AT ABOUT 7.20 a.m. on Sunday 16 October last year, Canon Giles
Fraser turned up at St Paul's Cathedral to find a police cordon on
the steps, guarding the cathedral.
In the churchyard area in front of the steps, several hundred
anti-capitalism protesters from the Occupy movement had set up
camp. They had arrived the previous day, almost by accident, having
been prevented from entering Paternoster Square, next to St Paul's,
where the London Stock Exchange is located. They would remain for
another four months.
The Occupy movement rose to prominence a month earlier, when
protesters set up camp in Zuccotti Park, New York City, near Wall
Street. The movement's core criticism of global capitalism was
encapsulated in its "We are the 99 per cent" slogan, which alluded
to the concentration of wealth among the top one per cent of income
The movement demanded wholesale change of the neo-liberal
economic order, which, it said, had generated colossal
inequalities. Occupy camps sprang up in dozens of cities around
the world, connected with one another by means of social-media
sites such as Twitter. It was a protest movement for the 21st
On that Sunday, however, a more immediate problem was at the
forefront of Canon Fraser's mind: how would worshippers enter the
cathedral for the 8 a.m. communion?
He approached the police officer in charge. "There were about a
dozen protesters sitting on the steps. I said: 'If you [the police]
come down, I'll ask the protesters to come down, and we can get
everybody in [to communion]. I didn't ask the police to leave the
environment, just the front of the steps."
When the police agreed to his request, Canon Fraser received a
round of applause from the protesters. They then asked him two
questions: are we welcome at communion? and do you believe in the
right of people to protest peacefully?
Not surprisingly, Canon Fraser answered both in the affirmative.
Shortly afterwards, a BBC reporter asked him what would happen if
the protesters stayed a long time. "We'll see how it goes," he
His comments were interpreted by protesters as an invitation, on
behalf of the whole cathedral, to stay. But Canon Fraser's
colleagues in the cathedral Chapter were less sanguine about their
new neighbours, who rapidly appeared to be assembling a small
metropolis. Before long, Portaloos, cooking equipment, and a
library had been set up; and academics visited to give lectures on
global capitalism in the "Tent City".
OVER the next week, public statements from the Dean of St
Paul's, the Rt Revd Graeme Knowles, and the wider Chapter betrayed
increasing anxiety. On 17 October, they appealed for daily life
to be allowed to continue "without serious interruption". Two days
later, they indicated that they might have to close the cathedral,
and asked: "Is it time for the protest camp to leave?"
On the afternoon of Friday 21 October, Dean Knowles convened a
press conference in the Chapter House, and announced, "with a heavy
heart", that the cathedral would close that day.
The cathedral said that it had received health and safety advice
that gave it no lawful alternative but to close. Its refusal to
publish the advice, however, invited speculation that there were
other reasons for the closure, such as the fall in revenue caused
by the presence of the camp - something that the cathedral
A Christian member of the Occupy camp, Tanya Paton, having
toured the site with fire-brigade officers, was puzzled by the
stated reasons for the cathedral closure. "We did everything that
the fire brigade had asked us to," she says.
Despite a plea from the Dean and Chapter that they "withdraw
peacefully", the Occupy protesters had no intention of leaving any
time soon. The movement was rapidly growing in numbers and
influence. Smaller camps were springing up outside other
cathedrals, in cities such as Exeter and Sheffield.
Occupy's methods sat uneasily with some, but the movement's
disquiet with the inequalities generated by global capitalism
struck a chord with many, especially in the media. Occupy London
would issue a series of demands, including one to the City of
London Corporation, the municipal governing body of London's
financial centre, that it should become more transparent.
THE following Wednesday, 26 October, the City of London
Corporation, which owns part of the area in front of St Paul's,
said that it had received legal advice about removing the camp.
That afternoon, the Dean and Chapter voted to support legal action
to remove the protesters.
Canon Fraser dissented from the Chapter's decision, and handed
in his notice immediately. "I loved the place, and I loved my
colleagues, and it was a huge matter of regret to have to leave,"
he says. "But not for one moment have I thought that I did the
It was not long before camera crews were outside his home,
seeking to track down the cathedral canon now cast by parts of the
media as a modern-day Wat Tyler.
On Friday 28 October, the cathedral reopened for the lunchtime
eucharist. Shortly before, the Dean and Chapter - now minus Canon
Fraser - made public its decision to join the City Corporation in
taking legal action to clear the site.
These decisions - first, to close the cathedral, and then to
take legal action against the protesters - provoked a storm of
criticism. Convinced that his position had become untenable, Dean
Knowles decided to stand down. On Sunday evening, after evensong,
he convened an emergency meeting of the Chapter at the Deanery.
