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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.

11 comments on this post:

Nancy Wallace said...

Brilliant idea – broadcasting the canonical hours – but would that be a breach of the peace that could be quickly stopped by an injunction? And doesn’t it need to be combined with some other leap of the imagination that more effectively engages with the issues at the heart of the protest?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Nancy. You’re probably right about the injunction, but I fancy the City of London is to some extent a law unto itself and it would be an interesting test case to see whether a legal injunction would in fact be obtained if it is ‘in the public interest’ for the broadcasting to be allowed if it achieves the desired effect. If I were Dean (or whoever is in charge now), I would be tempted to discuss it with the lawyers!

But of course your second point is the important one – at best, it is a marvellous opportunity for evangelism. And, though obviously difficult for him to become involved, I would think it a tailor-made opportunity for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is highly skilled in debate and known to feel strongly about the same issues as the protesters.

31 October 2011 19:01
31 October 2011 18:47
UKViewer said...

Interesting idea. Broadcast the hell out of the protesters. I wonder if trying to get rid of them by fair means or foul is the correct solution. Do we want to get rid of them, or do we want to listen and see if their demands fit our Gospel message? If it does, than inviting them in to the Cathedral for Sanctuary would be a better idea.

Obviously, persuasion isn’t going to work, as they have become entrenched and are now, probably hanging on for as much publicity as they can get. Some one said that any publicity is good publicity.

But, I still think that Giles Fraser was right in his resignation – because he didn’t want violence (i.e. forcible removal) to be done in his name.

I actually think that LSX must be laughing up their sleeves at how this has been dealt with to date. Perhaps a group of Clergy and Laity should get together and lay siege to LSX in the face of police powers, be removed forcibly and deflect the publicity to where it should be – squarely on LSX.

Lay Anglicana said...

I think we do need to listen, for the sake of the Church as much as for the protesters. I am quite drawn to the idea of bringing on the Archbishop of Canterbury, but am not sure that the steps of St Paul’s are the right place.
Lambeth Palace, on the other hand, has very large grounds…

31 October 2011 19:05
31 October 2011 19:02
JCF said...

I think it most distasteful to impose on the Occupiers a spiritual discipline (at set times) few of us hold ourselves to. A Gospel imposed is NOT Good News!

Lay Anglicana said...

I am very sorry – I had not thought of it in that way. I simply meant that St Paul’s should exercise its right to treat its forecourt as part of the cathedral, whose main function is to hold services, more frequently than is generally done in parish churches. My idea was that it would be synonymous with singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ or similar hymn. Perhaps continuous hymn-singing would be a preferable alternative?

01 November 2011 09:23
01 November 2011 07:46
Joyce Hackney said...

Poor old Marie Antoinette,still maligned after all these years for helping the poor by doing her job. French law required that when the cheap bread the poor ate ran out,the more expensive breads such as brioche should be sold at the price of the cheapest bread on orders from above. Marie Antoinette gave the order.How many times she did it before or after Dickens’ story I don’t know.
As for misquotes,the headlines keep referring to ‘anti-capitalist protesters’ and say nothing regarding what the sit-ins are about.(I found out by reading posts on i-church after I’d asked.) Some publicity regarding what they’re complaining about that might not come amiss.

Lay Anglicana said...

Poor old Marie Antoinette, as you say, probably yet another victim of the universal tendency to mis-ascribe the source of a quotation. (Notice I did not translate ‘qu’ils mangent de la brioche’ as ‘let them eat cake’, an even worse slur!).
I think one of the reason that quotable quotes get attached to the wrong person is ‘se non è vero è ben trovato’: it is the sort of thing people feel she is likely to have said, it goes with her general character.
I honestly believe that if Marie Antoinette had devoted her life to helping the poor, she would not have become the victim of the guillotine, along with her husband. It may have been all right for Louis XIV to say ‘L’Etat, c’est moi’ but Louis XVI failed to notice that times had moved on. Like the Church, the lesson for survival is surely that ‘keeping on keeping on’ will do nothing to halt the decline?

If you want to know what Occupy LSX is protesting about, may I suggest you check out Ariah Noetzel’s facebook post (which I have shared to my wall) on this very subject.

01 November 2011 09:35
01 November 2011 08:06
Joyce Hackney said...

Thanks for the offer but no thanks. Now I know they’re not prepared to shift themselves in time for the Lord Mayor’s Show I’m not at all interested in what they’re about any more. Any fool can sit somewhere. Most of us here know what it takes to organise a big charitable event including encouraging children to get involved in something beyond themselves.Some people have spent seventy or eighty years in it, actually DOING something.The protesters have moved in my mind from a harmless if pointless bunch of campers to a heartless gang of layabouts concerned only with what they think are the issues. My worry now is how much of my money it’s going to cost for the tear gas, the water-cannon and police overtime.

01 November 2011 14:10
UKViewer said...

I see from the news this afternoon that the Cathedral has decided not to take part in the Legal Action being undertaken by the Corporation of London. In addition, Bishop Richard has come out in support of further discussion. As well as the Arch Bishop of Canterbury writing an article in the Financial Times about Challenging the Idols of High Finance :

01 November 2011 19:03
Joyce said...

I heard the news last night refer to them as ‘poverty protesters’ which is somewhat nearer the mark than’anti-capitalist protesters’and may get them a little more sympathy. Let’s see now if they show some consideration for those who do something for the poor.

02 November 2011 08:49

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