Tribute: a protester marks the departure of Canon Giles Fraser
Tribute: a protester marks the departure of Canon Giles Fraser
THE Church of England has reached a critical moment at which it must “get away from its in-house ecclesiastical agenda” and serve the people of England, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, says today.
Writing in the Church Times in the wake of the trouble at St Paul’s Cathedral, he says: “I believe that this is a moment in which St Paul’s, and the Church in general, has been shown how it can get away from an in-house ecclesiastical agenda, and its passion for elaborating defensive bureaucracy, in order to serve the agenda of the people of England at a critical moment in our history.”
Bishop Chartres was writing at the end of a turbulent week that brought forth the resignation of the Dean of St Paul’s, the Rt Revd Graeme Knowles, on Monday, and a reversal of the cathedral’s support for a legal injunction to remove the protesters on Tuesday.
On Wednesday of last week, the Dean and Chapter had voted to support the injunction against the protesters. Legal action had “regrettably become necessary”, they said. This led to the resignation of the Canon Chancellor, the Revd Dr Giles Fraser, announced on Thursday morning. In a brief resignation statement, he said that he could not face the prospect of “Dale Farm on the steps of St Paul’s”.
The cathedral reopened to visitors on Friday, but criticism was mounting over its stance. The mood began changing on Sunday, when the Dean and Bishop Chartres spoke with protesters outside St Paul’s. By then, it was clear that opinion in the C of E was against the Chapter. In an online Church Times poll of nearly 500 readers, four out of five respondents disagreed with the forcible removal of the protesters.
At a press briefing on Monday, the Registrar of St Paul’s, Major-General Nicholas Cottam, read out a statement by Dean Knowles, aged 60, who said that mounting criticism of the cathedral had made it clear that his position “was becoming untenable.
“In order to give the opportunity for a fresh approach to the complex and vital questions facing St Paul’s, I have thought it best to stand down as Dean, to allow new leadership to be exercised. I do this with great sadness, but I now believe that I am no longer the right person to lead the Chapter of this great cathedral.”
A statement from the Chapter said that it had “unanimously voted to request the Bishop of London to assist them in providing an independent voice on the ongoing situation at St Paul’s”.
Bishop Chartres said that he regarded the resignation of Dean Knowles “as a tragedy for a man who has served in a very distinguished way”.
Bishop Chartres met the Chapter late on Monday night and early on Tuesday morning. At lunchtime on Tuesday, it was announced that the Chapter had “unanimously agreed to suspend . . . legal action against the protest camp”.
The move was welcomed by one of the many clerics who have visited the camp to offer support. Speaking on Tuesday outside St Paul’s, the Revd Ian Harker, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Leytonstone, said: “Coming from an area of London where people are scraping together to make a life, and where resources are being cut, what’s being said here is . . . exactly the message of Jesus: how to have a society which you call the Kingdom where we all share.”
Bishop Chartres said: “The alarm bells are ringing all over the world. St Paul’s has now heard that call. Today’s decision means that the doors are most emphatically open to engage with the matters concerning not only those encamped around the cathedral but millions of others in this country and around the globe.”
Bishop Chartres has invited Ken Costa, an investment banker and a churchwarden of Holy Trinity, Brompton, to join the St Paul’s Institute “to spearhead an initiative reconnecting the financial with the ethical”. Mr Costa would be supported “by a number of City, church, and public figures”. One of these will be Canon Fraser, who formerly led the institute.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, Stuart Fraser, the policy chairman of the City of London Corporation, which was expected to serve the protesters with court papers that day, said that it had “pressed the ‘pause’ button” on legal action. He said: “We want to leave more space for a resolution of this difficult issue — while at the same time not backing away from our responsibilities as a Highway Authority. We’re hoping to use a pause — probably of days not weeks — to work out a measured solution.”
At a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon in the cathedral, the Canon Pastor, the Rt Revd Michael Colclough, said that, earlier in the day, members of the Chapter had met leaders of the protesters who “listened carefully and . . . are responding in a positive way.
