Don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but St. Paul’s Cathedral in London closed down for a week after Occupy protesters refused to leave the churchyard. They had been welcomed, but when the cathedral staff asked them to leave so worship could take place, they refused. Now, the cathedral canon has resigned in disgrace — via Twitter, of all things. Toby Young:
It’s hard to shed a tear for Dr Giles Fraser, the canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, who has resigned this morning. This is the Left-wing priest who told the Metropolitan Police to go away when they tried to clear the ‘Occupy London’ protesters from the steps of St Paul’s after their attempt to occupy the London Stock Exchange backfired. It was an impulsive act on the protesters’ part and, had the police been allowed to go about their business, they would have moved on somewhere else – possibly even gone home. The whole protest could have been nipped in the bud. But no. Dr Fraser told the nasty policemen to go away and insisted that they were all God’s children.
Canon Fraser confesses that he couldn’t bring himself to have the protesters who had effectively closed his own cathedral removed by force. His tender conscience was more in sympathy with those goons than with Christians who might have liked to have worshiped there. Boo, hiss.
Like many others in the Church, I have a great deal of sympathy for the raw idealism of the protesters. Their contention that the banks have not paid an equitable price for the damage caused, in part, by their reckless lending and profiteering strikes a powerful chord.
However, after their initial welcome to Occupy, the cathedral authorities then seemed to lose their nerve. In daily-changing news reports, the story see-sawed between a public debate about the merits or otherwise of the protest, the drama of internal disputes at St Paul’s over lost income from tourists, and the ill-defined health, safety and fire concerns that caused it to close its doors to worshippers.
One moment the church was reclaiming a valuable role in hosting public protest and scrutiny, the next it was looking in turns like the temple which Jesus cleansed, or the officious risk-averse ’elf ’n safety bureaucracy of urban legend. How could the dean and chapter at St Paul’s have let themselves get into such a position?
And what of the protesters themselves in this sorry story? Their intransigence, once the cathedral stopped welcoming them with open arms and began to plead with them to leave, did them no favours. Ironically, they started off fulsomely thanking the Church for allowing them to stay, but then repaid that generosity by refusing to leave when asked.
At a time when secularists are striving to drive Christian voices from public life with strident campaigns to abolish church schools and council prayers, and when workers can be suspended for offering to say a prayer for colleagues or for wearing a cross, it seems that on the doorstep of St Paul’s, of all places, yet another blow has been struck against Christian worshippers. In this case, “anarchist” protesters threatened the freedom to worship – one of our most basic and hard-fought-for rights – by forcing the cathedral authorities to halt public access.
As the story developed, thermal images of empty tents seemed to illustrate the hollow nature of the protest movement. The emerging picture of spoilt middle-class children returning home at night for a shower and a warm bed begged questions about their commitment to their cause. It also seemed to suggest that the cathedral authorities in their initial welcome had been duped.
… And where are the ideas for restoring public trust and rebuilding our now fragile democracy? We are divided as never before, not into one per cent of the very rich, versus 99 per cent of the not-so-rich, as the protesters would have us believe, but into many factions and separate communities. Gone is any sense of an overarching narrative to form our identity as a nation. We have effectively forgotten who we are because we have rejected the very faith and heritage that set us on our way as a great country.
The story of the St Paul’s encampment, with its empty tents and hollowed-out protest, together with the uncertain note sounded by the dean and chapter, is simply a parable for our times.
Well now. You might prefer the verdict from the mighty Alex Massie, not a churchgoer, but very much on point in describing the debacle as “a reminder that if the Church of England is in trouble it may be because it is overstocked with simpering nincompoops whose witterings invite contempt, not sympathy.”