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New Dean resets agenda for St Paul’s

08 March 2012

by Ed Thornton

New broom: the Very Revd Dr David Ison on the steps of St Paul’s DIOCESE OF LONDON

New broom: the Very Revd Dr David Ison on the steps of St Paul’s DIOCESE OF LONDON

THE next Dean of St Paul’s is to be the Very Revd Dr David Ison. He said on Tuesday that St Paul’s was not the “mouthpiece” of the Occupy move­ment, and that the movement should take a “more constructive” approach.

Dr Ison, who has been Dean of Bradford Cathedral since 2005, will be installed on 25 May at St Paul’s. He will re­place the Rt Revd Graeme Knowles, who resigned on 31 October after mounting criticism of the way the cathedral was handling the presence of the Occupy protest camp just out­side the building (News, 4 Nov­ember).

Dr Ison, who is 57, trained for ordination at St John’s College, Notting­ham. He served his first curacy in Deptford, and during that time completed a Ph.D. in church history at King’s College, London. He was a lecturer at the Church Army Training College in Blackheath for three years, before being appointed Vicar at Potters Green in the diocese of Coventry. He was then Con­tinuing Ministerial Education Officer for Exeter diocese, before becoming a residentiary canon at Exeter Cathedral.

Dr Ison said that he intends to maintain contact with the Occupy movement, but stated: “St Paul’s is not just here to be a mouthpiece for Occupy; part of our role is to help Occupy to sharpen up what it’s looking for, and be clear about what needs to happen in response to the concerns it has identified.” He would like to see Occupy taking “a rather more constructive approach”.

Some Christians have said that St Paul’s was complicit in the forcible eviction of the protesters (News, 2 March). Dr Ison com­mented: “It’s difficult what you do when people refuse to acknowledge reality and to obey court orders. But, if people choose to make a demon­stration by not obeying the order of the court, that’s up to them. The Church’s role is to help people recognise reality in all sorts of ways, and that includes helping Occupy recognise when it’s time to move on.”

He said that he wanted the cathedral to show hospitality not just to the Occupy movement, but also “to visitors, to the people who work around [the cathedral], and to the local community”.

He acknowledged the importance of the issues raised by Occupy. “There is a crisis of confidence in so­ciety, where you have a lot of people who feel out of step with the eco­nomic system and, to some extent, the political system in this country.”

When Dr Ison was appointed to Bradford, the previous Dean, the Very Revd Dr Christopher Hancock, had resigned, after negotiating the settlement of the cathedral’s £5-million debt (News, 13 August 2004). Dr Ison said that there were “parallels” between Bradford Cath­ed­ral in 2005 and St Paul’s now: both have been “through a traumatic period”, although St Paul’s did not face the severe financial difficulties that Bradford had then been going through.

Dr Ison was approached about the post at St Paul’s while on sabbatical in Israel. “I take seriously the call of the Church in terms of people saying you should be looking at this; so therefore I went through the process, and did so partly recog­nising that some of my skills and experience are relevant to the situ­ation here.”

A week after the removal of the Occupy protest camp, he said: “People in St Paul’s are giving me the message that they want to learn the lessons of what’s happened, and to see St Paul’s change and grow in positive ways in response to the experience of what it’s been through. Part of my explicit job in coming is to help St Paul’s to do that.

“It’s not going to be a quick process; building vision takes time, if it’s going to be effective. But it’s something I’ve had experience of doing in pretty well all the jobs I’ve been in up until now, and look forward to doing here as well.”

Dr Ison is married to the Revd Hilary Ison, who works as a selection secretary for the Ministry Division at Church House, Westminster. The couple have two daughters, who are both married, and two sons.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, who was invited by the cathedral Chapter to provide “input” after Dean Knowles’s resignation, will resume his official position of Visitor to St Paul’s.

On Tuesday, Bishop Chartres said: “Rarely before has St Paul’s’ role at the centre of both the Church in London, and at the heart of this great world city, been more keenly felt than now, in the wake of the Occupy protest.”

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