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Occupy London: Giles Fraser Resigns, is the Church of England Now in the Dock?

Posted on the 28 October 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Occupy London: Giles Fraser resigns, is the Church of England now in the dock?

A protestor on the steps of St Paul's. Photocredit: PAW

The Occupy London Stock Exchange protests, having failed to actually occupy the London Stock Exchange, found themselves in the Churchyard of St Pauls’ Cathedral; having been initially welcomed, they soon became regarded as something of a nuisance. Public sympathy for the movement’s cause has been dented somewhat by reports that as much as 90 percent of the tents cluttering up the yard are unoccupied at night. Giles Fraser, who was Canon Chancellor of St Pauls and was the first to welcome the protestors (even telling the police to leave) has now resigned over moves to turf out the protestors. The Church of England, it seems, has not faced such a crisis in years, with enormous questions being raised over its role in public life. Commentators, priests (including an ex-Archbishop of Canterbury) and bloggers have lined up to give their views. Could Giles Fraser be the thin end of the wedge? Will the Church stand or fall over its attitude to the protestors?

New ways of worshipping? At least Fraser is thinking more deeply about Christian teaching, said Marina Warner in an article looking into changing ways of worship on The Guardian’s Comment is Free. Historically, visions have always appeared to the poor and needy; Mary mother of Jesus was herself a “teenage mother.” She’s now evolved into a “contercultural peace goddess”, a figure of “apocalyptic power.” Religious practice is changing – people are flocking to relics, for instance. The Occupy protests are a “plea for sanctuary”, even “a form of prayer.” St Paul’s should open its doors to debate. It’s a shame that Fraser has resigned – but he’s been, effectively, muzzled. If those inside St Paul’s remain silent, it means that the whole role of the Church of England in the nation’s structure will be forfeited.

New ways of martyrdom? He’s a new martyr for Lefties in the church, said Damian Thompson on his Daily Telegraph blog; he should now keep quiet. The Guardian proved Thompson right, with an editorial praising Fraser, claiming that  his moment of impulse wasn’t what caused the crisis – it was closing the cathedral on health and safety grounds that did. The situation is nearing “farce” – and the cathedral deserves it.

Occupy London: Giles Fraser resigns, is the Church of England now in the dock?

A man getting his hair cut in the Occupy London Camp outside St Paul's. Photocredit: PAW

Blessed be the tent-makers. St Paul was a tent-maker, reminded Peter Owen-Jones (a Church of England vicar) in The Independent, which gives us a “wonderful twist of fate” [or so he thought]  – is the cathedral “part of the protected elite? Or is it with the tent-makers?”  The Church of England treads a tightrope between serving rich and poor; its workings date back to the Civil War and see its officials selected rather than elected. Whilst this avoids fundamentalism, it does mean a “tepid” Church which has lapsed into steadying the state. Though the Bishop of London is offering to debate with the protestors – if they leave the ground – this will only lead to more of the same. The Church is now “in the dock.”

We must not get mired in cynicism, argued George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury in The Daily Telegraph. He worried that Christianity’s reputation is being harmed by the episode; also that “peaceful protest” is being brought into disrepute. Fraser’s acceptance of the protestors was a good sign that such protests could take place. But then the church lost its way, see-sawing between “ ‘elf ‘n safety” and its role as haven for protest. The protestors themselves haven’t come out of this well, repaying the Cathedral’s generosity with intransigence. It’s silly, anyway – the Occupy movement raises issues that are precisely dealt with by the St Paul’s Institute. If the protestors are truly against the bankers, why not go to Canary Wharf? The pictures of the empty tents show how hollow the movement really is – they’re “spoilt middle class children” heading home at night. They’ve duped the Church. They’re not engaged in democracy, just making up their demands as they go along. Sadly, this is what our society is now like. We’re all protestors, all nursing some sense that “something is wrong”, though we blame different people. There’s no “overarching narrative” to help us form ourselves; we’ve rejected “faith and heritage.” Alas, the St Paul’s encampment is a “parable for our times.” We should take this opportunity to rebuild public life, and not squander it in cynicism.


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