Crisis at St Paul’s: readers’ responses as the past week’s events unfolded

02 November 2011


From Professor Richard Bauckham

Sir, — I have never been so saddened by the failure of the leaders of our Church to lead. For two weeks, while the events at St Paul’s became both a subject of national interest and, as has been said again and again, a public-relations disaster for the Church, both Archbishops and all diocesan bishops stubbornly refused to comment, even when asked.

Whatever the reasons for this silence, it has spoken volumes. It has said that they refused solidarity with the principled actions of Canon Giles Fraser and the Revd Fraser Dyer. It has said that they had no criticism to make of the greed and irresponsibility that are rife in the financial sector.

I am sure that none of the bishops wanted to be understood to be saying that; but meaning relates to context. In the actual context of the past two week, which includes the prominence of these events in the media and in the public consciousness, this is what their silence means.

The resignation of the Dean of St Paul’s has led the Archbishop of Canterbury finally to break his silence — merely to tell us that the issues are important. Whether the cathedral’s legal action against the protesters will go ahead is, at the time of writing, still unresolved. But even now it appears that our Archbishops and bishops have simply not grasped the huge symbolic significance of what has occurred.

Many — and I would even venture to say, most — of the clergy and laity are appalled by the impression that has been given that the hierarchy of our Church want at all costs to dissociate themselves from the Occupy London protest.

For the media and for many people inside and outside the Church, questions about the coherence of the protesters’ ideas and about the legality of their presence on cathedral land are far less important than the fact that they are giving voice to widespread public revulsion at the outrageous behaviour of investment bankers.

The significance of the Occupy London camp is symbolic. It expresses what very many people feel about the City of London and their frustration that still nothing has changed. Simply to say, as the Bishop of London does, that the protesters have made their point but should now go home, confident that people like himself have these issues on their agenda, is both patronisingly élitist and, in the circumstances, not believable. Most of us do not want the protesters evicted, because they stand for concerns to which the Church should be giving hospitality.

The St Paul’s débâcle has been, and continues to be, a public-relations catastrophe for the Church. But the reason why it has been such a catastrophe is that it has been a failure of prophetic witness. The Church’s mission to the nation has been compromised severely. It is a critical moment to which we have a right to expect our episcopal lead­ers to react with integrity and clarity.

11 Archway Court
Cambridge CB3 9LW

From the Revd Phillip Jones and Prebendary Olwen Smith

Sir, — It was, perhaps, inevitable that the tensions at St Paul’s should lead to the resignation of the Dean. While we are sad that it has come to this for the Rt Revd Graeme Knowles, we feel, as Church of England clergy and industrial missioners, that the cathedral has missed a real opportunity to engage publicly with the campaigners about the serious issues of power and wealth in our economic system.

The cathedral’s preferred approach of quiet discussion in private seems to have had little discernible effect on the way in which institutions of the City which surround it are run. It is time to recognise, with the Occupy movement around the world, that the place of the debate is shifting. This may be a kairos moment, not least in the context of recent news about top directors’ pay and before another round of bankers’ bonuses.

Christianity is not against capitalism per se; but Jesus was very clearly on the side of the poor and dispossessed, and against the rich and powerful. His challenging of those in authority and of vested interests made him very unpopular. It may be difficult for those in the Church who are close to those in power to face this challenge, but they should remember the ultimate vindication of the rightness of Christ’s way.

Many Christians and others we know are deeply concerned about the growing inequality of wealth distribution both in this country and globally, and many industrial missioners are meeting regularly with people fearful of being made redundant and those who have already lost their jobs.

Much research shows that happiness and well-being are about more than the accumulation of ever greater wealth. It is time for a more thoroughgoing public debate about the purposes of our economic system and how it is to be shaped beyond our present short-term anxieties. There may now be an opportunity for St Paul’s and for the Church more generally to take the lead.

A first step towards reconciliation and the redeeming of the situation might be for Canon Giles Fraser’s paper on the subject, which was to have been issued on the date of his resignation, to be published sooner rather than later, and a public debate on the issues hosted by the St Paul’s Institute.

