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Category - "Being and Doing":

Why ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ Is Sometimes Not Enough

Seen here from the Millennium Bridge, this picture makes it very clear that St Paul’s Cathedral is at the heart of the City of London. The past turbulent week has made it equally clear that the Church, while offering the vision of ‘a shining city on a hill’, needs also to be in the very midst of its people. Whether the ‘Occupy LSX’ protesters’ encampment was diverted to St Paul’s by a quirk of fate or, as some have suggested, the hand of God, they represent those with whom the Church needs to engage in this 21st century.

The  protesters have been criticised for not having solutions to the problems we face, but then no one else has the solutions either. What they do have is a series of questions which society as a whole, and the Church as part of that society, needs to debate. The Bishop of London offered a debate under the dome of St Paul’s, but a better response from the Church might be a ‘Fresh Expression’ of worship and debate, a more informal way of doing things. One can imagine the cry: ‘we asked for bread and you gave us petits fours‘.

The situation has precipitated a crisis at St Paul’s, with the unprecedented resignation (for different reasons) of its Dean, Canon Chancellor and Chaplain. Part of the reason for the resignations is the prospect of forcibly evicting the protesters. Although it is understandable that the reaction of the civil authorities in the City of London is that this ‘eyesore’ should be cleared away as soon as possible, and certainly in time for the Lord Mayor’s Show on 12th November,  those outside this charmed circle of plutocrats can’t help feeling that they still don’t ‘get it’. Tumbrils have been mentioned on Twitter (though admittedly in the context of ‘Downton Abbey’) but the plutocrats’ reaction is unfortunately reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, on being told that the people had no bread to eat, asking why on earth they did not eat brioche instead.

‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ did not work for Marie Antoinette, and I fear it will not work for St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Church as a whole either.

Some leap of the imagination needs to be made. Some way of connecting with the protesters needs to be found. If the cathedral authorities have really decided that the single most important objective is their removal, then let it at least not be by riot police.

What about rigging up some amplification system and then, borrowing from our Catholic friends the system of Canonical Hours, broadcast at full volume the various offices of the day? These begin at 3.00 a.m. with Lauds and finish about 9.00 pm with Compline. Since the volume would need to be quite loud to have the desired effect, the clergy (working to a rota of course) might need to wear ear muffs. I suggest that after a day or two only the deafest and devoutest of the protesters would still be there, the others having decided to seek asylum elsewhere.


For me, the most encouraging photograph was of Bishop Richard Chartres sitting on a camp stool  in the thick of what looked like friendly but lively discussion. The questions that the protesters are asking are existential ones: why should the Christian faith not provide some of the answers? Over the last five centuries, the management of the Church of England has become as baroque as the architecture of St Paul’s. For those of us who appreciate that sort of thing, its baroque – or even rococo – qualities are part of the attraction. We know that underlying it all is ‘the old rugged cross’: perhaps we need to get it down from the belfries of our churches and show outsiders the essential simplicity of Christ’s answer to some of the most difficult questions, such as the rich young man who wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19.16-30).




The photograph was taken by Kunstlebob on 22 July 2011 and is made available under CCL via wikimedia.

To do, or to be, that is the question

Simon Parke wrote about

being haunted by ‘The Stature of Waiting’ by W H Vanstone…it compared the active and challenging life of Jesus before his arrest in Gethsemane and his passive acceptance of circumstances afterwards…Implicit, if not explicit, was a theology of uselessness; an acceptance of holy futility as circumstances changed. If we ever link our value and place in the world with being useful, I suspect we become a danger to ourselves and others.

He followed this on 4 May with a piece about a nonagenarian correspondent who

had settled for Being not Doing in the time given to me…to reflect on things, prepare to meet my maker and enjoy myself. I sometimes comfort myself when I think I might be being self-indulgent with a verse written in protest at a hymn which began ‘Rise up, men of God, have done with lesser things.’:
‘Sit down O men of God
Ye cannot do a thing
The kingdom is the Lord’s
And he will bring it in.’

On the other hand, there is the quote attributed to St Teresa of Avila, so popular you can buy it on T-shirts and tote bags, mugs and calendars:

“Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out upon the world, ours are the feet with which he goes about doing good, ours are the hands with which he blesses his people.”

In St Teresa’s corner are St Matthew (‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father’:5.16) and numberless hymn lyrics, from ‘A work hath Christ for thee to do’ to ‘Who would true valour see’*

What’s a poor Christian pilgrim to do?

This is not an abstract question for me. I have recently started a website with the aim of bringing Anglican laity together in discussion, joined the band of the ‘No Anglican Covenant Coalition’ and begun to blog here – all partly for the joy of it, but also in the hope of nudging people and events in what seems to me to be ‘a Godward direction’. I am not alone. Like my blogging colleagues, I had hoped I was a molecule (all right, then, an atom) of the hands or feet.

Is contemplation really superior to action? For what it’s worth, I think that God hopes we will we do whatever we can to make good our daily prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come’. The way that we try and do this will of course vary from person to person (that is why we talk about spiritual gifts) and it will also vary according to our physical well-being, as Milton famously pointed out in his sonnet about his blindness:

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.

What do you think? Are we here to do or to be?

*Thank-you, Sally Barnes and Mary Judkins, for the nudges!

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