Tag Archive for Occupy London

Does the Church Understand Protest?

This weekend past there were demonstrations organised by the unions against the austerity programme that has been implemented by the Government. Christians took part in these and peaceably showed their support for a grass-roots movement against swingeing cutbacks and the victimisation of the poor.

Yet a week before, on the anniversary of Occupy LSX – the camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral that became the focus of the Occupy movement in the UK – Christianity Uncut and Occupy London staged an ill-received protest at the cathedral.

Protest at St. Paul's Cathedral

Christianity Uncut members unfurl a banner outside St. Paul’s Cathedral – (Photo Credit: Christianity Uncut)

The protests involved a member of Occupy Faith standing reading a prayer; a group of four women chaining themselves to the pulpit; and a further group outside unfurling a banner. Except for the prayer reading, which was formally invited, the protests were not sanctioned by the cathedral and the cathedral made a strong rebuke to those who took part in the action.

Yet is not protest at the heart of the Gospel message? Jesus did not come to make peace, but came with a sword to divide the sheep from the goats. He Himself drove out the money-changers from the Temple; rebuked the religiously hypocritical; called the puppet king Herod names.

Yet so many in the Church (and in my usual manner I use the capital “C” to indicate the universal Church comprising of all believers without denominational bias) seem to regard protest as something inherently evil.

Sometimes a form of protest is allowed, such as in the prayer reading by Occupy Faith at St. Paul’s, or an orderly march through a police-ordained route with a set start and stop time and a clear chain of command that the police can use to control the procession.

Yet the form of protest that has written the British democratic history has not always been the kind of clean-shaven, well-to-do garden party. And we shouldn’t expect it to be.  (It is sad that if the triumphal entry into Jerusalem which we commemorate on Palm Sunday were held in Britain today it would require prior police approval.)

Many in the Church find the idea of protest unappealing – that is for their own consciences – yet equally they should not seek to prevent those who wish to make a demonstrable impact on political discourse.

A democratic society is a fragile one in many ways. We lack the clear autocratic mandate to wage war against enemies or impose necessary but unpopular polices. Yet we are also at constant threat from our own leaders, albeit if those leaders are oftentimes unaware of the danger. The threat of straying too far from the public will is a real one, and public protest is the important mechanism by which the masses make known their dissatisfaction to the privileged (and every member of a government is privileged in that degree) before such gruesome aspects of people-based rule as riot and uprising are manifest.

The response from St. Paul’s to the peaceable and respectful protests two weekends ago show that the Cathedral has not learned from its general rejection of Occupy LSX. And the general distaste which many in the Church have for peaceful direct protest reflects more on their own middle-class comfortability  than the Gospel message of the Man who died on a murderer’s cross to set the captives free.

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St. Paul’s Gave Police The Okay to Clear Steps

Yesterday the Independent newspaper revealed that St. Paul’s Cathedral had given the police permission to clear the cathedral’s steps during the eviction of the Occupy camp that was cleared on the 28th February 2012.

I do not wish to be dragging this on, as also yesterday the cathedral welcomed its new Dean, and my view is that Christian forgiveness should be paramount in this matter.

Yet the fact remains that many Christians have been exceedingly hurt by the dealings of St. Paul’s Chapter, as this open letter shows.  It must also be of further hurt to hear that the various statements released by the Chapter were, in fact, clearly misleading.

Those whose actions have brought such hurt do need to consider their positions and prayerfully consider if they have allowed the riches of City of London Cathedral life to skew their perspective regarding those who are poor and marginalised and those who were being faced with a forceful eviction – some of those being fellow Christians.

My hope is that the new Dean will make a statement of apology, but whether that is or is not forthcoming the Christian duty to forgive remains, and my prayer is that those who have been so hurt by this may come to have reconciliation with those who injured them.

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Open Letter to Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral

The following letter was written by Tammy Semede, one of the named defendants in the Occupy LSX case, and was originally published on the Ekklesia website.  It is a heartfelt and powerful letter.  I will, here, allow the letter to speak for itself.  I will, however, be posting comment on this in due course, as a separate post.

