St Paul’s Cathedral: a PR adviser’s response to criticism, and further reflections

by
16 November 2011

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From the Revd Rob Marshall

Sir, — I am one of a team of com­municators who have been assisting the in-house team at St Paul’s Cathedral. The situation has been and remains highly complex. This story is still evolving, but, after three decades of working for many others in the voluntary sector, I can assure you that this story is like no other.

The premature analysis of some self-appointed PR experts has been disingenuous, particularly when they are not privy to interweaving narratives and conflicting priorities. The Occupy camp in the City of London has conjured up much wider questions for the communica­tion of the Church’s mission in a 21st-century media culture. Those with even the most basic under­standing of PR know that this “story” is far from finished, and those involved at the cutting edge need the prayers and support of the wider Church.

Take Christopher Landau’s most recent example (Comment, 11 November). His rejection of a resurrection model (as suggested by the Bishop of London and the Revd Richard Coles) is astonishing for a priest in training. Does he really believe that the resurrection is a cynical ploy when it comes to the Church’s learning from evolving experiences?

After a sterling career as a BBC journalist, Mr Landau knows that the media need “a line” or “a com­ment”, and the moment one claims, as he does, that “we all represent the Church,” you have an even greater PR calamity. Who, then, is the voice? And what happens when another one pipes up with or tweets a different opinion?

As far as the Church itself is concerned, the Bishop of Bradford, quoted by Mr Landau, is right, and Mr Landau is surely wrong. Bishop Baines asserts that our structures make it difficult for “the Church” per se to speak out and to react to events.

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But it is Mr Landau’s trite gen­eral­isations in the area of a theology of working with the media which need challenging the most, because anyone can write them, but do they add up? What does he mean when he writes (bearing in mind the lack of one voice) that “it is in the midst of a crisis that our lack of coherent theology is so apparent,” or, even worse, that “when the subject-matter feels edgy”, the Church “pulls up the drawbridge”?

For instance, starting next month, all places of worship will be legally permitted to conduct civil part­nership ceremonies. The media would love a “coherent [Church of Eng­land] theology” or policy on such a matter, but it will find a wide range of often conflicting views. This isn’t a question of drawing up the draw­bridge, as it might be perceived by cynics: it’s just that such diversity of views equals media fodder. In Mr Landau’s own words, “questions about the theology that underpins how and why, at every level, the Church speaks in public” need mature theological reflection and a reality check. There is nothing wrong with learning from the recent past, as long as you are realistic about the context in every respect.

The Church of England is a com­plex, devolved, human community where clarity and conviction (as demanded by the media) is for ever blurred by the richness of a broad and devolved Church. That is not an excuse. It is the reality of life. And it raises constant questions about how we can improve our overall media image without shouting vainly from the hilltops or preaching platitudes in a fast-changing 24-hour social-media context.

In my own view, the ongoing challenges facing St Paul’s mirror many issues facing a world currently in economic crisis and the wider Church. A “simple” approach can­not ignore a myriad of interrelated and highly complex issues.

ROB MARSHALL
Media 33 Director
4 Kensington Church Court
London W8 4SP

From the Revd R. C. Paget

Sir, — Andrew Brown is to be con­gratulated on his remarkable ability as PR spokesman for the liberals in the Church of England to fashion a feast out of a dog’s dinner from the St Paul’s affair.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, and completely missing the common Zeitgeist, he delights in praising and even advocating the “muddled way” and the “lumbering, absurdly, on” style of the Church of England’s engagement and leader­ship. He cites in his support the Archbishop of Canterbury’s defence of the cathedral’s confusion; but, in that case, it surely was “an index of. . . incompetence”, however much — and one would not wish to deny it — an “index of the sensitivity of such matters”.

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Having belittled the very real pastoral concerns of Evangelical churches — there are many other concerned churches, too, I can as­sure you — about the gay lifestyle, he goes on to assert that the mud­dled way is “at the moment, the only sort of Christianity that can be”.

For middle-of-the-road Anglicans like me, this simply confirms the increasing gulf between the liberal leadership and most laity and clergy, who, whatever their churchmanship, sense that such undisguised delight in muddle and confusion, while intellectually fascinating to the few, has been a significant factor in the decline of the Church of England but growth in the Church in Eng­land.

R. C. PAGET
The Vicarage, Brenchley
Kent TN12 7NN

From Master Aidan Fincham

Sir, — In reply to the Revd D. M. Porter’s letter last week, asking when the excessive entry charges at St Paul’s will cease, I would like to suggest that it will be when, per­haps, he fund-raises just a little for the Chapter and the work of this great cathedral in London, set among both the rich and poor.

Having been asked this summer to pay £9 for a parent to accompany me to the lavatory in York Minster, I appreciated the work of our own Dean and Chapter in Chichester, who do all they can to keep our cathedral open free of charge to visitors, of whatever faith or how­ever wealthy.

This touched me so much that I arranged with my Vicar to hold a stall of home-made produce after the Sunday service. On my own, I raised £80, which I was able to present to Dean Frayling and the Chapter after evensong at Chi­chester Cathedral last week.

AIDAN FINCHAM (aged 10)
7 Harding Avenue, Eastbourne
East Sussex BN22 8PH

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