“I came away from that meeting believing that we can do business with these people. . . We hope that, by establishing regular meetings between our leadership and their leadership, we will develop a confidence in one another and an overall strategy.”
Canon Colclough said that it had been the Chapter’s desire “all along” to engage in dialogue with protesters, but that “while there was the possibility of legal action on the table, the legal advice was that we could not.”
He said that the Chapter “in no way hid” a report by the St Paul’s Institute which was due to be published this week. “We genuinely believe that, had the report been published in the heat of that moment, the important prophetic message of that report would have been lost.”
Writing in the Church Times today, Canon Fraser says that the “very difficult” situation at St Paul’s is “a historic opportunity for the Church to reset its relationship with the marketplace. . . For too long the Church has been obsessed with its own internal workings and with silly arguments about sex. Now is the time for a new debate and a new emphasis.”
The director of the Christian Socialist Movement, Andy Flannagan, said on Tuesday: “We don’t have to sign up to the protesters’ complete agenda to engage with what they are talking about. Church and politicians need to get back into this debate about morality in markets.”
Question of the week: Should the St Paul’s protesters disband their camp yet?
A history of protest
St Paul's timeline
Saturday 15 October: Occupy London protesters set up camp in St Paul’s churchyard after they are prevented by police from entering nearby Paternoster Square, the base of the London Stock Exchange.
Sunday 16 October: The Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, Dr Giles Fraser, tells police surrounding the cathedral that their presence is “unnecessary”. He tells the BBC that he is “very happy that people exercise their right to protest peacefully”.
Monday 17 October: The Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s issue a statement saying that it is “important” that people are able to visit the cathedral “freely”, and that “the daily life” of the cathedral “can continue without serious interruption”.
Wednesday 19 October: The Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s issue a statement saying that, given the “increased scale and nature of the protest camp”, it “must now review the extent to which it can remain open”. It asks: “Is it now time for the protest camp to leave?”
Friday 21 October: The Dean announces “with a heavy heart” that the cathedral will close that afternoon because of health-and-safety concerns about the campsite. An open letter is sent to protesters asking them to “withdraw peacefully”.
Saturday 22 October: Canon Fraser, in a statement says the right to protest “has to be balanced against other rights and responsibilities”. He dismisses claims that the cathedral was closed for commercial reasons.
Wednesday 26 October: The Dean says that he is “optimistic” that the cathedral can reopen the following Friday “following significant changes to the layout of those dwelling in tents outside of the cathedral”. The City of London Corporation says that it has called a special meeting “to hear legal advice” about taking legal action to remove the protesters. In the afternoon, the Dean and Chapter vote to support legal action to remove the protesters.
Thursday 27 October: Shortly after 9 a.m., Canon Fraser posts a message on Twitter: “It is with great regret and sadness that I have handed in my notice at St Paul’s Cathedral.” In a further statement, he says: “I resigned because I believe that the Chapter has set on a course of action that could mean there will be violence in the name of the Church.”
Friday 28 October: Shortly before reopening the cathedral for the lunchtime eucharist, the Dean and Chapter issue a statement saying that “legal action has regrettably become necessary.”
Saturday 29 October: the Bishop of Buckingham, the Dr Alan Wilson, complains of the “hysterical over-reaction” by St Paul’s.
Sunday 30 October: The Bishop of London and the Dean speak to protesters. Bishop Chartres says that there is “no use for violent confrontation” with protesters.
Monday 31 October: Dean Knowles announces his intention to resign, having told the Chapter and Bishop Chartres of his decision the night before. The Chapter says that it has asked for the “input” of Bishop Chartres.
Tuesday 1 November: St Paul’s announces that the Chapter has “unanimously agreed to suspend its current legal action against the protesters outside the camp”. The City of London Corporation announces that it will call a temporary halt to its legal attempts to eject the protest camp. Members of the Chapter begin the first, they hope, of regular meetings.