An Open Letter to the Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral

 

Dear Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral,

Here I am, almost two weeks after witnessing the destruction and inevitable eviction of the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

It has been a very difficult time seeing the vulnerable and frightened part of our Occupy community displaced. The City Of London Corporation had promised to attend the eviction and had assured us that they would make sure they looked after any vulnerable member of the community during and after. They assured us that they had all of those vulnerable people’s names. They said that they would send social workers and mental health professionals. Though you of course know all this from sitting with them in the same meetings as myself, week in, week out…

They sent no one. Not a single professional to assist such people. Instead they came after midnight when all the services that could help these people were closed.

Not a single clergyman attended us that evening. Not one priest or chaplain did you send from that Cathedral to minister to the frightened, or to comfort the distressed. Even Giles Fraser was prevented from coming through the police kettle. Does it concern you that people in distress were denied access to a priest, and that instead a cathedral chapter brought violence upon them in its own grounds?

It has been a fortnight since watching the wonderful community (even with its problems) destroyed. It has been a fortnight since I was threatened with arrest for aggravated trespass on church land. (The same one I have regularly received communion in).

You had assured us all that if we sat peacefully on the cathedral steps we would be safe from police violence or arrest. You even stated publicly you wanted to avoid violence on cathedral land. You told us (in front of Andrew Colvin the City Of London’s lawyer) that those steps would become a sanctuary for occupiers and any occupier who wished, not an obstruction for bailiffs. You told us to just sit and wait and take care of each other. You said publicly that you would not close those doors to us. You said this over and over again, promising the same thing to our Church Liaison Working Group who met with Canon Michael Hempsall, Canon Mark Oakley and the Rt Rev Michael Colclough, every single week in the Christopher Wren room in the basement of the cathedral. And often in the wall between Paternoster Square and the west churchyard.

So understandably, we were all terribly shocked with the events and violence that played out on St Paul’s Cathedral steps, while your workers watched from the balcony and while the Bishop of London turned his back, driving past it all without a second glance!

A fortnight later I feel shocked and numb and sad and hurt. I feel betrayed. I feel I saw a darkness of which I had no idea existed. A darkness which I would never have believed existed until I saw and felt it for myself. I have wished repeatedly since that night that I had not seen the things I did on those steps.

For the best part of three months I have been part of the Church Liaison Working Group, reporting back to the general assemblies of Occupy London Stock Exchange with whatever transpired between ourselves and the Canons and Bishop we met with.

I had become increasingly frustrated at your inability to discuss anything to do with social and economic injustice, always steering these meetings to your agenda. Of course, early on I thought (no, I actually believed) that you were good Christian men, men of God, shepherds for Christ’s flock, but over the weeks and months and quite shockingly the night the camp was evicted, I found out otherwise. I found it out rather painfully.

Not only physical pain from being stood on as I lay on the cathedral steps having fallen over in the crush, but emotionally and spiritually wounded, a wound which as I write this still continues to bleed and feel sore. A wound placed upon me and my soul and heart by the very people I should have looked to for examples of faith in action. A wound imposed upon the fibres of my soul which would give me a struggle of faith and something like that that St John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul”.

This dark night being a phase in which the soul struggles with its faith, can’t seem to find God, nor the hope it once had, but my soul did hold on, the tears did heal the wound, and the wound and painful experience taught me very, very well.

It taught me that the main players in the clergy and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral were not men of God, but puppets of the corporations and City Of London.

And as of today we still await answers or explanations from the cathedral. I still await a call back from Richard Chartres (Bishop of London). I am no stranger to him having met him several times. I am still waiting for their actions to stop hurting. Still waiting silently for some understanding of how anyone, but most certainly the chapter of St Paul’s, can condone such violence on Church steps.

And the last time I went to receive the holy sacrament of communion you tainted it by having your cathedral security watch me the whole time I was there.

Perhaps we will never have the answers.

Perhaps we will never understand.

Perhaps all I can do is wait, wait for a day when I can walk past St Paul’s and not feel hurt, or sad, or tearful whenever it’s called to mind.

“Be still and know that I am God”….

Perhaps that’s all we can do for now?

