I’ve been following with interest the various church-based reactions to the #OWS movement around the world.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, London has been a weird, ongoing train wreck of a reaction. From the outside, it looks like they thought the protest would go away soon, so they didn’t try to engage systematically. They just sort of tolerated the protesters’ presence, until they didn’t anymore.
It’s difficult to tell what caused the problem–tourists were getting upset? (and see, that just makes everyone look bad–the cathedral charges tourists, and that’s a source of income. So let’s hope it’s not that, shall we?)
So then St. Paul’s decried the protest as a ‘health and safety hazard.’ And closed. And asked them to leave.
At which point, one of the canons of St. Paul’s said he would quit if the protesters were made to leave. At which point, in jump the media. And then the dean of St. Paul’s said he would resign, and the church would reopen, and no one had to leave, and didn’t everyone just feel dumb now, what with the quitting and stuff? And also, the Bishop of London was getting involved, and now they were announcing a special task force! For ethics and financial systems! Because we should talk about these things, yes, but in y’know, organized ways, in rooms with proper tea, and biscuits and whatnot. This task force was to be spearheaded by the Church of England and wouldn’t that please make the protesters happy, and couldn’t they please, maybe, go home now?
Unsurprisingly, they were less than impressed.
Today, news broke that after the dean resigned, the Chapter (vestry of a cathedral) met, and decided to immediately drop legal action against the protesters, and essentially slink quietly away, looking foolish.
This whole thing has been playing out in the media on both sides of the ocean for the past week or so, and Episcopal Cafe has done a bang-up job of covering it here.
I’d also direct you to what has been going on in NYC and our homegrown Episcopal communities. Trinity, Wall Street (aka: The Church that Owns Wall Street, in a Fairly Literal Manner) released a statement at the beginning of the Occupy movement. It is here. Since then….no drama. No standoffs. Members of their staff have participated in the protests, have held Eucharists for the marchers. Other NYC area Episcopal churches have done likewise. Similar scenes have played out in Boston, Philadelphia, other cities.
It strikes me that this difference of reaction mirrors, in large part, the divide in the church.
On the one hand, we have the old traditions, and the institutional memory of being In Charge. We represented the bastions of our civilization, that Is Not to Be Questioned. We were content in the knowledge that we were in charge, we had the power, and we got to call the shots. We got to decide who shared power with us, how decisions were made, and how discussions were held (in comfortable rooms, with tea, sherry and cookies, thank you very much.) We got to decide who was in those rooms, and even what was allowed to be on the table for discussion. The buck stopped with us. And who was anyone else coming in from the outside to question our benevolence and our wisdom? Seriously, how dare they? (These people shall get no sherry.)
On the other hand, we have been slowly coming to the realization that the power we had has left us, in many ways. We aren’t the numerical majority any more, we don’t attempt to select the leaders of countries (unless you’re Pat Robertson, in which case, I have a LOT more to say to you).
So what we preach rings hollow unless it is backed up with action. No one will listen to us unless we live out what we preach, individually and corporately. And we can’t get away with preaching a Christ who ‘came to set the captives free, to preach good news to the poor’ while we try to hold on to our own power and wealth, and protect it at the expense of others. People, generally, don’t buy that.
The good news is, however, that this frees us up to do amazing things. Trinity gets to open their doors in an authentic way to be a meeting space for conversations about what an ethical economy. They get to be a prophetic voice without worrying so much about what part of their entrenched support they will be losing. If you let someone else uphold the status quo for a while, you get to do a lot more heavy lifting in ministry.
The status quo upholding gets really boring after a while.