'Ring of prayer' to fight St Paul's eviction

More than 200 Christians are on 24-hour standby to rush to the site if bailiffs arrive

Christians have promised to surround the tents of the Occupy protest outside St Paul's Cathedral with a "ring of prayer", in an attempt to stop bailiffs from evicting the people camped there.

The plan could become an acute source of embarrassment for the Church of England, which is now faced with the spectacle of seeing praying Christians dragged from the steps of Britain's most famous cathedral.

Organisers say a multi-denominational group of more than 200 Christians, including serving Anglican clergy, are on 24-hour standby to rush to the camp if police or bailiffs arrive to evict the demonstrators, who have been ordered to leave by the High Court.

Once the call goes out they will descend on the campsite and distribute themselves among the protesters to kneel or stand in prayer.

"If people at the camp believe they are about to be evicted, the call will go out and we will try to get down there as fast as possible," said Symon Hill, from the liberal Christian think- tank Ekklesia, one of the organisers. "The idea is to show the world that people of all sorts of different faiths care deeply about the Occupy protest and the issues it is trying to raise. Each person will make their own decision on what they want to do. Some will go if asked by police, but others will politely refuse and will have to be forcibly removed."

Senior leaders at St Paul's will view the plans with a deep sense of unease. The Cathedral was thrown into turmoil when the Occupy protest first camped on its doorstep and was severely criticised for appearing to side with the City against the protesters.

Three of the cathedral's clergymen, including the Canon Chancellor, Giles Fraser, resigned in protest at the decision by senior officials to press for an eviction.

So far, more than 260 people have signed up to a petition to form part of the ring of prayer. Among the Christian groups supporting the Occupy camp are the Fellowship of Reconciliation – one of Britain's oldest Christian charities – the Student Christian Movement, Christianity Uncut and the evangelical Christian magazine Third Way. In a joint statement, they said: "As Christians, we stand alongside people of all religions who are resisting economic injustice with active non-violence."

Church numbers fall further

The number of people attending Sunday worship dropped by 21,000 last year as the Church of England struggles to arrest its seemingly inexorable decline.

Figures showed that 933,700 people regularly attended Sunday worship, a 2 per cent drop on the previous year. Weekly attendance figures dropped from 1.13 million to 1.12 million. However, the Church has managed to increase the number of weddings it performs. A total of 54,700 couples married in Anglican churches last year, compared with 52,730 in 2009 – the greatest increase in a decade.

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