An Evangelical Christian pastor has said he will “apologise to nobody” for exercising his constitutional right to worship God in public, holding a socially-distanced Sunday service in the Phoenix Park.

“This may be a short message, but I believe it’s a message that needs to be given”, said Pastor John Aherne of the All Nations Church in Dublin.

“We pray for religious freedom to be returned to this country. Because the government has passed a law that criminalises religious worship. And you know what? I don’t care what anybody says – I don’t believe that gathering here today, socially-distanced, is a crime.

“It is not a crime to worship God. It is a fundamental human right. And it’s a right that is enshrined in our constitution. When you read the preamble of our Constitution, it refers to “Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ”. What right do politicians have to somehow now rewrite our constitution?”

The religious gathering, which was socially-distanced and took place at the foot of the Papal Cross in the Phoenix Park, had around 100 worshipers in attendance.

“We’re not here today to offend, or insult anybody. We’re not here today to be reckless or endanger anybody. But how is it dangerous to stand here and worship, but it’s not dangerous to walk into a Centra, or an Aldi, or a Tesco? I believe it is a human right to worship Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

“For a year we’ve had our churches closed, while our abortion clinics and our off-licenses have been open. It is time for the churches to open so that we can worship. And you may say “They were never closed, you can worship online.” Well we serve a face-to-face God. I haven’t seen many members of my congregation in the best part of a year.

“But I made the decision last week when they criminalised worship – and whether or not they did so inadvertently, that is what they did. They criminalised worship in this nation, and I said “Do you know what? I’m going back to pastoring my people.”

“This is not a protest service. This is a worship service. We are gathered here not to protest, we are gathered here to worship and give Jesus Christ the glory and praise that belongs to him as God.”

During the hour-long gathering, the Pastor called on people to “arise from the ashes” of “darkness and despair.”

“I appreciate that people have been through a lot during this season. Many people have been separated from their loved ones for months, forced to live in fear and isolation. People have lost their jobs, they’ve seen their businesses closed and some may never open again. And yet you hear these glib little phrases, like “We’re all in this together”, by people who are on huge money and haven’t had their pay cut. And I think that is the height of hypocrisy.

“We aren’t all in this together, clearly we’re not. I have members in my congregation who have been decimated financially. They don’t have the ability to provide for their families. It’s time for change, and it’s time for the church to speak up.

“There is something sacred about public worship, and that is why no government has the right to close churches. This is a God-given right – one that is written into the UN charter of human rights.”

Acknowledging the danger posed by covid-19, the Pastor called on the government to allow people to utilise personal responsibility for their own safety.

“Is there danger? Yes,” he said.

“But risk is an unavoidable part of living on this planet. And in case you didn’t realise it, none of us makes it out of this life alive. There are risks of just going outside your front door – you might be hit by a bus.

“But let me say this, and the government need to hear this: I’m a grown adult. I can think for myself, and I’m willing to deal with risks. Let me take the decision and deal with the consequences. And that’s exactly what I’m doing today as a Pastor. I considered the risks, I prayed about it, and it’s time to go back to church.

“For this past year, we have respectfully obeyed. I believe the time has come to respectfully disobey. That’s why I put all my kids in the car this morning and came here. I’m not here to disrespect or demean. I’m not here to demonise.

“The law needs to be revoked. We’re not in Communist China, we’re not in North Korea. We’re in a democracy. And so I’m not ashamed to stand here. I’m just simply here to proclaim Jesus Christ and honour him. I’m a preacher, I’m not a politician. This is my calling and I will not apologise to anybody for doing what I’m doing today.”

At the start of the meeting, the pastor was warned by park staff that police would be called if he continued with the service.

When the pastor respectfully refused to leave, the Gardaí were called. However, while a Garda van and cruiser arrived and hovered around the car park around 100 metres from the gathering, they ultimately left without confrontation and the service was allowed to continue without disruption.

The Pastor told Gript he would have been willing to go to jail over the restrictions if necessary.