There has been much hand wringing about the decision to close St Paul’s Cathedral to the public in the light of the continuing occupation by those protesting against the financial institutions which are the Cathedral’s neighbours.
Commentators have criticised the protestors for interfering with those who wish to visit St Paul's. In an open letter on the Cathedrals’ website The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles acknowledges the significance of the protest –
‘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.’
But he also asks the protestors to leave because –
‘..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.’
There is some irony there as ‘free and open access’ currently costs £12.50. But the wider issue relates to the words ‘carry on our mission.’
Whatever one’s religious views, it cannot be denied that St Pauls is a Christian establishment. So it cannot be denied that its main role is as a place of worship of and teaching about Christ. Those issues must outweigh the need to provide a place for tourists for a reasonable fee.
So the question must be WWJB? (Where would Jesus be?). His first public words give a clue –
‘The Lord’s Spirit
Has come to me
Because he has chosen me
To tell the good news to the poor..’
He was the one who told a rich young ruler to give away his wealth to the poor. He was the one who said –
‘But you rich people
Are in for trouble
You have already had
An easy life..’
So it seems that given the choice Jesus – and presumably his most famous follower St Paul. Would be less concerned about whether the grand old building can continue to accommodate the flow of paying tourists. He would be in the tent outside identifying with those who are concerned for the weak and vulnerable. He would be eating and possible feeding (!) the protesters.
I’m afraid that if the Cathedral has to forego visits for a while that is a small price to pay to make the point that the poor are more important than the building.