Archive for November 27, 2011

A Wonderful Example in Egypt

The news that has been coming in from Egypt has rarely been positive over the past week.

Protests, which initially began at Tahrir Square following Friday prayers on the 18th November, have escalated through the week and on the following Friday it was estimated that over 100,000 Egyptians took part in the “Friday of the Last Chance” at Tahrir calling on the military junta to step aside and allow the revolution to be completed.

Protests also spread to many other parts of Egypt and at Tahrir there were many reports of injuries and deaths from a brutal crackdown by security forces which included the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

Yet amongst this grievous news of fresh oppression in the Egyptian capital stories also emerged of a wonderful harmony and comradeship.

The security forces had begun to target the makeshift clinic set up in Tahrir Square and the many wounded and injured had nowhere to find refuge and treatment as the attacks from police and the interior security forces rained down.

In the midst of this suffering there has been a good news story, as both a church and a mosque have opened their doors and have been using their buildings as clinics where doctors and other health professionals have been able to treat those who have been hurt in the demonstrations.

Ahram Online has reported that the evangelical church on the outskirts of Tahrir Square has become a makeshift hospital as the pastor and church members have been unable to ignore the great needs of the injured protesters.

Ahram Online reports:

Pastor Sameh Morris of the Evangelical Church says that staff members decided to turn the prayer grounds into a hospital after security forces began targeting Tahrir’s field hospitals.

“We were worried that the protesters would not have anyone to treat them, and we simply could not keep the church doors closed in this time of need,” Pastor Morris says. “One of the miracles Jesus did was that he healed the sick, and I believe that it is my duty as a human being, as a Christian and as an Egyptian to help those who are wounded.”

A nearby mosque has also been opened up for use as a hospital and both the church and the mosque have been co-operating with each other to ensure that the injured are cared for.

Christians in Egypt have often faced severe persecution, and that situation is on-going, yet they have also been an important part of the protests for democracy and stories and pictures of Christians protecting Muslim demonstrators whilst they meet their daily prayer duties have been iconic.

Whilst the protests and strikes that are taking place in the UK cannot be said to be fully supported by many Christians in the country, and we should certainly not equate the sufferings of UK protesters with the injuries and deaths the Egyptians have faced, I believe that we can look to the actions of Pastor Morris’ church and have our heart warmed and our attitude challenged.

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Meeting with Local Evangelist

Yesterday I met with a local reverend who is now working as a full-time evangelist with the Hour of Revival Association.  The main purpose of this meeting was to discuss Church Peace.

The meeting did go very well indeed, and I shared how far Church Peace has developed and where it is at now, and he came back with a number of very good points.

Glen Scrivener, who is ordained in the Church of England and was formerly a curate at All Souls Church, Eastbourne, spoke a number of very good points.

He was very clear that Jesus should never be used as a “mascot”.  We discussed that Jesus can be appropriated by any number of political leanings and movements, but the aim in true Christianity is not to attempt mold Jesus around our beliefs but to mold our beliefs as we get to know Him better.  Linked to this was an interesting discussion on the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement and two points were raised: one, it should be more about What Jesus Has Already Done, and two, that can we really know what Jesus would do in a situation?  Do we really know Him that well as to say we know what He would do about, say, the Euro crisis?  Surely our task is to get to know Him better rather than appropriating Him for our ends.

These are challenges to Church Peace, the Church itself, and the dissenting community.

Glen is an evangelist, and obviously coming from that perspective he is very keen to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but he was clear on the great opportunity for this that the Occupy movement has brought; St. Paul’s initial failure; and the possibility of a different approach from the Church elsewhere.  We spoke about Occupy Brighton and may be making a visit there and he, like I, was keen to draw alongside the protesters and facilitate Church input in both a practical serving of demonstartors and in sharing and listening to the issues involved.

We also spoke of the role of the bankers, and we were clear that in Jesus’ eyes the rich banker is just as precious as the poor and needy beggar.  We warned ourselves about “religious self-righteousness” also.

Would do others think?  Do protesters actually want any input from the Christian community or should the Church just “butt out”?  Is practical service to Occupy appropriate?  Does drawring alongside the demonstrators show a bias?

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City of London and St. Paul’s

The City of London Corporation, which owns some of the land upon which Occupy LSX are camped, has now renewed its pursuit of court action to evict the protesters.  The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has also voiced that the “crusties” are not welcome in London, despite many permanently living and working in the area.

This development was always expected, but there are some very profound difficulties the Corporation faces and court proceedings should last a lengthy period.

One of the major obstacles for the City of London is that the land where Occupy LSX is encamped is partly owned by St. Paul’s Cathedral and the exact demarcation of Corporation land and Church land is not clear.  St. Paul’s faced mounting criticism when the Dean and Chapter decided to pursue their own eviction plans, and eventually the Dean resigned and the Bishop of London, Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, was called in.

