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Murder of the Cathedral

2 November 2011

There’s been a major tizzwozz in the Church of England blogosphere over the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral in London because of the “threat” posed by Occupy London protesters, and the subsequent resignation of several of the Cathedral staff, including the Dean.

I didn’t see any reason to blog about it from South Africa, until it became clear that there were certain parallels and contrasts with past events here. It seems that the reason that St Paul’s was closed (by the cathedral staff, on their own initiative) was “health and safety” concerns, about people who were camping outside the cathedral buildings.

Compare and contrast this with the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, where a thouand or more homeless refugees were living inside the building itself, and many people outside the church, including the Health Department of Gauteng Province, wanted them out for “health and safety” reasons, and the church staff continued to give them shelter and said they would go on doing so until the central goverment or Gauteng provincial government provided some better accommodation for the refugees.

Here’s one account of what happened at St Paul’s Cathedral in London Murdering St Paul’s Cathedral – Telegraph

First, the story. When the camp was originally pitched, over a fortnight ago, concerns were expressed about apparently critical issues of health and safety for staff and visitors to St Paul’s. The cathedral was precipitately closed for the first time since the Second World War. Mistake number one. When the health and safety report arrived after the first weekend, the Dean realised the issues were trivial and easily remedied with co-operative protesters.

Why the knee-jerk reaction? There was no one around the chapter table, other than the estimable Canon Giles Fraser, who would shortly fall on his sword, warning of the liabilities of embarking on particular policies. This would never happen in any other commercial or institutional organisation. So, mistake number two.

Mistake number three was down to naivety rather than indolence: St Paul’s allowed the City of London Corporation to call the shots. It moved into the common consciousness that to talk to the protesters would be to compromise the cathedral’s position. There was an unaired alternative view and it is this: no, it wouldn’t. The evidence for that is clear. Since those early days, the Church’s senior command has spoken regularly and publicly with the protesters, to productive effect.

Now the case of the Methodist Church in Johannesburg didn’t have to do with protesters, but rather with homeless refugees.

But there was a South African case involving protesters as well, back in 1972, when the police attacked protesters on the steps of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town with batons and teargas, and the protesters took refuge in the Cathedral, though the police followed them in and beat them up inside the cathedral itself. But, unlike the St Paul’s case, the protesters did have the support of the Dean, who tried to protect them from what had turned into a full-scale police riot.

At the time I thought that perhaps the cathedral ought to be exorcised after there had been bloodshed inside, and wrote for a copy of the Anglican service of exorcism (I was an Anglican at that time) to see what should be done in such cases, since it seemed quite possible that there would be more such events. I was told that, since there was no demand for the Anglican service of exorcism, I could have the whole lot, as they were just taking up space in the store room, and they sent them to me, about 100 copies. When they arrived, however, they appeared to be concerned solely with the exorcism of demonised persons, and there was no form of service at all for the exorcism of demonised places, like haunted houses, or churches that had been desecrated by blood being shed in them.

Ironically enough, within a couple of months, exorcisms of persons became a relatively common occurrence in Anglican churches affected by the charismatic renewal.

But it seems t6hat St Paul’s Cathedral in London has been self-demonised.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

It’s Synchroblog time again, and this month’s theme is “calling us out of numbness“.

Closing St Paul’s Cathedral was a pretty numb (not to mention dumb) thing to do.

You’ve heard of flashmobs, perhaps?

Well it seems that when St Paul’s was closed by the Dean and Chapter, a flash mob organised a Flash Evensong on the steps outside.  You can follow them on Twitter @FlashEvensong.

The FlashEvensong seems to have been a calling out of numbness. It also seems to have been a pretty missional thing to do. If I’m ever called out of retirement to lecture on missiology again, I might mention it as an example.


This post is part of a Synchroblog, where different bloggers blog on the same general theme at roughly the same time. This months theme is “calling us out of numbness” and the other synchroblog contributions are here:

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 November 2011 2:08 pm

    what can I say, great minds think alike??? Great post- love the numb/dumb word play!

  2. 2 November 2011 7:19 pm

    I haven’t been following much of the news about the “Occupy” groups. Why was this group camped in front of a church?

  3. 3 November 2011 4:42 am

    Partly, I suspect, because the bankers who caused the economic crisis are still collecting large bonuses for themselves.

  4. 3 November 2011 1:50 pm

    Thanks for the news and analysis of parallels; very interesting.

  5. 4 November 2011 11:03 am

    WOW, when hymns make news… !!


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