Perhaps that’s what you should have done too?….

Tammy Samede
Named defendant for Occupy London Stock Exchange

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After Forced Eviction, Now is the Time for Forgiveness

After the eviction of Occupy LSX from the land outside St. Paul’s Cathedral there are many who are hurt.

Christians who had formed the “Ring of Prayer” initiative were praying on the steps of the cathedral when the police dragged them away, with the report of at least one policeman kicking a praying Christian.

Yet the presence of Christians and others praying and urging a peaceful eviction did bear fruit, and the eviction was largely a peaceful affair.  The majority of the protesters left without needing to be forcibly removed, and though there were reports of some water bottles being thrown by a hardcore group who built a makeshift “fort” the level of violence was remarkable by its absence.

An excellent report in the Independent highlighted one concern: how much and how willingly was the Cathedral involved?  Jerome Taylor and Charlie Cooper at The Independent write:

A carefully worded statement released by St Paul’s after the eviction made no mention of the forcible removals from the steps of the cathedral. Instead, it effectively welcomed the clearance of the camp, stating only that the cathedral regretted that such a removal had to be done by bailiffs.

“In the past few months, we have all been made to re-examine important issues about social and economic justice and the role the cathedral can play,” the statement said. “We regret the camp had to be removed by bailiffs but we are fully committed to continuing to promote these issues through our worship, teaching and [the St Paul’s] Institute.”

Indeed there were reports that after the Cathedral lights were briefly turned off just before the eviction began police could be seen on the building balconies.  Such reports led to speculation that the cathedral was actively facilitating the eviction, yet at the present time it is seeming that those on the balconies of the cathedral were not police.

The events with the floodlights, and St. Paul’s following comments, leave important questions laying unanswered as to how pro-active the St. Paul’s authorities were in the eviction.  A spokesperson for St. Paul’s made a comment when pressed saying:

“The police did not ask for permission from us regarding any aspect of the action taken last night, but we were clear that we would not stand in the way of the legal process or prevent the police from taking the steps they needed to deal with the situation in an orderly and peaceful manner,”

It either shows naivety or dis-ingenuity that St. Paul’s would not realise that such a green light to the police would be taken in a sweeping manner, and a video from the night shows police telling Christians on the steps that they did have permission from the cathedral to remove them.

Yet the eviction is passed.  It was largely peaceful and for that we must be very grateful.  That many Christians have stood up and sought peace in this matter testifies to the love and grace that Jesus grants us.

As such, we must now move on.  St. Paul’s Cathedral were in an unenviable position given their strong links with the City.  I believe they made a series of blunders and moral failings.  Yet we must forgive and move on.  No profit is to be found in constantly berating past mistakes.  Church Peace seeks peace, and peace cannot occur when bitterness and desire for revenge of any sort is harboured.  As God has forgiven us, let us now forgive St. Paul’s and pray that the future may be brighter for the cathedral than it may appear at this time.

 

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St. Paul’s Cathedral and Occupy – Reply to Joint Letter

Last week Church Peace, along with 14 other initial signatories including Simon Barrow (of Ekklesia think-tank), Rev. George Pitcher (journalist and minister) and numerous other prominent academics and clergy, wrote to the Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  82 further names were added to this on the letter published on this blog.

Our request was that the Cathedral make a public statement saying that they oppose a forcible eviction of the Occupy camp situated outside St. Paul’s.

Church Peace has now received a reply to this letter from the Rt. Rev. Michael Colclough, the Canon in Residence at the cathedral.

This comes as the application for appeal from the Occupy camp against the eviction by the City of London Corporation has been heard by the Court of Appeal.  After submissions from the appellants and the Corporation had been heard, the court adjourned and reserved judgement until the 22nd February.

The reply to our letter makes no mention of the primary purpose of our writing.  It is polite and makes a statement of defence of St. Paul’s well-known stance.  It is frustrating that the Canon has stated that:

We very much agree with Occupy and the Corporation about the priority of caring for vulnerable people whenever and however the camp disbands.

