The Common Good

Occupy St. Paul’s: Thanks Be to God

LONDON — It looks like the stage of a West End theater. The tents are gathered around and almost up against the steps of the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral. Each night, a General Assembly is held on those steps, and the sermons on inequality have a biblical ring to them.

Jim Wallis visits the Occupy London at St. Paul's Cathedral, 11/22/11.
Jim Wallis visits the Occupy London at St. Paul's Cathedral, 11/22/11. (Photo courtesy of Ed Thornton/The Church Times)

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This is Occupy London and the Occupiers were having their discussions with each other and visitors in the protective shadow of the Dome of St. Paul’s — as they should be. What a picture of the Incarnation, I thought, marveling at the scene.

What makes Christian faith most unique among all the religions of the world is, indeed, the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God hits the streets — that’s what Incarnation means.

So here is the church in the midst of the international conversation that is changing the world — right where we should be.

And what an opportunity it revealed. The vivid metaphor of St. Paul’s in the streets of the public debate over the world’s inequality is a clear call to mission, to ministry, to hospitality, to prayer, and to prophetic ministry. At the steps of the cathedral, the Occupiers of London have found sanctuary.

During the day, clergy in collars, and myriads of church and community workers in jeans, wander through the crowds embodying the "ministry of presence,” helping out where they can, listening where they are engaged, offering a word of encouragement (and even advice) where they are needed. And, quietly, the open sanctuary offers the chance for the young protestors to quietly slip inside for a moment of reflection and prayer; something fledgling social movements need.

I ran into Giles Fraser, a canon at St. Paul’s who protected the protestors from the police when they first arrived, defended them from a fearful ecclesial hierarchy, and then resigned when they were threatened with eviction (an act which has, ironically, seemed to help to keep them at the church).

Giles showed me around the site and told me the story of St. Paul’s slowly coming to terms with their new ministry.

But a ministry it is, and the dramatic picture it painted was quite inspiring to me as a visual sign of what I have imagined the church could offer this new generation that protests and dreams of a better world.

Isn’t this what we should long for, an opportunity to embrace (endorsement is not the point, or necessary, or even most helpful) and engage this youthful uprising of both frustration and hope at the unjust state of the economy and the world?

Here are the “none of the above” when they are asked what religious affiliation they belong to; and the “none’s” are on our very doorstep! Isn’t Jesus likely already walking among them (as he seems so popular at all the Occupy sites)?

So why, as his followers, don’t we enter the fray?

Could this be the future of this movement, as they are evicted by force by threatened mayors and municipalities; finding sanctuary in the shadow of spiritual spires, warmth in church basements and parish halls, pastoral care in meeting the many needs of such quickly gathered communities, quiet meditation in safe chapels, and, yes, prophetic solidarity in challenging the injustice that has called them into being?

I saw a snapshot of that in the footprint of St. Paul's cathedral and it evoked an Anglican response: Thanks Be to God!
 

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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