The next day, a statement was released, saying that he would stand
down immediately to allow "new leadership to be exercised".
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, whom the
Chapter had asked for "input", told the press conference that it
was a "tragedy for a man who has served in a very distinguished
THE next day, the Chapter performed an about-turn, and
announced that it had "unanimously agreed to suspend" legal action
against the protesters.
In the absence of a Dean, Bishop Chartres increasingly assumed
control of the crisis. He wrote in the Church Times that
it was time to "get away from an in-house ecclesiastical agenda . .
. in order to serve the agenda of the people of England at a
critical moment in our history" (
Comment, 4 November 2011).
Bishop Chartres persuaded Ken Costa, the Christian investment
banker, to set up a new organisation, London Connection, which
would focus on ethics and the City. With some reluctance, Mr Costa
accepted. Not much has been heard of the organisation since.
It was to take a ruling from the High Court, on behalf of the
Corporation of London, to remove the protesters, and the camp was
finally disbanded by police on 28 February (
News, 2 March). Ms Paton says that the eviction was "for the
most part pretty peaceful", although a group of Christian activists
said that they were forcibly removed while praying on the steps of
One of the activists, Jonathan Bartley, a co-director of the
think tank Ekklesia, filmed an interview with a police officer, who
said that the police had been given permission to clear the steps
by the cathedral.
The cathedral insisted that the police had not asked for
permission from the cathedral regarding any aspect of the eviction,
but confirmed that "we were clear that we would not stand in the
way of the legal process or prevent the police from taking the
steps they needed to deal with the situation in an orderly and
FOR those who remained at St Paul's, the experience of those
four months has had a lasting effect. The cathedral was on the
receiving end of vehement criticism, not least from people inside
A persistent theme among critics was that St Paul's put
self-preservation before mission; that it did not show
hospitality; and that it missed an opportunity to engage with the
Symon Hill, a writer and member of a group of Christians who
campaign against government cuts, Christianity Uncut, was another
activist who was removed from the cathedral steps while praying on
the night of the eviction. He says: "It was the greatest
opportunity for decades for the Christian Church to engage with
people with the values of compassion and social justice. . . The
chance was thrown away because of the behaviour of the leadership
of St Paul's, and other senior church figures."
The Revd Dennis Nadin, a retired priest who attended meetings
between protesters and members of the cathedral Chapter, says that
St Paul's had been more interested in its own "domestic
arrangements" than in the issues raised by the Occupy
The Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, who was one of the few
bishops willing to comment publicly on the situation at the time,
says that the cathedral "panicked" and missed an opportunity.
"A couple of hundred kids got a lot of camping equipment, turned
up at St Paul's, and put up signs saying 'What would Jesus do?' It
was an opportunity to search through that question."
SINCE his installation in May, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, who
succeeded Dean Knowles, has spoken at length with cathedral staff
about what happened. He believes that the cathedral's critics have
not taken into account the pressures that members of the Chapter,
and other staff, were put under.
It was an "unprecedented" situation that "none of us would be
equipped to deal with", he says. "I suppose during the Peasants'
Revolt of 1381 something similar may have happened, but we can't
draw on their experience."
Dr Ison contends that "people in the cathedral not only felt,
but were, bullied by various people - not just people in the camp,
but people from outside, whether in the Church or the outside
"Our staff suffered hugely from being verbally abused by people
in and around the camp. . . There was the feeling that some people
in the Church, whether ordained or not, jumped on the bandwagon of
what Occupy was seeking to stand for, and were critical of St
Paul's for being of the Establishment, without listening to the St
Paul's side of the story."
From conversations with members of the cathedral staff, Dr Ison
has concluded that they received "unclear advice". For example,
they were told that they would be "personally liable for any
disasters that happen in this situation . . .
"I do know that the Chapter took the decision to close
incredibly reluctantly, didn't want to do it, and opened again as
soon as they managed to find a way to do so. Nobody wants to close
Lessons have been learned, he says. The Dean and Chapter went
away, in June, to reflect. One lesson was about "the importance of
communication - not just with the press, but also with partners
and supporters of the cathedral, and other agencies".
Another lesson learned, he says, was the importance of
maintaining good relationships with bodies such as the City of
London Corporation, "not just when there's a crisis, but during the
rest of the time as well".
DR ISON began a "vision workshop process" last month, to work
out what the "core mission" of St Paul's should be. He acknowledges
that there are tensions between the part that the cathedral plays
as a tourist venue and a centre of Christian worship, and between
its ministries as a local church and one that is engaged with the
City of London.
