Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Drama of St Paul's - who cares?

"St Paul's may have made a PR blunder but let's not exaggerate the impact. I've yet to hear it mentioned out and about" ran a tweet today from someone I've just started following.  This struck a chord with me, since I'd spent a good part of the morning on Tweetdeck, fascinated by the unfolding events at and apropos the cathedral - the resignation of Giles Fraser, the announcement of the cathedral's re-opening, and the Bishop of London's offer to listen to and engage with the OLSX protestors on Sunday.  I'd tweeted and retweeted; I'd devoured many and varied comments on these events which were (and, as I write, still are) flying round both blogosphere and Twitterdom; and - in spite of my utter dismay at whole fiasco - enjoyed hearing others' observations and contributing my own.

Then I went shopping to my local supermarket (which itself is used by St Paul's staff and other City clergy).  Now I didn't stop and ask any of my fellow shoppers what they thought about what was happening at the cathedral; but it was my impression and conclusion that this matter was not - shall we say? - unduly pre-occupying them.

I am an Anglican priest in the Diocese of London.  I live 10 minutes' walk from St Paul's cathedral.  My desk in the Bishop of London's office is yards from it.  While it's not exactly my bread and butter, this issue concerns people I know at least to some extent; it concerns the mother church of my diocese; and it concerns the Church of England which I serve and love.  I would be interested in it, wouldn't I?  I do fear that it has demonstrated yet again our apparently unlimited capacity for self-harm, and that it has made us look globally pathetic.  But I do not kid myself that those who do not share perhaps any aspect of my rather particular connection will have more than a passing curiosity in this ecclesiastical drama.

More generally, I fear that we consistently underestimate our own parochiality: we surround ourselves with people who think like we do, who share our attitudes and outlook; and are lulled into thinking that the opinions we share with them are what normal, rational people everywhere think.  A lot of people in the Church, particularly those see themselves as politically and socially aware, have at least some sympathy with the OLSX protest.  There is a clear resonance with the Gospel message in standing up for the poor and weak against the rich and powerful, and some properly serious questions about how the Church should position itself to be faithful to that.  This way of thinking also, for obvious reasons, appeals to those on the political left.  Yet, it's instructive how quickly that mindset evaporates when you step outside the liberal bubble and into the wider environment.  A question was asked in the Lords yesterday about the St Paul's situation, and I was struck by the lack of sympathy for the protestors from any part of the House (which contains a good number of old lefties).

It's really good that the Bishop of London and the Dean of St Paul's are prepared seriously to engage with OLSX.  Who is going to engage with that part of the population which has no sympathy for them, and - just possibly - no interest in the issues raised?

1 comment:

  1. As so often, you pick on an aspect which has been missed by others and strike a real chord with me about a problem that I have been turning over and over in my mind for a few weeks.

    To me it seems obvious that the Anglican Covenant represents a threat to the future of the Anglican Communion as well as the Church of England. (I appreciate not all your readers will share that view, however!)What seems equally obvious to me is that the adoption of this very detailed creed, being disciplined by bishops instead of being allowed individual conscience under God and, most significantly, the exclusion of LGBT people from the priesthood all runs fundamentally counter to the British way of life which, as the established Church, the CofE should reflect. Many Anglicans have assured me that the British people as a whole do not care how the Church of England chooses to operate and that I am fundamentally mistaken in my assumption that they do. I hope that these Anglicans may turn out to be wrong, but you do make me wonder whether I have indeed been lulled into a mistaken belief that what I think is:
    "what normal, rational people everywhere think."