Beijing church faces eviction in tense times

Sun Apr 3, 2011 11:50am GMT

By Chris Buckley and Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) - Tears flowed at one of Beijing's biggest "house" churches when some 300 Chinese Christians prayed on the last Sunday before they face eviction from their makeshift place of worship, pressed by officials wary about religion outside of their grip.

The Shouwang Church, with about 1,000 members, is one of the biggest Protestant congregations in Beijing that has expanded beyond the confines of churches registered and overseen by the ruling Communist Party's religious affairs authorities.

But the Party is wary about any potential unrest, and this gathering of neat middle-class and student Christians has been told by its landlord that it can no longer worship at the "Old Story Restaurant," with its walls lined with pictures of Chinese Party leaders shaking hands with former U.S. presidents.

Church leaders warned that unless the church can find a new home, its members may be forced to worship outdoors, a risky step in this nation where big gatherings often attract official scrutiny and can be broken up by police.

"This is the cross that the church has to bear," Pastor Jin Tianming told the worshippers about the prospect of worship outdoors. Some of them wiped tears from their faces.

"We need a formal approval from the authorities to allow us to find an indoor meeting place. If not, we will not waver in worshipping outdoors."

Members of the church told Reuters that they did not see themselves as political activists or foes of the government. But the pressures they face shows the extent of China's recent crackdown on dissent and potential sources of unrest.

"Some people may face getting caught, may have to stand trial or may even be sentenced," You Guanhui, an older pastor told the congregation about the possibility of gathering in a park or other public place.   Continued...

<p>Chinese artist Ai Weiwei throws porcelain sunflower seeds into the air as he poses with his installation "Sunflower Seeds", in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern gallery, in London in this October 11, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/Files</p>
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