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Reverend Peter Ould Headshot

Occupy LSX at St Paul's - Who Will go Next?

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GLOBAL OCCUPY LONDON
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It's like the changing of the guards at the moment inside St Paul's Cathedral. First we had the resignation of Giles Fraser last week. Now we have the news that the Dean, the Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, is standing down with immediate effect. Who next? By the end of the week will we have a press release on behalf of the Lord Almighty, stepping to one side because of irreconcilable differences with the Heavenly Hosts? At the moment anything seems possible.

Let's just stop for a moment and reflect on the reasons for the Dean leaving. That he felt his position was untenable is deeply saddening, for unlike his predecessor for a P45, Graeme Knowles does not carry with him the kind of political baggage that Giles Fraser has. Before the events of the past fortnight, many inside the Church of England hadn't heard of the former Bishop of Sodor and Man whose two years in post have, barring recent unfortunate developments, been a resounding success. The Diocese of London is poorer for his loss, but at least it can demonstrate that there are still some clergy who operate with integrity and will take accountability for the actions of the institutions for which they are responsible. Lessons to be learnt down in Westminster possibly?

And now we turn to what happens next. Although the Cathedral Chapter, headed for the moment by Knowle's deputy the Rt Rev Michael Colclough, are still responsible for moving forward, they have invited the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, to help guide them onwards. And so, potential poisoned chalice moves from hand to hand and another man (for until Synod votes otherwise they are all men, these Bishops) tries to solve the unsolvable and produce some kind of resolution to the nightmare that has been the camp by the steps.

One senses that the mood in the Church of England is changing. It's time to stop talking about tents and instead to start debating the real issues, namely the relationship between those who have wealth and the power over wealth with the rest of the world. Whilst the first two weeks of the Occupy LSX camp helped to highlight the issues, the proclaimers of the good news of responding to naked capitalism have now become the news themselves. As any half-decent spin-doctor will tell you, when you start being the news you're distracting from the message you're trying to put across until you recognise it's time to go. The camp may be full of those who loathe politicians and those who work for them, but they are rapidly going the same way as press secretaries who, in becoming the focus of attention damage the very story they're trying to tell.

And this is the present problem. Every hour that passes with tents pitched against the walls of the Ccathedral is an hour where the real work of helping our society engage with the excesses of capitalism is being damaged. So far, the protest against bankers has only managed to claim the scalps of three well-regarded clergymen. I very much doubt that the 50% tax-rate payers are currently quaking in their boots wondering if their heads will be the next to roll. Far from it - they are sat sipping champagne and laughing at how the protesters have managed to make newspaper headlines about absolutely everything except the things they passionately care about.

On Sunday the Dean of St Paul's and the Bishop of London offered to help the protesters with their cause of raising the vital issues of power and wealth in the City, but only if they moved on. That is an extraordinarily generous offer, because the links that the St Paul's Institute has with the City, Academia and the Media position it in the best possible place to facilitate and promote such conversations. But why should the cathedral help the protesters in this way if in return Occupy LSX trespasses on private property, blatantly blocks a public thorough-fare and continues to have a major economic impact on the life of one of our nation's chief centres of worship?

The cathedral may have mismanaged the last fortnight's news, but it now has an opportunity to take the initiative. It needs to press forward with its offer to promote the conversations and dialogue that the protesters want, and if necessary it needs to highlight the increasingly unreasonable behaviour of the campers. It's time for a new way forward, with the Church of England leading the way in challenging the excesses of the City, but also not being afraid of pointing out where others are actually damaging such a conversation by their actions.

There is an opportunity now for the Bishop of London to turn a poisoned chalice into the cup of thanksgiving, and if the protesters are too obsessed with sticking to the materialism of their little patch of stone slabs off Paternoster Square to eat of the fruit of the spiritual potential of the moment, then so be it.

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