7 Egremont Gardens
Berkeley Hunderton
Worcester WR4 0QH

66 Albert Road
Wolverhampton WV6 0AF

From Mr Simon Walsh

Sir, — The location of the protesters outside St Paul’s Cathedral looks like an accident of geography. Until a few years ago, the Stock Exchange was located on the other side of the City of London’s Square Mile, closer to the Bank of England.

Sadly, the Paternoster Square development, which now houses the Stock Exchange, being next to the cathedral, has made the Church something of a political victim. The Corporation of London and the City itself have been somewhat silent on the protest issue, and actions have been allowed to speak louder than words.

The resignation of the Dean is an absolute tragedy. It has been forced by people who seem more interested in this intractable encampment than in any constructive dialogue. By their actions, they refuse to show support for any Christian message, and prefer instead an undignified, self-indulgent circus. What hope for partnership in the gospel?

It is little wonder that the Chap­ter feel besieged, when any “help” that cometh from the City is at best debatable, and protesters encircle them like a revolutionary mob.

Member of London diocesan synod
17 Bagshot House
Redhill Street
London NW1 4BY

From Prebendary David Roberts

Sir, — With reference to the clumsiness at St Paul’s, it seems that we are destined to lose the battle for public sympathy and good will through ill-conceived action.

The media are ever present and unforgiving. The situation is complex, and no doubt there was much going on that we have not been told about; but what we need in order to enable us to be worthy of a hearing as we seek to live the gospel are not flying bishops, but flying PR advisers. Only so do we stand a chance of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

14 Beaconsfield Park
Shropshire SY8 4LY

From the Revd Graham Sykes

Sir, — I don’t always agree with Canon Giles Fraser’s theology, as expressed in some of his contributions to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, or in his Church Times articles. I do, however, listen to him, because he is challenging, well thought out, and articulate.

In recent days, we have seen the integrity of the connection between what he says and his actions. I now have an even deeper respect and admiration for him. His resignation from the Chapter of St Paul’s on the grounds of his Christian principles is real gospel stuff.

Church buildings have a sacra­mental presence. They are the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace of the gospel. Where does prioritising the revenue stream from the building as tourist attraction fit with the gospel imperative of being a prophetic voice against the unjust structures of our society and for the poor?

It seems to me that the sacramental integrity of the building, like so many of our church buildings, has been damaged by the discontinuity between what we say we believe and how we behave as a Church.

The Vicarage, 28 Church Lane
Bromyard, Herefordshire HR7 4DZ

From Tessa Bloodworth

Sir, — Thank God for Canon Giles Fraser. Here’s hoping he continues to be the conscience of the Church of England, reassuring us that it is worth sticking with.

27 Clayhall Road, Gosport, Hants

From Mr Robin Bryant

Sir, — I am deeply saddened by the news that the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, the Revd Dr Giles Fraser, has resigned his post, deeming it untenable.

Here was a radical cleric who, in all this sad scenario surrounding the protesters encamped at St Paul’s, has shown Christlike understanding and compassion for the protesters.

I have mused at what might have been the response if the dear Salvation Army had been faced with a similar situation. I rather suspect they would have embraced it in Christian love.

Trays of hot drinks would be distributed frequently. They would invite the protesters to use the toilet facilities (possibly shaking a tin for a small donation to pay for the extra cleaners required). But I fear the Church has failed to grasp the wonderful opportunity presented to it on its doorstep, and an almighty wedge has been driven between it and the campers.

17 Softwater Lane
Hadleigh, Benfleet
Essex SS7 2NE

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — During the last election, I asked a now Tory MP to define justice, and he observed that, like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. So long as God is excluded from the equation, that is all we can have: a plethora of discordant human standards, and everyone doing what is right in their own sight.

It is only in the Christian hope that God shall judge among the nations and establish his justice that we may see the evils of society remedied. The fact that the anti-capitalist protesters were willing to silence the Cathedral implies that they could not see this; and this makes them part of the problem, not the solution.

As a longstanding life Friend of St Paul’s Cathedral, I would say that clearly our Canon Chancellor knows we cannot have order in a fallen world unless the civic powers may resort to force, even lethal force, in the last instance. Lead-thefts will not stop if we simply politely ask such thieves to desist.

But should force ever be used against peaceful protests? Should the state ever protect the Church, whether established or not? Those willing to be disruptive of society until they get their way are not simply engaging in the political process by reason and the ballot box: they are using bullying tactics until they get their way.

As such, no matter how peaceful, this is an exercise of power — illegitimate power subversive of both the democratic process and good order in society. It should, therefore, be resisted, even if we may be misunderstood by those who have their own perverse wisdom and standards.

17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD

From Dr P. H. Brazier

Sir, — Canon Giles Fraser has commented in the media (The Guardian, Friday 28 October) that Jesus would have been born in the demonstrators’ tented encampment alongside St Paul’s Cathedral. He simply does not understand the theo-logic of the incarnation-nativity.

There would have been “no room at the encampment” among the popular and fashionable demon­strators. A night-watchman at the Stock Exchange would have surrep­titiously taken them in through the back door, and Mary would have given birth in the basement among the transaction records of the Zacchaeus-like pariahs of casino capitalism, fat cats and greedy pigs rather than cows lowing and sheep sleeping safely.

64 Oxford Avenue
London SW20 8LT

From Mr Christopher Clayton

Sir, — The Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s state that the protesters are hindering their long-term engagement with the City of London on ethical issues.

Two thousand years ago, the High Priest and the Elders wanted Jesus dead because he was undermining the delicate balancing act which allowed them to retain the tolerance of the Roman occupiers.

Orchard Cottage
Brown Heath Road, Waverton
Cheshire CH3 7PN

From Mr William G. Ives

Sir, — I emailed the authorities at St Paul’s Cathedral suggesting that they had a wonderful (God-given?) opportunity, with a “captive audience” camping on their doorstep, for some open-air evangelism. I don’t know whether they received my email, but I didn’t get a reply.

I suggested that they consider inviting a gospel choir or a Christian worship band, perhaps from somewhere like Holy Trinity, Brompton, or All Souls’, Langham Place, if they couldn’t manage anything other than a choir used only to evensong, and have Christians there to give testimonies or have an open-air preacher.

I expect the congregation at St Paul’s sings the hymn “We have a gospel to proclaim”. Here is the opportunity to do just that — proclaim. If the protesters insist on camping on the cathedral’s ground, they cannot complain if they are presented with Christian worship and missionary zeal, preferably through loudspeakers.

Perhaps they could even consider setting up an Alpha course? Surely there are churches in London which would oblige.

I have always been led to believe that the prime ministry of the ordained is the cure of souls. These protesters have their firmly held cause, but the Church has its cause, too: bringing people to Christ.

39 Oldfields Crescent
Great Haywood
Stafford ST18 0RS

From the Revd Andy Myers

Sir, — When, with many of my parishioners in an economically deprived part of Leeds, I have heard with horror what has been going on at St Paul’s, two passages of scrip­ture have kept coming into my mind: John 1.14, “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us,” and, in the light of the decision to serve notice on the protesters to move, John 18.3, “So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priest and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.”

How long will many of those in authority in our Church take the line of “prudence”? It is again losing our Church its credibility with countless clued-up, intelligent people, who once more will see a huge dissonance between the Jesus whom we preach this Christmas and the way in which we manage our establishments.

Thanks be to God for clergy like Canon Giles Fraser, who have taken the bold self-sacrificial step of not being able to associate themselves with the principalities and powers of this world, which are ever working against the gospel, which has a revolutionary, subversive bias towards the suffering poor.

I am wondering this Christmas where many people will look for Christ: in our churches or with those in the tents? I am proud of many of my parishioners who on Sunday said that if the protesters pitched their tents in Middleton churchyard, we would do the service in there, and make them a cup of tea afterwards.

St Cross Vicarage
Middleton Park Avenue
Leeds LS10 4HT

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