government says is necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Many leaders, including Tamaki, have expressed their frustration at the limit, saying churches could easily comply with social distancing rules.

No level 2 restrictions appear to have been flouted at the service in South Auckland today, despite Tamaki suggesting he had broken the law by opening the church doors and was willing to be arrested.

Advertisement
Destiny Church's Bishop Brian Tamaki delivers his sermon today. Photo / Dean Purcell
Destiny Church's Bishop Brian Tamaki delivers his sermon today. Photo / Dean Purcell

Police confirmed to the Herald they hadn't been at the service because they had already talked with the church about how to comply with level 2 restrictions.

Tamaki billed today's service as taking a stand for the rights of everyone in New Zealand, including the right to religious freedom.

"Fundamentally I believe the church has been discriminated against," he said. "Everybody else from strip clubs to rugby matches and malls... restaurants are all open but the church was restricted with a thumb down on it to 10 people."

Destiny spokeswoman Anne Williamson said today was about taking a stand and showing the churches of New Zealand could be trusted.

Only 10 people were allowed into the church auditorium, Williamson said. A separate small group was doing contact tracing work at the church entrance and another group was working in an upstairs video editing suite. Neither had more than 10 people and everyone in the building had been tested for Covid-19.

Churchgoers watch the Destiny Church service from the carparking lot. Photo / Dean Purcell
Churchgoers watch the Destiny Church service from the carparking lot. Photo / Dean Purcell

The remainder of Tamaki's flock attended a drive-in service, watching the proceedings on big screens set up in the carpark.

People were asked to keep their car windows up and were not allowed to get out of their cars. Marshalls were patrolling to make sure people complied.

A police spokeswoman said police had been in contact with church officials all week "to help them understand how they can operate within the parameters of alert level 2 restrictions".

Advertisement

"As a result of those discussions police have not been in attendance."

Level 2 restrictions were there for the safety of the community and to protect the gains made in levels 3 and 4, she said.

"Police will continue to investigate any reports of suspected breaches including religious services using our graduated response model of engage, educate, encourage and enforce."

Destiny Church spokeswoman Anne Williamson. Photo / Dubby Henry
Destiny Church spokeswoman Anne Williamson. Photo / Dubby Henry

By one count there were more than 500 cars at the Destiny venue, including those that had spilled out onto Druces Rd.

Although those in the carpark were staying in their cars and encouraged to honk their horns in appreciation, people on Druces Rd were out of their cars dancing and singing, although they didn't appear to be mingling with each other.

Headquarters Bar owner Leo Molloy was among those attending. Tamaki was one of a number of guests who attended a level 2 gathering at Molloy's Viaduct bar on Friday night.

READ MORE
Brian Tamaki will hold Sunday service, slams Government decision
Hawke's Bay church leaders: 'We joined team of 5 million, now we're left out'
Human Rights Commission 'deeply concerned' about Public Health Response Bill
Level 2 enforcement law to be reviewed by select committee

Since the lockdown began in level 4, Tamaki's messages have been livestreamed from his home. But today's service - titled We Stand for the Freedoms & Rights of All New Zealanders - was the first to go ahead at the church's main branch on Druces Rd since the lockdown.

Other Destiny Church branches held similar carpark services, streaming Tamaki's message. A church spokesman said a number of people from other branches had turned up to Druces Rd.

In his sermon Tamaki said one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation in New Zealand's history had been passed this week in the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act.

The law was passed under urgency on May 13. Among other changes it allows police to enter premises without a warrant if they believe rules to stop the spread of Covid-19 are being breached.

Tamaki is not alone in criticising the new legislation - the Human Rights Commission has raised concerns it allows for "sweeping police powers" and has been rushed through without due democratic process.

The Act must be reviewed every 90 days and has a two-year sunset clause.

Cars overflow from the carpark at Destiny Church on Druces Rd. Photo / Dubby Henry
Cars overflow from the carpark at Destiny Church on Druces Rd. Photo / Dubby Henry

Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said religious services would be capped at 10 people under level 2, down from the 100-person limit allowed in level 2 before the lockdown.

Tamaki publicly said last week a service would go ahead in defiance of the rules. He says the Government's decision is discriminatory and unjust.

Ardern, who was raised Mormon, has said she understood the importance of worship, but churches were community spaces where people would inevitably mix with others.

Up to 50 people are now allowed at funerals and tangi, after an initial 10-person limit was widely decried as unfair.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

A video posted to Destiny Church's Facebook page yesterday reminded people to practice physical distancing at church today.

"We know we haven't seen each other for a long while, some of us. Your natural instinct is you want to run and give them a really big hug. If they're not from your bubble you'll have to hold off.

"Make sure there's no hugging, no touching ... please don't let us catch you breaking the rules because it ruins it for the rest of us."

Subscribe to Premium

Older people and people with underlying health issues were encouraged to stay home.

The congregation was also asked to pray for Tamaki, as much of New Zealand would likely be getting "nosy" about what he was doing today and tuning in.