This fails to acknowledge that it is Occupy that has been raising the issue of protecting the vulnerable and has made requests for assurances that the Corporation has not responded to.  It is also disappointing that a forceful removal has been re-framed as “disbanding”.

There is, however, a positive aspect to this letter, in that the Cathedral Chapter have committed themselves to continuing to speak with the camp and seek a satisfactory and peaceful outcome, and they have said that “we are also discussing with Occupy how assemblies might continue to meet periodically outside the cathedral.”

Yet time is running short for a peaceful solution.  Occupy, as a group, are committed to peaceful resistance of any eviction, as are a large group of Christian believers who have signed the “Ring of Prayer” pledge.  Whilst the protest is peaceful; St. Paul’s are advocating for a peaceful and periodic assembly; and the Corporation is seeking a forceful and ugly confrontation based on the principle that tents cannot be used as a means of protest, Church Peace will be continuing to ask all concerned that a value-based and ethical compromise be found.

The full letter received from Rt Rev. Michael Colclough, Canon Pastor of St. Paul’s Cathedral, can be viewed here.

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Ring of Prayer and Prayer Vigils

Christianity Uncut, a group of Christians that are campaigning against the Coalition government’s austerity policies, has organised a well-publicized “Ring of Prayer” for the protection of and solidarity with Occupy London Stock Exchange, or Occupy LSX.

The pledge which interested Christians are asked to sign is as follows:

I stand in solidarity with people of all religions and none who are resisting economic injustice with active non-violence.

In the event of Occupy London Stock Exchange being evicted, I intend to go to the camp to worship and to join with others in forming a ring of prayer.

I will seek to act in a spirit of love towards all concerned.

It has currently been signed by over 300 people and a list has been started enabling notification should the eviction take place at short notice.

More details here…

Prayer Vigils

As well as the Ring of Prayer, some groups have said that they will hold prayer vigils timed to coincide with any eviction taking place.

Currently we are aware of two groups endeavouring to hold vigils in Cambridge and Bradford.

I would also like to organise one in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

If you have any further details on these prayer vigils; are setting one up in your own locality; or would like to be part of one in Eastbourne, please do comment below or email admin@churchpeace.org.uk.

With many thanks.

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Joint Letter to St. Paul’s Cathedral

The following letter is being sent to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral and cc to the Bishop of London.  We have a number of signatories including Rev. George Pitcher and Simon Barrow (co-director of Ekklesia).

 

Dear Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral,

We are writing to you to express our grave concern at the prospect of a forcible eviction of the Occupy camp currently situated in the grounds of the Cathedral.

We understand that the semi-permanent camp has resulted in challenges for the Cathedral and we are not unsympathetic to this.

We also accept that ultimately the decision on eviction is the City of London Corporation’s.  The Cathedral, however, is not powerless in this situation.

We commend you and others for efforts to seek a compromise solution and we are saddened that these seem not to have borne fruit as yet.

We are very much concerned for the impact on the Church as well as the camp of a forcible eviction.  The Name of Christ will not be honoured by such an action, and the stance of the Cathedral will be seen as being at least in part responsible.

We do not believe that the Church should ever be in a position where it is identified with oppression.  Its mission and ministry is, rather, about freeing people.

We therefore hope that the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral will make a public statement saying that they do not support a forced eviction of the Occupy camp.

Signatories:

Mark Hanson (Founder, Church Peace)

Simon Barrow (Co-Director, Ekklesia)

Dr Zoe Bennett (Theologian, Cambridge)

Dr Andrew Francis (Co-ordinating Group, Radix Community UK)

Rev Ray Gaston (Tutor, Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Birmingham)

Savitri Hensman (Christian writer, Hackney)

Symon Hill (Christianity Uncut)

Rev Vaughan Jones (United Reformed Church)

Dr Gillian Paterson (Theologian, London)

Rev George Pitcher (St Bride’s, Fleet Street)

Rev Ian Rathbone (Elim Pentecostal Church)

Prof Christopher Rowland (Biblical scholar, Oxford)

Jill Segger (Quaker journalist)

Rev Dr Steven Shakespeare (Department of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Liverpool Hope University)

Jordan Tchilingirian (Research sociologist)

 

(If you would like to indicate your support for this letter then please leave a comment here.  Please do not make lengthy comments or negative comments – the intention is to gather names of those who support this letter.  Many thanks.)

