Williams breaks cover as the chaos continues at St Paul's

By staff writers
October 31, 2011

The Dean of St Paul's, the Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, has resigned over the Cathedral's chaotic and derided response to the Occupy London encampment on its doorsteps.

In a public statement, he said: "It has become increasingly clear to me that, as criticism of the cathedral has mounted in the press, media and in public opinion, my position as dean of St Paul's was becoming untenable.

"In order to give the opportunity for a fresh approach to the complex and vital questions facing St Paul's, I have thought it best to stand down as dean, to allow new leadership to be exercised," said Knowles.

He is the second senior staff member to resign - the other one, former Canon Chancellor Dr Giles Fraser, found himself effectively squeezed out by his sympathetic and positive response to the Occupy the London Stock Exchange (OLSX) camp.

But Fraser's laid-back approach has been seen as prescient given the disaster visited upon England's foremost Cathedral by an unnecessary closure, and what is being seen as a mean-spirited threat of legal action which could result in a forcible eviction of peaceful activists making a strong moral case for the root and branch reform of capitalism.

Some media sources are reporting that it is the tented protest against corporate greed and injustice which has "caused" the Dean's resignation. But OLSX points out that it never sought 'scalps' or resignations, and has expressed personal sympathy for Mr Knowles.

"I don't feel that I caused the resignation, that was the Dean's decision," said one protester.

St Paul's has temporarily suspended legal action to evict the OLSX camp, but the City of London Corporation is reported to be pursuing it 'vigorously'. However, developments are likely to take weeks and months rather than days.

And Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has finally broken silence over the affair, though mainly to regret the Dean's departure.

Commentators have been describing the Church of England's handling of the situation as "inept", and its consequences "disastrous".

But Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, says that actually "Occupy LSX has also presented an unprecedented (some would say God-given) opportunity for the established Church radically to reconsider its mission and message in a plural society - seizing the chance to move from failing attempts at top-down control based on historic patronage, and towards dynamic engagement with those at the grassroots and on the margins of an unequal and uneasy social order."

He continued: "The core Christian message is that, in Jesus Christ, God pitched a tent among human beings for the purposes of bringing about radical personal and social change based on love and justice. The 'vertical church' of Christendom, emblemized by the remote, patronising and hierarchical response of the St Paul's management to a flowering of creative protest, is no longer 'fit for purpose' in a post-Christendom situation. By contrast, Occupy, with its energy and imagination, is modelling a different possibility for the church. The institutions of Christianity need to be remade from the edges inwards. They need to be turned inside out."


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.