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Prayer at the pump for lower petrol prices

Prayer at the pump for lower petrol prices

Rocky Twyman, centre, leads members of the First Church of Seventh-day Adventists in Washington in prayer

Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor

13 July 2008

Battered by rising petrol prices and despairing of the ability of politicians to ease their pain, Americans are turning to the one figure they think can help – God.

Campaigners are holding religious vigils at petrol stations throughout the US, harnessing the power of prayer to ask a higher power for lower pump prices.

The US, which was created as “one nation under God” and enjoyed an economic boom in the age of the motor car, is suffering an economic downturn widely blamed on the soaring price of oil and gas.

The Pray at the Pump movement was founded by a Maryland community activist, Rocky Twyman, when he found that volunteers were failing to turn up at the soup kitchen he organised in Washington DC because they could not afford the fuel to drive in from the suburbs.

“I took them to the Shell station right across the street and we prayed,” he says.

Since that day in April, he has led religious vigils, in which campaigners link arms around petrol pumps and pray for lower prices, in places as far flung as San Francisco and Ohio.

Mr Twyman, 59, a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church, told The Sunday Telegraph: “We believe in the power of prayer. We have seen the power of prayer in our own lives. At my church there was a woman with breast cancer.

“We prayed for her and she went to the doctor one day and it was gone. It really strengthens my faith.”

While petrol prices have risen from under $3 (£1.50) a gallon to more than $4 (£2) a gallon nationwide, Mr Twyman claims some localised success.

“We had a really big all night prayer vigil in Toledo, Ohio, one of the car capitals of the United States.

“It was a tremendous gathering of Baptists, Methodists and Anglicans. After that gathering, the press called me from Toledo and said that the prices had gone down 30 cents.”

He got similar calls from a radio station in Tampa after he urged Floridians to pray for deliverance from rising prices.

Today he was in St Louis, Missouri, for a “pray down the high gas prices” gospel concert, where a composer friend had re-written popular religious anthems “to tie in the need for lower gas prices.”

He’s not just relying on God. Tomorrow Mr Twyman will be leading prayers at the Washington monument in the heart of the nation’s capital and collecting signatures for a petition to the Saudi oil minister, asking him to pump more oil to drive the price down.

“We believe that prayer without works is dead,” he said. “We are asking them to have mercy on the United States. Our country is being destroyed by this crisis. I just don’t think the Saudis understand.

“They claim that they believe in the holy Koran, which preaches compassion for the poor and needy. We’re asking them to prove to us that they believe in this great book and have compassion for America’s poor at this time.”

While fuel costs are far lower in the US than in Britain, the absence of public transport, particularly in rural areas, means Americans are much more dependent on their vehicles and their household budgets are taking a pounding.

Many older gas guzzling vehicles, most likely to be owned by the less well off, manage fewer than 10 miles to the gallon.

Mr Twyman, who drives a Buick LeSabre (20 mpg), says: “This crisis has made me plan out my work trips and errands down to a T, so there’s no wasted driving.”

Rising fuel costs have become the most important issues of the election campaign, prompting pledges from both Barack Obama and John McCain to make America energy independent.

High gas prices are seen as a contributory factor in more than a quarter of a million job losses this year.

Mr Obama regularly talks on the stump about meeting a man who lost his job but could not afford the fuel to go and search for a new one.

Mr McCain has called for more oil drilling off America’s coasts. T. Boone Pickens, one of America’s best known oil men, launched a nationwide advertising campaign last week to get support for alternative energy, including a plan for the world’s largest wind farm in Texas.

In the meantime they might have to rely on divine intervention.

Mr Twyman said: “The poor are really suffering from this crisis. This movement is giving people hope.”

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