Huge turnout at funeral for house church leader in Guangzhou
Memorial for Samuel Lamb, a prominent figure in the unofficial church movement, attracts large turnout - and police presence - in Guangzhou
Tens of thousands of mourners attended the funeral of Pastor Samuel Lamb in Guangzhou yesterday, paying tribute to the beacon of China's unofficial church movement amid a heavy police presence.
A wide column of people, many dressed in traditional mourning of white or black, formed outside the Guangzhou Yinhe funeral house in Tianhe district. The event was scheduled for today, but Lamb's church announced in the morning it was bringing the service forward, citing "venue limitations".
Elderly rural women waited with city office workers for up to an hour to enter the building and walk past the casket. Lamb, also known as Lin Xiangao , died on August 3, at age 88.
"There are nearly 30,000 people here today," one employee with the funeral home said. "I have been working here for 10 years and have never seen anything like this before. Even the funeral procession for Guangdong's former [party chief] did not attract such a turnout."
Dozens of plain-clothes police and uniformed officers watched the crowd. Activist lawyer Tang Jingling and his wife were removed from the line by state security agents, witnesses said.
Wen Yu, a 38-year-old lawyer , said more would have attended if the funeral were held today as originally planned.
"So many people who had heard of Lamb's name or his preaching flocked to attend his memorial. Many can't make it today because of work," Wen said. He suggested the service was rescheduled because "authorities didn't want to see a funeral service get out of control".
"Pastor Lamb's passing represented the end of a generation of remarkable Christians who held onto their faith during the 1950s and underwent labour camp reform," Wen said. "Upon their release, they continued to preach, laying the seeds of gospel in modern China. They are the reason why Christianity can prosper in China today."
Lamb was one of the most influential leaders of the mainland's house church. In 1958, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail because he refused to register his church with authorities.
After his release in 1978, Lamb set up Guangzhou's largest house church. In recent years, the church was allowed to operate largely without state interference, but only after enduring two decades of constant raids and the arrest of church leaders. Weekly attendance at the church's main service, held in a privately owned building in Yuexiu district, had risen to 5,000 people at the time of his death.
"Even representatives from the officially approved church came to pay tribute, his faith influenced us so much," said a Lamb church employee.