This week, in the heart of London, history is repeating itself.
Whilst the Reverend Canon Dr. Giles Fraser is not Jesus Christ and his resignation from the staff of St Paul’s Cathedral does not have quite the dramatic effect of Jesus’ clearing of the temple the issues surrounding St Paul’s Cathedral and its relationship to the city are remarkably similar to the biblical story.
In the gospels Jesus is ministering the lame, sick, outcasts when he discovers the Jerusalem temple, which was meant to be “a house of prayer” was being used as a centre of commerce. Fast forward the two thousand and some years to 2011. In the heart of London’s financial district camp around the clock in the grounds of St Paul’s protesting the as part of the now global #occupy movement. Citing first Health and Safety concerns the problem soon turned to money with Cathedral authorities claiming the peaceful protest was costing the Cathedral £20,000 a day (on today’s exchange rate that equates to $32,000). A closer look at the website shows that there is more at stake for St Paul’s; alongside its heavily promoted shop, cáfe and restaurant we find St Pauls’ advertisement for “corporate partnerships”. These corporate partners are offered a scheme “tailored to meet the needs of each company” – it is I guess St Paul’s way of being ‘all things to all men’.
The gospel of Mark’s version of the story has Jesus’ followers joining him as he “went out of the city” (Mk 11:19); strangely the Church of St Pauls appears to have chosen not to follow Jesus out of the City but to stay with its “corporate partners”.
It is certainly true that Jesus wants to save the 1 percent who separate themselves from the 99 percent and St Paul’s are doing nothing wrong in preaching to but I am not so sure that Jesus intended them to turn their backs on the 99 percent. Perhaps St Pauls could take some advice from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian whose statue stands at the entrance of that other great London church Wesminster Abbey. “The Church” says Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison “is her true self only when she exists for humanity. As a fresh start, she should give away all her endowments to the poor and needy. The clergy should live solely on the freewill offerings of their congregations, or possibly engage in some secular calling.”
Jesus said that those who changed money in the temple and transformed the place from a house of prayer to a den of robbers. I am not going to make the same accusation of the St Paul’s management but they have certainly brought shame on the gospel of Christ. That gospel brings with it, however, the prospect of a second chance of forgiveness I dearly hope that that opportunity of what Bonhoeffer called a fresh start is seized.