When every day is full of back-to-back meetings and events it is not easy either to keep up with what’s going on in the world or to write blog posts. Add to that a chest infection, the almost total loss of my voice and the fed up feeling that goes with it and blog silence becomes understandable. However, the cancellation of appointments today means that there is a bit of space for catching up.
Despite a certain pressure to do so, I have no intention of commenting on the on-going saga of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. There are two reasons: (a) it is someone else’s diocese and not my business, and (b) I don’t know enough detail to judge reality over against the assumptions, speculation and presumption flying around the ether. It is always amazing how confident some people can be about stuff they are not privy to. However strange the appearances may be, I still don’t know the detail and don’t intend to add my speculation to that of others.
However, there is one new fact on the ground: the resignation of Dr Giles Fraser as Canon Chancellor. This is bad news.
Some people love to hate Giles. He represents everything they hate about the Church not confirming their prejudices. But, whatever they think of him, they can’t ignore him.
Giles and I do not hold the same line on every issue. Why should we? (Why do some people find it so difficult to disagree or to allow disagreement? Being a grown-up means being able to own an opinion, argue for it, change your mind if so persuaded, but allow the integrity of the other. Giles is an adult who expects others to behave like adults. Perhaps that’s where the problems start?)
There is no one like Giles for naming the issue, arguing a case, listening to argument (and changing his mind), giving space to the opposing voice, setting up the conversations on the matters that matter, keeping the focus of the church on the world it is called to serve, asking the tough theological questions, commending consistency and not letting issues cloud relationships. In my experience over the last few years, he has been a great critical friend and one whose ‘let’s not pretend this spade is anything other than a bloody shovel’ approach has been refreshing, challenging, arresting and encouraging. I have debated with him, shared a platform with him and had beers with him. He has a great capacity for friendship – even with those who profoundly disagree with him.
I might not always agree with his conclusions, but Giles forces me back to the Bible and the ground of my own Christian faith. He is a formidable debater, a great lecturer, a brilliant communicator and (perversely) a Chelsea fan. (Apart from the Chelsea bit, of course) Giles is an honourable man of integrity. The Church needs prominent people who inspire, annoy and question – after all, the Gospels tell the story of one who wasn’t exactly a bland pacifier, don’t they?
When Giles went to St Paul’s I wondered how he would hold it all together. In describing his background, Stephen Bates helps us understand how Giles does, in fact, adapt. I wondered if his voice would really be allowed or if it would be compromised by the ‘establishment’ (whatever that is). It is a great credit to St Paul’s that Giles was given the freedom to develop conversations on the things that matter to real people and ask hard questions about the political and economic assumptions we make about the world. It is a great credit to Giles that he set up some excellent stuff at St Paul’s during his short time there.
The question now is how he might be enabled to continue to do this stuff outside St Paul’s.
The other question is how St Paul’s continues its good work in keeping these debates (on capitalism, justice, the financial system, etc) going, picking away at the uncomfortable sores and refusing to ditch the theological lens for something more comfortable.
It’s a pity the occupation outside St Paul’s couldn’t have been harnessed in order to ramp up that debate across the country. Those who think that by now the ‘story’ has relegated the ‘issue’ might be right.