During the process he has met almost 400 people, including
staff, volunteers, and people from the City, "to talk about what
their hopes and dreams are for St Paul's". It is intended that a
"vision statement" will be drawn up by Christmas, "which will then
provide the basis for more concrete strategic planning for the
Steps have also been taken to assist staff after the experience
of the Occupy crisis. For example, the services of an external
chaplain, who has experience working in mental health, have been
taken up by some members of staff.
The question what, if any, legacy has been left by Occupy's
encounter with St Paul's, and with the wider Church, is a complex
one. Occupy activists have received a mixed reception from
churches. A group of activists who took part in a "pilgrimage for
justice" walk to Canterbury Cathedral, over the summer (
News, 11 May), found some congregations very hospitable -
offering activists beds and food, for example; but others, the
activists said, were visibly uncomfortable with their presence at
CANON FRASER says that the Occupy movement "tapped into a
widespread public discontent with the way in which the City of
London seemed to be acting like a cartel for its own good and
wasn't contributing to the public good".
Before Occupy rose to prominence, many churches viewed
economics as "a bit dull", and the preserve of specialists. Now,
Canon Fraser says, "there's a different mood. People do think this
is an important subject for conversation, and churches know they
have to be involved in this."
The Vicar of St Michael, Stoke Newington, the Revd Dr James
Lawson, who visited the Occupy camp, says: "We're the emergency
ward for capitalism in the inner cities, but no one names the
disease. Hopefully, that has changed. People might see more clearly
how destructive capitalism is."
Dr Wilson says that the public looks to the Church "not so much
for nuggets of economic theory, but a meta-level questioning of
where you get your values from. There is a much more general
searching among people, a feeling that the whole deal we've been
running for a while is running its course, and the game's up."
Events run by groups such as the St Paul's Institute appear to
be more popular than ever. About 1500 people filled St Paul's in
May to hear Professor Michael Sandel speak on "the moral limits of
News, 1 June; Features,
15 June). Occupy activists have been invited to speak at the
cathedral, which suggests a greater willingness on the part of the
cathedral to engage.
But some say that debates are not enough. Ms Paton, for example,
spoke to a group of clerics at the St Paul's Institute: "It was an
interesting discussion, but for me personally I couldn't see how
this was ever going to make a difference. You can sit in meeting
rooms talking until the cows come home, but unless you're actually
prepared to stand up and challenge the system, and say we need to
have something changed, what good is it?"
"DEBATE and dialogue", Symon Hill says, "are really important;
but Christian churches have to go beyond hosting debates to
standing alongside those who are under attack - the poorest and
most vulnerable people in society."
Not all Christians, however, are inclined to join protest
camps, nor to get themselves arrested. A middle way between cosy
debates and short-term direct action might be found in the work of
groups such as the Contextual Theology Centre (CTC), based at the
Royal Foundation of St Katharine, in east London. During the Occupy
protest, CTC facilitated a series of "community conversations" on
the financial crisis.
This is not, however, simply a talking shop, the spokesman of
CTC, Andy Walton, says. "When churches form alliances with other
institutions, such as trade unions and residents' associations,
they can bring pressure that brings about real change in their
community. The Living Wage campaign is one such example. Other
campaigns include lobbying against pay-day lending, and the
proliferation of gambling shops on high streets.
"One of the flaws of a model that is a kind of fleeting protest
rather than a long-term broad-based alliance of institutions
rooted in the local community is that you don't have that staying
power. It takes time to identify what people think the problem is
in the local community. . .
"We should all be working, praying, acting, for a more just,
holistic worldwide economic system, but there are a number of
obvious steps on way to that that we should be getting on with
THERE is no sign that the behaviour of banks and international
institutions will escape the Church's radar. A report published
last year by St Paul's Institute, during the Occupy crisis, Value
and Values: Perceptions of ethics in the City today, suggested that
bankers were largely immune to criticism from the Church: 76 per
cent of the 515 bankers interviewed for the report disagreed - most
of them strongly - with the statement: "The City of London needs to
listen more to the guidance of the Church" (
News, 11 November 2011).
But the submission from the Church of England's Mission and
Public Affairs Division (MPA) to the Parliamentary Commission
examining banking reform (
Leader, 28 September) suggests that the institutional Church is
determined to take the bankers to task.
The submission compares bankers to Dr Harold Shipman, and asks
whether "the whole orchard needs replanting". It calls on the
banking sector to show "contrition" for past failures, and to
rediscover "a culture of the virtues".
The presence of the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Justin Welby,
on the Commission suggests that the Church is well-placed to exert
influence over what steps are taken to reform financial
institutions in the UK. The MPA's forceful tone indicates that the
Church's voice is becoming more radical.
Occupy turned an uncomfortable spotlight on the flaws of global
capitalism and, allegedly, of the Church. But it may perhaps be
the Church itself that will now hold the bankers to account.