Friday, 28 October 2011

Doors open at a cost

 By now St Paul's Cathedral should have opened its doors and allowed worshippers in to a service - and presumably tourists to try to recoup some of its lost revenue from a week of closure. It's been a sad episode, and sadly it isn't over yet, as I read that the church authorities are joining with the City of London Authority to seek a court injunction to evict the protest camp from its land. I heard Mr Fraser of the CLA talking about them obstructing the highway. Ludgate Hill is the only through road in the vicinity and is on the other side of a thumping great cathedral from the tents.

What is sad is that the Dean and Chapter have been in such awe of both the lawyers and the Health and Safety firm they employ. The H&S people tell them it's not safe to keep the cathedral open, and instead of talking about how safety could be preserved they lock the doors - only to find a few days later that there was quite a straightforward solution after all. Create a firebreak next to the walls! Now apparently their lawyers have advised them not to talk to the protestors before they get to court. What interesting advice! Somewhat contrary to Jesus' advocacy of negotiation: "Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison." 

There's a witty but sad cartoon in today's Guardian by Steve Bell, which will no doubt give delight to those who take every opportunity to attack faith. It does reflect the popular perception that the church tends to side with the rulers of this world. There is of course a dilemma for any church "rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's", let alone the established church of a country, against following the example of its founder who was a friend of the alienated and sinners and not of the establishment.

Eventually last night I was moved to write to the Dean and his fellow clergy:
Dear Dean and Chapter
   I'm a retired country vicar and not much interested in church politics, but I want to say how glad I am at the news that St Paul's is going to unlock its doors tomorrow. The closed doors have been a symbol that has spoken more loudly than many thousand words.  I am sure others have observed the irony of the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent words in Harare in the context of the parable of the wedding feast: "You know very well, dear brothers and sisters, what it means to have doors locked in your faces by those who claim the names of Christians and Anglicans. But... the Lord proclaims that he has set before us an open door that no-one can shut. It is the door of his promise, the door of his mercy, and the door into the feast of his kingdom."  That's the message that clergy throughout the country preach Sunday by Sunday, and so to see the great west doors of London's cathedral locked trumpeted a dreadful denial of our words.
  I am sorry that Canon Fraser has felt it necessary to resign, as it seems to presage an impending attempt to evict the protest camp through the law courts in conjunction with the civil authorities.  He undoubtedly says uncomfortable and controversial things, not all of which I agree with, but he has earned credibility with those who have no faith in the 'establishment'.  I sincerely hope that the church authorities will not lend their support to what will be viewed as an attack on peaceful protest and expression of free speech by the powers-that-be.  No doubt there are many generous benefactors to St Paul's within the City, but that should not restrain the church from prophetic detachment.  I suspect that refusing to take part in legal action will be a far more eloquent gesture than organising a debate of many words.
    I join with many in praying for your wisdom and courage in these challenging circumstances.
        Yours sincerely 

Sadly, the Bishop of London has muscled in on the "evict the protesters" coalition. However, lest you think all in the C of E Establishment support the St Paul's line, there's a pithy blog-post from one of our local bishops, Alan Wilson, worth a read: Bishop on shutting St Paul's: "... do they have the stomach to engage in the real world at the crest of a tidal race between people, money and power, or are they just overgrown public schoolboys playing indoor games in their own self-important Tourist Disneyland?"

There's an awful irony in the timing of this whole mismanaged fiasco, in that it has completely overshadowed the Reasonable Faith tour of Professor William Craig Lane which ended on Wednesday in Manchester in a debate with Professor Peter Atkins, and was remarkable for the refusal by Richard Dawkins to a debate in Oxford. Craig Lane seems to be one of the Christians with whom atheists would rather not debate; so respect to those who were ready to defend their corner. But what a shame it is that some rather unusual and important debates should have been pushed off even the religious columns by a less than glorious piece of news - which sadly promises to run and run. Someone must be rubbing his grubby little hands in glee. Happily, he won't have the last word. Hallowe'en is just the prelude to All Saints' Day!


  1. Do please let us know what reply you receive from St Paul - sorry, St Paul's.

  2. "Hallowe'en is just the prelude to All Saints' Day!" That's a lovely line!