LONDON (Reuters) - Plunging world stock markets have produced reactions from bewilderment to terror among traders, but one group believes the financial crisis requires an altogether different response — prayer. On the anniversary of the 1929 Wall Street Crash, a cross-denominational 100-strong group of Christians united in City Temple Church in London’s financial district on Wednesday to pray for an end to market instability and ask God that economies should not enter a 1930s-style Great Depression. Carrying a banner depicting a huge lion — symbolizing the biblical Lion of Judah, or Jesus — with one paw on a bull and other on a bear, the group then headed to the London Stock Exchange, epicenter of the UK’s quaking financial system.
In tandem with teams in New York, Dublin and Amsterdam, Christians stood in small groups or marched round the Stock Exchange’s premises in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, asking God to intervene in the turmoil of recent months and praying for those affected by the credit crisis.
“I’m not a doomsday prophet, I’m not speaking judgment,” said American Sharon Stone, founder of Christian International Europe and co-ordinator of the group.
“We believe God is God of the economy also. We’re praying for mercy that there won’t be losses of jobs, that there won’t be losses of homes and that any greater crisis will be averted.”
The group, which had come from all over the UK and included workers from the London Stock Exchange and the International Monetary Fund, comprised Anglicans, Catholics, Pentecostals and other Christian denominations.
This demonstrates an increased willingness amongst believers to work together and to roll up their sleeves as the crisis bites, said 54 year-old Stone, a church pastor since the age of 19.
“This is the easiest prayer gathering I’ve had in 35 years,” she said.
Spiritual leaders have already waded into the financial crisis.
Pope Benedict recently said those building their life on material things or on success built their house on sand.
And last month the Church of England’s Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, likened those short-selling some financial stocks — hedge funds or other traders who bet on falling prices — to “bank robbers and asset strippers.”
However, Wednesday’s gathering at the LSE reflects a growing desire from ordinary people, whether believers or non-believers, to engage with the bigger questions of life, as market falls erase billions of pounds of wealth and jobs and homes look less secure.
So far in October the main UK share index, the FTSE 100, has fallen 15 percent, including an incredible 10 separate sessions in which it closed up or down more than 5 percent.
Meanwhile, home repossessions rose 71 percent during the second quarter on a year ago, while unemployment in the three months to August rose more than expected to 5.7 percent.
“People are worried about their jobs. And when they lose their jobs ... it brings a sense of ‘what am I doing, why am I here’,” said Omar Raja, a business consultant and chairman of the Wharf Muslim Association, a spiritual and networking group in London’s Docklands business district.
Dramatic examples of people whose life has been changed by a religious experience directly linked to the credit crisis are so far lacking, but religious groups are starting to see new interest from those on the outside.
St Peter’s Barge, a floating church based near the gleaming towers of the Canary Wharf district’s once-mighty banks, says it has seen more new faces at lunchtime talks aimed at bankers and other professionals on topics such as the credit crisis.
“There is a general, low-level anxiety amongst people. They’re worried about their jobs, their kids, how to make ends meet. It seems to be all-pervasive,” said senior pastor Marcus Nodder.
“There doesn’t seem to be much good news. It does get on top of people and make them ask questions when the world is falling apart.”
Editing by Paul Bolding