Cathedral authorities accused of colluding with big banks during evensong protest on eve of anniversary of start of Occupy camp
The traditional solemnity of St Paul's Sunday evensong was disrupted when four members of the Occupy London movement, which camped outside the cathedral for four months, chained themselves to the base of the pulpit.
While the choir sang, four women dressed in white shouted their own sermon to mark the anniversary of the start of the Occupy camp outside St Paul's, accusing the cathedral authorities of colluding with banks and turning their backs on the poor.
Occupy had been invited to read a prayer at the service, but if the gesture was an attempt at reconciliation, it was firmly rejected. After Tanya Paton, of Occupy Faith, had read her prayer, the group of women rose from their seats and chained themselves to the pulpit.
"In the fight for economic justice Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, but you invited them in and instead evicted us," shouted activist Alison Playford. "Your collusion with the City of London Corporation led to our violent eviction on your doorstep. You testified against us which acted to uphold injustice and inequality that is growing by the day. St Paul's Cathedral you must stand up and be counted at this great trial of history."
Activists from Christianity Uncut held a simultaneous protest outside, unfurling a large banner which called for St Paul's to "Throw the money changers out of the temple". The female protesters said they had no keys to the chains which secured them to the pulpit and did not plan to leave. City of London police arrived at the cathedral, but were told by staff they were happy for the protesters to remain.
The Very Reverend David Ison, dean of St Paul's, spoke immediately after the women to give his sermon, mildly joking that he now had a "captive audience". He told the protesters that they were welcome in the church and he would be happy to speak to them after the service. "I hope you will listen to what I have to say," he said, before arguing that "tribalism" was not the way to defeat poverty and inequality. "We need partners, allies whether they are bankers or campers, conservative or liberal, religious or not. God's invitation to us is to follow Jesus Christ and to change ourselves and the world to one which is inclusive and generous and calls all of our self interests into question whether its the interests of the Church of England or Occupy or the City of London."
Speaking after the service he said: "I'm just sorry they decided to do this, which makes it hard for members of Occupy Faith, who have been working together with us on something which is respectful."
But members of Christianity Uncut said they had been requesting a meeting with St Paul's since some protesters were forcibly removed from the cathedral's step by police given permission to do so by the cathedral authorities, following an eviction order by the City of London.
"Christians were dragged away from St Paul's while they were kneeling in prayer," said 25-year-old Siobhan Grimes, one of the women protesters. "We have been trying to have a meeting since then and this is obviously what you have to do to get one."
Playford said it was time for St Paul's to get off the fence. "The cathedral makes platitudes to Occupy but they colluded with the City of London and missed a perfect opportunity to enact the teachings of Jesus," she said after the service, barefoot with a chain around her waist. "The poor and needy came to them and they shut the door and got rid of us as soon as possible."
The protest marks a further deterioration in relations between St Paul's and the Occupy protesters who camped outside the cathedral for four months. Monday marks the first anniversary of the occupation – part of a global movement born in the wake of the financial crisis – which saw hundreds of protesters live in the camp while calling for an end to the perceived excesses and injustices of the global financial system.
Raising tensions between the cathedral and protesters resulted in the resignation of the canon chancellor, Giles Fraser, who left his post because he did not want to see "violence in the name of the church", and a chaplain, Fraser Dyer. Since being removed by police in February Occupy have opened short-lived camps in Finsbury Square and Shoreditch, east London, but the movement no longer has a physical base.
"We are calling on people to take the conversation out of St Paul's and into their homes," said Occupy campaigner Ronan McNern. "There is more need for this movement than ever. The welfare state is being dismantled and our call is still for people to stand up and challenge this injustice and inequality. The tents have gone but we are still here."
[St. Paul's Cathedral via Shutterstock]