Church leaders seek to avert St Paul's 'PR disaster'

By staff writers
29 Oct 2011

Occupy London has been told that the Anglican Bishop of London and Dean of St Paul’s will be at the steps of the Cathedral Sunday 30 October, from 9.30am – 12am, to meet them.

The protesters responded: "We are looking to hold an assembly, which we would welcome them to attend."

Those who know the Rt Rev Richard Chartres say that he is so enmeshed in the world of 'the great and the good' that he still does not seem to understand the true scale of the PR disaster the Church faces, or how deeply patronising his response has been so far.

The Occupy protest camp, part of a global movement currently encamped in over 2,100 cities across the world, stresses that it is as a peaceful, non-hierarchical forum where everyone's voice is heard without regard to position or status. It has invited the bishop and his friends in the City of London to participate in debates on the steps of St Paul's in that spirit.

The Occupy the London Stock Exchange group says: "We're in agreement that the current system is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; you are invited to join us in debate and developing them; to create a better future for everyone."

The City of London Corporation, Prime Minister David Cameron, London Mayor Boris Johnson, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and a majority of the chapter at St Paul's wish to see the tent protest removed from the precincts of the Cathedral.

St Paul's and the Corporation of London - an unelected body which runs the City - will seek separate High Court injunctions in a bid to clear the more than 200 tents which have been outside the Cathedral for almost two weeks.

But former Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, the Bishop of Buckingham and many other public figures strongly disagree with a forcible eviction.

The City of London Corporation was not reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, nor by subsequent legislation, and has become "increasingly anomalous", say political reformers.

Fraser Dyer, a chaplain at St Paul's Cathedral, one of many London clergy who give half a day a month to being available to the cathedral's visitors, and to leading prayers on the hour, also resigned in opposition to the Cathedral's stance yesterday.

He wrote: "Arising from my relationship with the Cathedral I've been closely following the events arising from the Occupy London protest which pitched camp in the Cathedral precinct a fortnight ago. There seemed to be a great deal that was positive and constructive about the dialogue between the protesters and the Cathedral. I was therefore very disappointed to learn of [the] announcement that St Paul's is taking legal action to have the protesters removed. Consequently I have decided to stand down from the pastoral team."

In his letter of resignation to Michael Colclough, Canon Pastor of the Cathedral, he wrote: "I do not relish the prospect of having to defend the cathedral's position in the face of the inevitable questions that visitors to St Paul's will pose in the coming weeks and months, particularly if we are to see protestors forcibly removed by police at the Dean and Chapter's behest."

The establishment in the Church look increasingly out of touch, ridiculous and high-handed over the whole issue, say critics.

The Cathedral, which is being advised by PR agency 33rpm, has been made to look "incredibly stupid" in its media handling of the protest on its doorstep, say communications experts who talked to trade journal PR Week.

"They’ve grasped a PR disaster from the jaws of everyday life," declared the Rev George Pitcher, who until his sacking in September 2011 was secretary for public affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

By taking the wrong side at St Paul's, Anglican leaders have abandoned the moral high ground, according to leading Catholic writer Peter Stanford. "[T]he Church of England has turned a great opportunity to show why it still had a role as a voice of the voiceless in our divided society into a profoundly dispiriting display of back-biting, bitching and blathering on about health and safety concerns and the lost income from tourists," he wrote in the Guardian today.

"This is no longer a church with a taste for outspoken figures such as Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the radical voice of anti-apartheid protest in the 1950s and 1960s, or Bishop David Sheppard, who in the 1970s joined forces with his Roman Catholic counterpart, Derek Worlock, to stop Liverpool going bankrupt, or even Archbishop Robert Runcie in the 1980s, who risked Margaret Thatcher's fury when he published the Faith in the City report on urban deprivation," Stanford added.

Meanwhile, the Guardian declared in a recent editorial: "[T]he whole situation is approaching farce, in which all the players are adding to the spectacle."

The 'health and safety' argument that the Chapter used to justify closing the Cathedral until Friday has also been undermined by close scrutiny from the New Statesman magazine and experts in the field.

Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson wrote of the St paul's management in his widely-read blog: "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?”"

Another senior figure, Canon Mark Oakley, a member of the Chapter, may also consider his position untenable, having voted against going to court to evict the demonstrators, reports the Daily Telegraph.

* Fraser Dyer's blog: http://thewhiffofgod.blogspot.com/

* Bishop Alan Wilson's blog: http://bishopalan.blogspot.com/

* Occupy the London Stock Exchange: http://occupylsx.org/

[Ekk/3]

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