As at 1pm on Wednesday 15th February we have had an additional 82 names added to the letter.  Many thanks to all!

We have received a reply from the Chapter of St. Paul’s and this can be viewed here.

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Occupy London and the Right to Protest

This was originally published on the Rabel Christian Civil Liberties page on Google Plus.

Occupy London and the Right to Protest
The Occupy movement in London has brought to a head the limits to protest in the UK and has also challenged the Church on whether to support protest or the status quo

The court case judgement, passed last Wednesday, which effectively stated that an occupation form of protest is not protected by the human rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, has markedly raised the stakes in the Occupy movement in the UK.
Already, plans are being pursued which would make occupation of buildings a criminal offence, even if they had remained empty and neglected for years, and now the decision has been made that, although a continuous protest could be held at a location, there would have to be a night-time pause in the protest with a resumption in the morning.
The potential of this is to make a semi-permanent camp, such as OccupyLSX, an illegal protest, and given that the causes and aims of Occupy require a semi-permanent camp, this will be a new low in the right to protest in the UK. Previous occupation protests, such as the women peace activists at Greenham Common, went on for many years.

The Church
The role of the Church has also been brought into focus, and there are deep divisions in the role the Church should play. Many Christians have sided with the Occupiers and have pledged to form a “ring of prayer” around Occupy LSX should eviction go ahead.
Yet others have come out firmly against the methods of Occupy and support eviction.
The question that should be on every Christian’s heart, however, is not which side we should support, but which course of action is most in-keeping with Christ’s teaching. Should we protect the “sale of doves and pigeons” and defend the “money-changers” over the real need to urgently reform the political and econmic structures of Western consumerism? Should the need to be submissive to the authorities trump the need to take action against economic injustice? Should we support only government condoned forms of democratic expression?

What are your views on this? Please do comment and share.

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St. Paul’s Occupy LSX – Proposal for a Solution

Now, I have been warned well that I should not try to interfere or meddle in the arguments and disputes between Occupy LSX and the City of London Corporation.  The case has been heard by a judge and he will make judgement in due course.  I am not well positioned to be involved in this, and, to be honest the dispute between Occupy and the Corporation is outside the remit of Church Peace.

Yet the situation as regards Occupy LSX’s relations with St. Paul’s Cathedral is of my concern: I am a member of the Church of England and a member of the Universal Church, if not prominent or well-known.

I have a great concern that the Church, and St. Paul’s in particular, should not assume the role of oppressor.  If anything, the Church should be in the position of being the oppressed, for it is in being persecuted by wicked men that we are conformed to the sufferings of Christ and become more like Him.  The Church should not be in cahoots with those who would oppress, whether that oppression is violent, vitriolic or financial: a Biblical imperative which the Rev. Giles Fraser would probably be quite sympathetic to.

As such, I am saddened that the registrar of St. Paul’s Cathedral decided to give evidence in support of the City’s eviction plans.

Jesus, the Man and God whom St. Paul’s represents, was born into this world as a poor and rejected child.   Born to a woman who it was presumed had been immoral, turned away by everyone in Bethlehem despite being heavily pregnant until finally a kindly inn-keeper gave an outside shed as a maternity ward, so poor that at his circumcision dedication service His earthly parents gave the pauper’s sacrificial offering.  If anything the Occupy LSX camp with it’s lowly position yet high ideals is closer to the meaning of Christ’s life than the majestic church of Christopher Wren.

Yet we must also be careful.  Although many regarded Jesus as a rebel in His time, He never engaged in lawlessness.  Lawlessness is a deceitful threat that accompanies the Occupy movement, even if that threat is consciously rejected and not knowingly followed.  Lawlessness must be rejected and eschewed.  Government is not a generally and intrinsically evil institution.  The laws, traditions and institutions of the UK are in desperate need of radical reform, yet I do not believe a forceful and ill-thought out revolution is the answer, even if that force is largely peaceful.  That is my view.

