St Paul’s congregation swells to hundreds for first lunchtime service
Cathedral reopens for first lunchtime eucharist service in a week, after closing in response to Occupy London protesters
St Paul’s Cathedral reopened at midday in time for its normal daily lunchtime eucharist service, but this time with a congregation swelled by tourists, the curious and serried ranks of the media to number several hundred.
No special security measures were apparent, nor any obvious signs of health and safety concerns. Asked whether this was a normal-sized congregation for the service, staff giggled and shook their heads. The same question to the embattled dean, the Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, produced the reply that all was perfectly normal and they often had congregations this size.
Knowles told the Guardian it had been a tiring week. “I am glad we have been able to reopen the cathedral,” he said. “It is no fun praying in an empty church. We have addressed the health and safety issues but one has to keep reviewing the risk.”
Asked whether he was praying for an early snowfall to clear the demonstrators outside, the dean replied: “You might say that. I couldn’t possibly comment.”
In the fourth row of the procession of senior clergy was the Rev Giles Fraser, the canon chancellor who resigned on Thursday because of his disagreement with the cathedral’s handling of the protest and his concern that police may be called in to break up the camp. He played no active part in the service. After it finished, as he and the others were filing out, an elderly woman stepped out of the congregation and kissed and hugged him.
Very few, if any, of those camped outside came in for the service. “I don’t believe in gods and that,” said Robbie from Bristol. Had he and his colleagues ventured in they would have heard a number of resonant references in the readings and prayers for the day – none deliberately chosen. Perhaps most piquant of all, from the prayers of penitence: “Jesus said to his apostles, ‘You are my friends if you obey my commands.'”
Outside the building, however, the campers were holding a general assembly to discuss their demands. The dean will not be thrilled to learn that there is no sign of them moving on.
I noticed on the ‘Thinking Anglicans‘ web-site this morning (Sat., N.Z. time) a Commenter who suggested that, if the Cathedral authorities really wanted to get rid of the Protesters overnight, they should have a constant peal of the bells! That does sound a wee bit drastic!
However, all seems to have gone well for the first mid-week mid-day Eucharist at Saint Paul’s, on Friday. That, at least , will signal the real priority of the iconic church building. Hopefully prayers were said for the relief of world poverty – and the reining in of corporate greed – which is what the Protest is all about.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand