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St Paul’s Cathedral may be closed over Christmas. The question is: will it really matter, even to Anglicans?

Anglican cathedrals aren’t the centre of their dioceses: and the St Paul’s clergy don’t all believe in Christmas

By on Tuesday, 25 October 2011

William Hill offers 100 -1 that St Paul's is still closed at Christmas

William Hill offers 100 -1 that St Paul's is still closed at Christmas

I begin with an amusing little item from yesterday’s Times newspaper:

You bet

With St Paul’s closed to the public because of protesters camped outside the cathedral, William Hill has opened a book on when it will reopen. The bookmaker offers 4 – 1 that it will do so by midnight tonight, even money for the end of October and 100 – 1 that it is still closed on Christmas day.

Well, according to Ruth Gledhill, the Cathedral could be closed for up to three months, putting at risk its Remembrance Sunday observance and its contribution next month to the Lord Mayor’s Show (the protesters will undoubtedly be gratified by that particular outcome). So 100- 1, I would have thought, if I were a betting man, are particularly good odds: if you fancy a flutter, get your bet on quickly, before William Hill cottons on to the fact that, given what the protesters are saying (that their encampment is there for the long haul) and given that the City of London Corporation’s legal advisers are telling them that it could take at least three months to move the protesters on, the likelihood is that St Paul’s will be closed over Christmas, which is now only two months away.

The real question is, and I really don’t mean to be gratuitously discourteous or dismissive, what will it actually matter if St Paul’s is closed for such a long time? And (to pre-empt those inclined on these occasions to fall into their usual rut, accusing me of the usual ex-Anglican convert’s Newmanian dismissiveness of Anglican institutions) let me say that I would have asked exactly the same question had I still been an Anglican clergyman. Another way of asking the same question would be to say “what is any Anglican Cathedral actually for?” – though when it comes to St Paul’s, as we shall see, we have to ask the question with particular sharpness. According to the St Paul’s website,

St Paul’s is London’s cathedral and embodies the spiritual life and heritage of the British people. Cathedrals serve a wide community. A cathedral houses the seat – or in Latin, cathedra – of the bishop, making it a centre for Christian worship and teaching, and the Christian mission.

Well, let us not say anything about the perhaps doubtful claim that St Paul’s “embodies the spiritual life and heritage of the British people”; let us consider rather that statement that St Paul’s houses the cathedra of the Bishop of London, and is therefore “a centre for Christian worship and teaching”. Certainly, the medieval St Paul’s was precisely that, just as the modern Westminster Cathedral is the physical and sacramental centre of the pastoral and administrative activity of the Archbishop of Westminster. But the fact is that the Bishop of London has almost nothing to do with St Paul’s, just as any Anglican bishop has little to do, necessarily, with “his” cathedral. Christ Church cathedral in Oxford used, indeed, to vaunt itself (maybe it still does) on the fact that the bishop wasn’t even allowed a parking space there. The big cheese in an Anglican cathedral is not the bishop, but the Dean.

At St Paul’s, the Dean is an amiable looking cove called the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, who is shown on his website dressed as a Roman Catholic monsignor (shome mistake, shurely?). There is also another big cheese, who seems to be doing a lot of the sounding off about the closure of the cathedral. He is the Rev Canon Giles Fraser and he has the grand title of Canon Chancellor. He is particularly cross about the accusation that the real crisis is not a spiritual but a financial one (the cathedral is losing about £16,000 a day, or 80 per cent of its running costs). Here he is on the St Paul’s website:

I remain firmly supportive of the right of people peacefully to protest. But given the strong advice that we have received that the camp is making the cathedral and its occupants unsafe then this right has to be balanced against other rights and responsibilities too. The Christian gospel is profoundly committed to the needs of the poor and the dispossessed. Financial justice is a gospel imperative. Those who are claiming the decision to close the cathedral has been made for commercial reasons are talking complete nonsense.

But when one looks at that claim to be committed to “the Christian gospel”, not everyone in the Anglican Church is entirely convinced that that is what St Paul’s is in fact actually about. Consider the following reponse to Canon Fraser’s “tetchy” remarks, by the famous Anglican blogger Archbishop Cranmer (who the Catholic ex-MP Paul Goodman declared to be his “blogger of the year for 2010”):

This intemperate language manages to be patronising, arrogant, high-handed, self-righteous, rude and condescending all at the same time. Presumably, appearing, as it does, on the Cathedral’s website, the statement is issued on behalf of the Dean and Chapter. It is evident that the Rev’d Giles Fraser is something of a loose canon.
But, on the matter of “talking complete nonsense”, this is the man who massacres Scripture; despises the “ego” of heterosexual weddings while lauding gay marriage; berates conservative Anglicans as “homophobes” and “extremists”; equates “Islamophobia” with racism; does not believe in the immortality of the soul; rejects the salvific notion that Jesus was sacrificed for our sin…

So, when it comes to “talking complete nonsense”, perhaps the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral might express a little Christian humility, patience, kindness and love. Perhaps he might understand that there are Christians outside of his narrow cloisters who hold beliefs just as sincerely as he holds his. He may be privileged to preach his liberal socialist gospel from the pulpit of St Paul’s. But others of us are restricted to our blogs.

So I ask again: what will it actually matter, even to Anglicans in the Diocese of London, if St Paul’s is closed, even over Christmas? Its clergy don’t even believe, necessarily (though perhaps one or two of them do, who knows?), that with the birth of Jesus, God became man for the redemption of all mankind. Perhaps a few hundred people will miss some beautifully sung Christmas services (the choral tradition of St Paul’s is intact, even if the Christian gospel isn’t entirely). But that apart, what is St Paul’s, today, actually for? The question remains.

  • Ew Der

    Since They Aren’t Using The Church And They Don’t Believe In Celebrating The Lords Birth, Why Don’t They Give It To The Local ROMAN Catholics Instead ?

  • Joe

    It might be pertinent to ask the Canon Chancellor if he had seen the H&S report before pronouncing so vigorously.

  • Anonymous

    As +Vin’s being pretty forward at being backward when it comes to provision of a Church and central HQ for the Ordinariate…

    …and the only reason there continues to be health and safety issues if they re-open the doors on the other side of the Cathedral – is the extensive extra cost of security and crowd-control manpower…

    How about letting the Ordinariate borrow it? Even hire it? I’m sure they’d find enough willing volunteers to do everything the police & H&S exec. want within the Cathedral for nothing…

    or would Dicky Chartres have kittens? closely followed by +Vin?

  • Anonymous

    A typical piece from a snotty convert.

    Riddled with ignorance and slander.

  • Chatto

    I misread “the protestors will undoubtedly be gratified” the first time around – what I saw was “the protestors will undoubtedly be graffitied.” I took me a few moments to get my head around it because my misreading made some sort of sense to me…

  • Katrina

    If the protesters stay long enough and get the market price down a bit perhaps we could all club together and buy it for the ordinariate????

  • Anonymous

    It is a very good point that William Oddie makes but, then again the same could be said about most Anglican churches. The one things that sets Catholic churches apart from Anglican churches is that fact that if you enter a Catholic church during the day you may very well see someone at prayer. However, in the last twenty years of visiting any Anglican church I have never seen anyone at prayer yet.  Now, I know we have the blessed sacrament so we have more reason to visit. However, you would think that there would be some prayerful Anglicans bothering to set foot in their church to pray during the day.

    The fact that their own churches are empty (or tourist attractions) show the general mentality in general. I often wonder if it is seen as ‘a bit embarrassing’ for the average Anglican to be seen at prayer in a public place.

    Having said this I am well aware that the real Anglican stalwarts are often seen at evensong, and who could blame them.

    My stomping ground is Louth, Lincolnshire and when visiting the magnificent St James Church the epicenter of the Lincolnshire Rising (and the Pilgrimage of Grace) and spiritual home of Captain Cobbler it always saddens me that this important church is seen purely as a place of worship on a Sunday and then after that primarily a tourist attraction.

    When I get time I pop in during the week and have never seen anyone yet at prayer in the ‘designated prayer space’ (sad that a church has a designated prayer space when the whole place should be for that purpose).

    This Catholic is not embarrassed to be found saying the Prayer for England and maybe a ‘dedication of England to the Mother of God’ in this historic, empty, Anglican, tourist attraction.

  • FrFrancis

    Ahh,, the ‘us and them’ language coupled with sweeping generalisations! All very helpful in building up the Body of Christ! My brother, how can we hope to bring Anglicans back if we talk about them like this?

  • Anonymous

    Funny how all those Orthodox Catholics and sincere Anglicans who persisted with the “Us & Them” paradigm led to the formation of the Ordinariate.

    Whereas the pragmatising, relativising, mendacious oecumaniacs of the ARCIC brigade – who made joint statements which meant diammetrically opposing things to both sides – with all their ‘joint masses’ and shared tabernacles amongst many other scandalous perfidious affronts to the dignity of the Blessed sacrament and consecrated holy orders – despite their decades of ‘we two together clinging’ dialogue…

    …wrought bugger all!!!!

  • theroadmaster

    St Paul’s Cathedral ostensibly is the anglican equivalent of Westminister Cathedral for Catholics within the Greater London area.  The sacrifice of the Mass and the exposition of the Holy Eucharist maintains the real presence of Jesus Christ within Westminister Cathedral and other Catholic churches across the globe.  The different theologies regarding the function of the priesthood and apostolic succession between the two Communions, somehow concretises the metaphysical better in Catholic places of worship than reformed.

    Although there is a growing tendency across Europe for Churches to be tourist traps, the aforementioned spiritual realities make Catholic churches much more than museums in waiting.

  • Lindsay Gray

    I’m an Anglican (Canadian) and I agree with these sentiments entirely.
    The Anglican church is (in very large part, and especially amongst its leadership) a parody of a Christian church. The trendy, modernist rubbish that comes out of the mouths of its clerics, such as Canon Fraser, is the stuff of a Monty Python sketch.
    I do still adore the Anglican liturgy and the choral services — especially of the traditional choirs like St. Paul’s.
    But how is the Anglican church really Christian anymore? It seems to me its leaders have redefined the word ‘Christian’ according to their own lights — and that means according to the secular, non-Biblical sense that simply refers to ‘doing good’ and believing in ‘social justice.’
    It literally makes me weep to think that I have lost my church to these people.

  • Anonymous

    Yet more disgraceful sentiments from a convert, anxious to prove his “Catholic” credentials. Just like when he was an Anglican.

  • Anonymous

    “So I ask again: what will it actually matter, even to Anglicans in the Diocese of London, if St Paul’s is
    closed, even over Christmas? Its clergy don’t even believe, necessarily
    (though perhaps one or two of them do, who knows?), that with the birth
    of Jesus, God became man for the redemption of all mankind. Perhaps a
    few hundred people will miss some beautifully sung Christmas services
    (the choral tradition of St Paul’s is intact, even if the Christian
    gospel isn’t entirely).”

    ## In view of the lamenting about *Catholic* unorthodoxy, it’s hard to see that that remark makes any points against the Cof E that can’t be made with  equal force against Catholics.

  • Ew Der

    I Believe In Unity, But Some Anglicans Have Turned The House Of God, The Most High Into Tourist Attractions And They Don’t Even Give The Money That They Profited, To The Local Charities. So, How Can We Catholics Unite Ourselves With Our Lost Bretheren ? If Their Clergy Aren’t Even Helping Them To Unite Themselves, With Us Catholics. They Are What I Call “Sold Out Christians.” They Need Enlightenment And A “Knock To The Head.”

  • Ew Der


  • W Oddie

    When i was an Anglican, I wasn’t a convert. So how is it “Just like when he was an Anglican”? This is drivel.

  • Lindsay Gray

    I actually have travelled to England, from Canada, expressly to attend services for a week or two at certain of the C. of E. churches that still have the traditional men-boy choirs — such as St. Paul’s, The Temple Church, and the great Collegiate Chapel Choirs.  That’s how much I cherish the Anglican musical tradition.
    I’m just glad I don’t have a trip planned at this time, because I would be afraid I would lose it and find myself publicly berating those tented ‘occupiers’ who have caused St. Paul’s to close its doors.
    But what I might really feel like doing would be to physically drive them away with a ‘switch’,  as Jesus did with the money changers at the temple. :-)
    And maybe not only chase away the tenters; I wouldn’t mind chasing away those clergy who are just as irreligious (IMO) as the money changers likely were, namely the Rev. Canon Giles Fraser, for one.

  • Raystyles04

    How much investment has the Church lost as a result of the banking crisis  more than the £16,000 a day entrance fee’s ?

  • God

    The protester’s are only doing what the pensioner’s would do as a result of their depleted pensions result of the  value less money being dumped  in land fill  ie  QE

  • John Bowles

    The Pope often wears a mitre ‘just like an Anglican bishop’. That the Dean of St Paul’s wears a similar attire to a Laevipede Monsignor is irrelevant, Mr Oddie. He is wearing what just about every other Anglican Dean wears, a black cassock with red piping and a red cincture. You ought to know that. You were once a protestant clergyman.

  • Anonymous

    Just like when he was an Anglican, more Roman than the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

  • W Oddie

    The cassock has its many buttons down the front, like a Roman soutane. It is copied from that of a Catholic monsignor. The fact that they all do it (not true I would have thought) is irrelevant. 

  • W Oddie

    You know nothing about me whatever. Just who are you, exactly?

  • John Bowles

    Catholic Monsignori in this country are very rarely seen in cassocks at all, as well you know, preferring grey clerical shirts and tweed jackets if we are to believe your chum, Damian Thompson. I think on the very rare occasions when a Monsignor is seen out and about in a soutane, he might more pertinently be thought to be dressing like a Church of England Dean. What did you like to wear when you were a Vicar?

  • Anonymous

    You know nothing about the clergy at St Paul’s, whom you freely pillory. Who do you think YOU are, exactly?

  • John Bowles

    I think you might be onto something there, Mr Gates!

  • W Oddie

    THis is rubbish. I see them all the time. You know nothing about it and would be well advised to pipe down: at the moment you are just making a fool of yourself.

  • Hendryshannon

    Why do you not all just cut your losses and come home to the Catholic Church. You all know how the Church of England was created anyway. King Henry VIII founded your religion in the year 1534 because the Pope would not grant him a divorce with the right to remarry which included murder, adultery, and political intrigue.

  • Anonymous

    It seems you like to dish out offensive material, from the platform afforded to you by the Catholic Herald, but you do not like it when you are asked to justify it. Not that it can be justified.

  • Poppy Tupper

    Oh yes, how nice. And then how will the Ordinariate – 800 strong and shrinking – finance it?

  • John F. Jackson

    When Wren was involved in re-building St. Paul’s it was in the heady days of the beginnings of the Royal Society.  Wren, himself a scientist, mathematician, and sometime architect designed St. Paul’s more as a monument to science than a temple dedicated to God.  It has become over the centuries, more of the former, and probably has shone only from time to time to be the latter.  Certainly, what is now happening shows its insignificance in gospel terms and places Mr. Oddie right on the mark.  

  • Emma

    Come and join the Ordinariate- it’s wonderful that Pope Benedict has enabled many high Anglicans to come into communion with the one apostolic Catholic Church but preserving the traditions of the high Anglican church.

  • Hendryshannon

    Well, if the Catholic Ordinary was willing to purchase it, perhaps the Ordinariate could offer to take up a “thank you” collection to help pay for it.

  • Adrian Johnson

    The Ordinariate needs a London Church–St Pauls would do nicely.  

  • Adrian Johnson

    Bring the Anglicans back to St Paul’s after it is given over to the Ordinariate.  (See above) 

  • Patrick Mulvey

    Given the state of Anglican religion as stated by Mr. Oddie, I imagine that Anglicanism will die off in a generation or two at best and there will be no one to convert to Catholicism. Once it loses its traditionalists to the ordinariate it will swing even more wildly askew from orthodoxy to absolute meaninglessness  to the ordinary person.  Why, in God’s name, would anyone bother to affiliate with a church where the belief in Jesus as Lord and God is not intrinsic to its identity; believes marriage is basically undefinable; does not proclaim a pro-life message; and has doubts about the hereafter?   The negligible amount of heretics that will be left after another generation will not be able to financially support salaries, maintenance and upkeep of churches or  a bureaucracy ministering to no one.   

  • Adrian Johnson

    I was drinking tea when I read this and snorted tea all over (graffitied?) the screen – 

  • Cath1

    Is this really what you think Anglicans believe? perhaps you should put Mr Oddie’s stereotypes aside and actually talk to some!

  • Anonymous

    It costs £8m a year to run. The Ordinariate can’t pay for its own clergy.

  • Peregrinus

    Yes of course.  And your point is?

  • October671

     The problem is, that some do actually think like this, though by no means all.