I have been forcibly removed from buildings by police on several occasions, but never before have I been dragged from the steps of a church as I knelt in prayer. I am profoundly shocked to have been dragged from my knees as I prayed about economic injustice on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.
What is even more alarming is that this seems to have been done with the support and approval of the cathedral authorities.
The incident took place during the forced eviction of the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp. I have not long got back home, having spend the night at the eviction. I was praying with other Christians. We declared our solidarity with people of other religions and none who are resisting economic injustice with active nonviolence.
On two occasions, the police physically pushed back a group of people who were praying. Later, we decided to pray on the cathedral steps. We knew – or thought we knew – that we couldn’t be removed from there, because the eviction order related only to the land owned by the City of London Corporation. It didn’t cover the cathedral.
But then police threatened us with arrest if we did not move. They told us, several times, that the cathedral had given them permission to remove us.
I was one of several people who were removed while praying. I’m not sure how many. There was Anglican, Quaker and Buddhist involvement, and probably more. Some were hurt more than me. One Quaker was carried down by several officers as he loudly prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I was dragged away from the steps by two policeman, but I returned shortly afterwards. I was recognised, and thought I would be arrested, but I was again removed to the bottom of the steps, which the police now surrounded.
I knelt there reciting Psalm 23 (which got a bit garbled in my confusion), before the police told me I was too close to the steps. I again politely refused to move, and was carried further away.
This whole outrage raises urgent questions for the cathedral authorities and the bishop of London.
- Were they aware of the eviction date and time before it happened?
- If so, did they attempt to influence the procedures in any way, for example by arguing for a more humane time of day?
- Did they really give permission for the removal of peaceful people from their steps? If so, when did they do so?
- Why did they choose to take this action?
- Do they still believe it was the right thing to do?
Throughout the night, we were approached by people, many of them non-Christians, who thanked us for praying at the eviction. As we watched the people destroy their peaceful camp, I wondered if it was enough to offer. But it was apparently too much for the Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral.