(RNS) Shifting Course, St. Paul’s Orders Protesters Out

Posted by Kendall Harmon

More than a week after welcoming anti-corporate protesters onto its grounds, London’s historic St. Paul’s Cathedral now wants them to go away because their presence is costing too much money.

Asking the demonstrators to leave peacefully after nine days of occupying a makeshift tent city in the churchyard, St. Paul’s dean, the Rev. Graeme Knowles, said “we have done this with a very heavy heart.”

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Economics, PoliticsEconomyStock MarketThe Banking System/SectorThe Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--Politics in General* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK

Posted October 25, 2011 at 11:34 am

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1. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

Two observations on this from me:

Firstly, in an interview with Ruth Gledhill, the Dean revealed that Giles Fraser’s initial actions and comments were made without consultation with or approval by the Dean and Chapter, although Dr Graeme Knowles went on to say that Dr Fraser was perfectly entitled to say what he did, which was that people have a right to protest.  Of course what Dr Knowles glaringly did not mention was what else Dr Fraser did and said which was to welcome the protesters, and to tell the police who were keeping the situation under control to back off.  The police complied, the protesters flooded in and set up camp and Dr Fraser has landed the Cathedral in a right old mess, a PR disaster, and some very expensive litigation.  It is pretty clear reading between the lines that he is quite rightly in the doghouse.

Secondly, and perhaps seemingly at odds with what I said in the above paragraph, while I believe Fraser was wrong to do what he did without authority, I grieve for the way things are being handled.    The odd mixture of protesters, many young, some remarkably well spoken, and pretty much all courteous and well-behaved seem to have been initially surprised and impressed by the conduct of the church to them.  This is an unreached group found on the festival circuit such as Glastonbury, believe the world can be changed, and things need to be done to sort out its problems, are socially concerned and probably have had little or no contact with the church in their lives save perhaps a relative’s funeral or wedding if that, and perhaps some folk memory passed down from a parent or grandparent.  Any contact with religion or faith may be some wacky friend who waves crystals about and talks about angels and fung shui.  They seemed genuinely awed by the contact with our church they had.  Shades of the Prodigal Son as they felt welcomed back to the church they had never known.

Now I am not saying that there are not dangers in the situation - the infiltration of harder line anarchist groups; or ending up with a permanent peace camp at St Paul’s replacing the one recently displaced from Parliament Square, but we are the nation’s church and there for ALL the people.  To have closed the Cathedral on unspecified health and safety grounds when there are a number of other viable entrances, to cut off even the current income, and to be dealing with this through litigation is a PR disaster.    An opportunity to reach this group has been lost, who in a strangely trusting way have made their way to a church they think will welcome them [perhaps again that persistent folk-memory] and to have the doors closed in their faces is tragic, and the world’s media are watching, and seeing what we in the Church of England are made of.

It is true that income to the Cathedral has been cut, and it is true there is disruption and the Cathedral is struggling to cope, and there has perhaps been some belated panic.  Notwithstanding the independence of the Dean and Chapter, I wondered whether this is something where the wider diocese and church should not be helping them.    Our church is on display, and a huge opportunity for witness and evangelism not being tackled, both to this group and the wider audience.  What if the choir went out to sing, people were invited to hear the story of Jesus, what if an Alpha or Christianity Explored seminar was given?    This enormous building, built to God’s glory should surely be capable of rising above the panic and cash registers, and to seize the opportunity God has provided, to take the initiative and to take charge of the situation for the Glory of God?

Companies spend huge sums [millions in fact] on the PR and advertising the church has been handed on a plate; yet we worry about the empty cash registers in St Paul’s, and risk alienating further an alienated generation who are in the process of being rebuffed on their first contact with the church.

What if we were to pray about the opportunities God may be providing, and as a church support the Cathedral in dealing with an issue on which we are all being judged.  What if we were to send workers out into the fields around Paternoster Square?

What is the alternative?

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.

Wm Blake - The Garden of Love

Some days I sit and think. Other days I just sit!!

October 25, 5:57 pm | [comment link]
2. Todd Granger wrote:

Well put, Pageantmaster.  Very well put, indeed.

October 25, 7:31 pm | [comment link]

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