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Protest forces St. Paul’s Cathedral to close

Protest forces St. Paul’s Cathedral to close

New Update 12:15 pm EDT: St. Paul’s Cathedral has decided to close until further notice because the Occupy London protesters massed around St. Paul’s have created massive logisitcal and safety issues for the cathedral.


The BBC report is here.

Update: 10:55 am EDT -The Guardian report is here.

Here is the statement from the Dean on their website:

A twitter feed by Ed Thornton who on site says that the Cathedral will close at 3:30 pm (GMT) and that that the protesters will hold a General Assembly at 4 pm to decide how to respond. As noted in the Guardian report, some protesters a promising to resist if they are forced to leave.

Update at 12:15 EDT: The response of Occupy London is below the fold.

The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, issued the following statement today (Friday 21 October):

Thank you for coming today.

It seems a very long time since the protestors arrived around the Cathedral last weekend and I want to stress at the outset that we have listened to them and indeed developed a conversation with them.

We are delighted that the London protests have been peaceful and indeed there has been a good atmosphere generally between Cathedral staff and those dwelling in the tents around St Paul’s.

There is something profound about protest being made and heard in front of this most holy place: a gathering together of those concerned about poverty and inequality facing the great Dome of this Cathedral Church.

You actually have to be here to witness it for yourself because the extent of feeling and protest is not easily translated via media in that sense.

But it is about the practical and safety issues which this peaceful protest has raised which I need to address with you today.

It should be obvious to anyone approaching the Cathedral that the size of the camp and the consequent compliance issues which it inevitably raises, has increasingly put us in a difficult position.

Last night, I met with members of the Chapter to discuss some of these key issues. As the week has gone on, and in a statement we issued earlier this week, we intimated how difficult the situation was becoming.

As a result of that meeting, and reports received today from our independent Health, Safety and Fire officers, I have written an open letter to the protestors this afternoon advising them that we have no lawful alternative but to close St Paul’s Cathedral until further notice. I have here copies of the letter clearly outlining the reasons we have had to take this dramatic course of action which I will ask my colleagues to distribute.

The Health, Safety and Fire officers have pointed out that access to and from the Cathedral is seriously limited. With so many stoves and fires and lots of different types of fuel around, there is a clear fire hazard. Then there is the public health aspect which speaks for itself. The dangers relate not just to Cathedral staff and visitors but are a potential hazard to those encamped themselves.

The decision to close St Paul’s Cathedral is unprecedented in modern times and I have asked the Registrar to implement emergency procedures whereby the building remains closed but fit for purpose until such a time that we can open safely. Our 200 staff and 100 volunteers are also being informed of this decision this afternoon.

I want to say two simple things at this point.

1)We have done this with a very heavy heart, but it is simply not possible to fulfil our day to day obligations to worshippers, visitors and pilgrims in current circumstances.

2)That all of the Chapter are at one on this and recognise the complexities of the issues facing us at this time.

As you can see in the open letter, I am asking the protestors to recognise the huge issues facing us at this time and asking them to leave the vicinity of the building so that the Cathedral can re-open as soon as possible. So many people who visit this great Cathedral come here, of course, because they love the Gospel of justice, peace and reconciliation [which some of the protestors are embracing for a whole host of reasons] , but also because they want to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of a place of prayer and pilgrimage.

Some will rightly say that the Church should be alongside those seeking equality and financial probity. We are. The debate about a more just society is at the heart of much of our work at St Paul’s and indeed we hope to contribute to the wider debate in the very near future through a Report from the St Paul’s Institute.

But today is about our ability, practically, to carry on our mission with free and open access to this public space and treasured place and I hope that the protestors will understand the issues we are facing, recognise that their voice has been legitimately heard, and withdraw peacefully.

Here is the response from the blog of Occupy London:

We are disappointed to learn that that the management of St Paul’s have decided to close the Cathedral this afternoon, in their open letter regarding our peaceful occupation that aims to highlight and challenge the social and economic injustice in the UK and beyond.

Since the beginning of the occupation six days ago, OccupyLSX have tried hard to accommodate the Cathedral’s concerns in any way we can. Over the past 48 hours, we have completely re-organised the camp in response to feedback from the Fire Brigade and we have also accepted the presence of two large barriers to preserve access to the side door of the Cathedral.

Both of these measures were accepted by the General Assembly in order that the Cathedral’s normal operations should not be unduly impacted by our presence. This afternoon we have been told, in a telephone call, by the fire brigade, that they have not issued any new requirements above and beyond those already communicated directly to the camp. Therefore, there are no outstanding fire safety issues.

What outstanding issues there are appear to be concerned with, firstly, health and safety and, secondly, the Cathedral’s commercial concerns. We seek clarification from the Cathedral as to the precise nature of those health and safety concerns, so that we might address them directly. In the short space of time that we have been here, we have successfully liaised with the City authorities and outside bodies to coordinate recycling and sanitation.

As to the Cathedral’s commercial concerns, access to the restaurant has never been blocked by the encampment. The closure of the restaurant, by the Cathedral, has mystified us, especially as it came at the same time as we encouraged our people to use and support the restaurant. We would much prefer to eat there than in some of the nearby chains.

We believe the Cathedral is also concerned about their visitor numbers. We have endeavoured to ensure that our schedule does not conflict with the Cathedral’s, so that their normal operations are not impaired. Clearly, we have become another tourist attraction on the Cathedral’s doorstep – but, since we are not a commercial concern, we are struggling to understand how we have had any financial impact on the Cathedral’s revenues.

We also understand that some individuals were in the process of arranging for a contribution to be made to St Paul’s in recognition of their hospitality. It is a shame the Cathedral authorities have decided to take this action before those preparations came to fruition, as we expected them to in the next 12 hours.

Over the course of this week, we have done a huge amount to draw attention to the crisis of economic and political legitimacy experienced in the UK and mirrored in protests staged across the world. That awareness-raising exercise – and our attempts to provide a truly participatory and accountable forum in which to investigate ways forward – will continue.

Update – 4pm

We have been advised by Health and Safety Manager Rachel Sambal that the City of London’s Health and Safety Team have had no contact with St Paul’s Cathedral regarding health and safety issues at the site.

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Dave Paisley

When did this become Occupy St Paul's?

Give anarchists an inch and they'll take a mile and bitch about it in the process, apparently.

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tgflux

"smelly encampment ... oceans of unwashed anarchists"

I started to get upset by this characterization . . . then I considered that this is St Paul's, after all. The namesake* of the cathedral would have said the something similar about Jesus and his disciples!

JC Fisher

* Though he was known as "Saul" at the time.

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Dave Paisley

A smelly encampment that surrounds the cathedral is no impediment to visitors, surely?

Who wouldn't want to wade through oceans of unwashed anarchists to see St Paul's cathedral?

I'm just guessing the protesters aren't buying lots of postcards in the gift store to send back to their families.

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GrandmèreMimi

...we have no lawful alternative but to close St Paul’s Cathedral until further notice.

Is the TINA (there is no alternative) explanation entirely accurate? In this instance, I suppose I should rather say the TINLA reason. I'm not there, of course. I simply ask the question since the statement from the Dean and the statement from the protestors seem to conflict.

June Butler

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