Occupy LSX has stood for over three months, and much has been acheived.  Ultimately, though, the wickedness of men both oppressors and protestors cannot be dealt with by reforms or revolution.  The fundamental reform and revolution must be in our hearts, and that can only come through Jesus Christ, the Cross and the Resurrection.

Solution to Occupy LSX at St. Paul’s

With that preamble said and the admission that St. Paul’s has found itself in an almost impossible position, I would like to make a tentative proposal for a possible solution to the impasse.

Occupy should not disappear.  It has an important role.  Yet a semi-permanent camp is not practicable for a working city and a working cathedral.  Also, the occupiers themselves would be well-advised to maintain family, work and friendship links outside of the Occupy camp and technological communication.

As such I would like to propose that St. Paul’s could agree to host 2 Occupy events each, and every, year until such a time comes that the aims of Occupy are realised, whether in current form or a form to develop.

The spiritual aspect of Occupy’s aims are important, and as such would it not be a good idea for the Cathedral to host two events each year, at Easter and at Christmas?  With that situation, the Christian message of justice tempered with mercy and grace would perhaps find an opening in a disparate group, and the fervour and passion of the occupiers may even shake the Church out of her complacency and cosiness with the established systems.  Would it perhaps be an idea for the Occupy camp to host political events and for St. Paul’s to hold spiritual events during these 2 times each year?

Of course, for the movement to remain Occupy there would have to be a camp and a general assembly, but if this was limited to only as many tents as could be safely pitched on St. Paul’s owned land and limited in duration to perhaps a month, then it could possibly be practicable.

There would also need to be a gaining of mutual respect, especially as regards the rather old-fashioned principle of hosts and guests.  It would clearly be the case that St. Paul’s Cathedral would host the camps and that the occupiers would be guests, yet the old-fashioned host/guest principle requires the hosts to be servants and the guests those that are honoured.

Closing

I shall close this proposal, tentative as it is, by saying that I hope and pray for a peaceful resolution to the situation, whether this particular proposal goes anywhere or not.

And I pray that all involved: City, Cathedral and Occupy, may have a wonderful New Year.

 

If you want to add to or suggest other proposals then please do comment or email Church Peace at admin@churchpeace.rabel.org.uk.  Thank you.

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Great Encouragement as Christians Engage

To some it was an unfortunate accident, yet it is becoming clear that God had much wisdom in putting Occupy LSX right on the steps of Britain’s leading Cathedral.

Although there have been some bumpy patches in the relationship between St. Paul’s and the Occupy camp, the new emphasis on dialogue has enabled the Bishop of London and St. Paul’s Chapter to show a Christian kindness – that of showing those who have often had no voice other than protest that they can engage in constructive political debate within the system whilst at the same time protecting their status as those “outside of the system”.  On the 7th December representatives from Occupy London met with the FSA and it has been reported that the discussions were fruitful.

Christian Actions

There have also been moves by the Christian community to engage with the protesters, and on the 1st December the Not Ashamed Campaign held a rally and prayer meeting on the steps of St. Paul’s which included listening to Occupiers and also speaking to them of the necessity of Jesus – that only He can truly be Saviour and Lord.

It is wonderful to hear of such actions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

In a separate move, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote an insightful piece for the Radio Times magazine and asked the question of what Jesus would be doing in regards to Christmas and the Occupy protests.

He stressed that it is not a question of whether Jesus would support or oppose Occupy, but that He would not be sitting quietly by yet rather be there and be asking some searching questions on motives.

Despite many reports claiming Williams was saying Jesus would take sides, he was careful not to give endorsement nor condemnation, but rather to get to the heart of the matter – our heart.

Encouragement

It is, indeed, an encouragement that many Christians from various denominations and of various hues and influence are each, in their own particular way, engaging with Occupy LSX and seeking to use the wonderful God-given opportunities to reach out to, to listen to, and to both encourage and challenge the Occupiers.

In many ways the work here at Church Peace is being done in a God-ordained organic way without Church Peace needing to shout out, and that is good.  But the need to reach out to the wider protest movement and to defend the peaceable nature of the current protests and Church response is still required.

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