The Bishop steered St. Paul’s into a new direction, one it should have taken all along, of holding dialogue and discussions with the Occupy camp on a variety of issues, including both the practicalities of the camp and the concerns and views regarding the key aim of the camp in furthering democracy and economic justice.

Yet I would be surprised if the Cathedral, which has a varied and extensive range of links with many in the City, does not come under pressure from the Corporation to return to an aggressive approach to dealings with the Occupiers.  (It should be said that the links the Cathedral has with those in the City are not to be regarded as ominous – a church, of whatever “status” or denomination, would be seriously neglectful of its duties as an embassy of Christ if it did not have good relations with those who are its neighbours.)

At this time some Christians (including some leading voices in the Christian community) are again considering protesting with the protesters and standing with them to peacefully resist any forced eviction, whether St. Paul’s become involved in the eviction or not.

It would be unlikely that the Cathedral again seeks a forced eviction.  Yet it is imperative that we who believe in the power of prayer lift up the Cathedral Chapter and the Bishop of London as they will face many pressures from high establishment figures.  The Prime Minister, who through a constitutional anomaly, wields an undue influence on the Church of England, has himself suggested that he opposes the Occupy movement and is considering new laws to make eviction and punishment swifter for those who engage in residential protest.

Please do pray.

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Thoughts, Prayers and Considerations

I have had some feedback from asking for input into the “where now” question for Church Peace.

Andrew commented on the previous post saying that the Church Peace group should continue in order to provide a “common man’s input into the churches”.

I would be hesitant of having a pressure group aimed at altering the views of the Church and churches, yet, providing that good arguments that fit with Biblical principles can be put forward, then it is possible that Church Peace could play a role in enabling a more social-justice activist Church.  Church Peace would, in that instance, continue the initial vision to speak for reconciliation and dialogue between #OccupyLSX and St. Paul’s and then widen it to other protests and churches.

I also have received feedback from George Pitcher, who has written for the Daily Telegraph.  He advised that Church Peace is a vital ministry and a profound witness.  He also advised that I write to the Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, and that letter is being posted today.

I have also made contact with the Vicar at my own church and am awaiting a reply.  In addition, I have learned that a curate at a church in my home town has already visited the OccupyLSX camp.  I contacted him, and he shares my concern for the “the oftentimes non-conformist, sidelined and “church-reluctant” members of our society.”  He added that “it was a good time with the protesters last Sunday and I would be up for another visit before Christmas.”

These developments, along with my own prayers and seeking after God’s will has led me to firmly believe that Church Peace should continue.  I have altered the Twitter account name and profile, and have also altered the profile and name on Facebook, to better reflect current status.

Input is still very much required.  I myself hope to visit Occupy Brighton very soon, with looking to visit OccupyLSX in early December.

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Eviction of Occupy LSX has been Halted – What Next for Church Peace?

The news has come in today that first St. Paul’s Chapter suspended its pursuit of legal proceedings against Occupy LSX and then the City of London Corporation announced a “pause” in its own proceedings.

Neither of these announcements, and especially the City of London’s stance, is a renouncement on the possibility of a forceful eviction in future, yet they are to be rejoiced over and very warmly welcomed.

St. Paul’s decision seems to be mainly based upon the desire to enter into dialogue with Occupy LSX, which St. Paul’s claimed was not legally wise during the legal process.  Yet even so, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, gave hint that the huge public response to the prospect of the Church of England taking part in a forced, possibly violent, eviction had swayed the thinking at St. Paul’s when he said that: “The alarm bells are ringing all over the world. St Paul’s has now heard that call.”

These developments, as welcome as they are, do not bring to an end the prospect of scenes of riot police and protesters being dragged away by the hair with the grandeur of St. Paul’s Cathedral as a backdrop.

The question that must now concern me and those involved in the Church Peace campaign must be: what do we now do?

In my view, three possibilities now exist:

  1. The Church Peace project is ended.
  2. We remain in place, but enter into a “dormant” state.
  3. We use these developments as an opportunity to become a grass-roots source of input into the relationships of the Church with the protest, demonstration and activist community.

I would very much like those who have supported Church Peace by following on Twitter or by liking the Facebook page to give a good amount of input into which option we choose.  If we do opt for the 3rd option then I will need continued support and input.

I had always felt led by God to use my passion for Jesus and my passion for the civil liberties and freedoms of the UK to campaign for those freedoms and act, in some small way, as a peace-maker in these situations, and started Rabel Christian Civil Liberties because of that.  It is possible that Church Peace may be a big part of that mission, but I do not see that it can continue unless others also feel that it is something worth taking forward.

I would, therefore, ask all those involved or who may want to be involved to make input at this stage.

Thank you.

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