Quaker involvement in Occupy London

Public Quaker support for the London Occupy movement has solidified over the past few days as around 100 Quakers met for meeting for worship outside saint Paul’s cathedral on Sunday. Friends were in attendance from as far away as Aberdeen and Yorkshire as well as many more local Friends.

Individual Quakers have been involved in the movement from the beginning. Today it has been announced that The City of London Corporation is expecting to serve legal papers on protestors demanding that they move. Ian Chamberlain, from Occupy the London Stock Exchange, said: “They have to serve that notice and give us 48 hours so there is room for us to respond with legal action or whatever. Our invitation for dialogue is still there. Liberty [the human rights group] offered to facilitate a meeting to have dialogue with the Corporation of London and they haven’t responded yet. We will stay here right until the end and explore legal options to respond to any eviction notice we do receive.”

Home secretary Theresa May, speaking on television programme Daybreak, said: “The police and the church and the Corporation of London need to work together to clear the protest as soon as possible. Obviously what we’ve heard today, I think, is that legal action is being taken.”

So far three staff at the cathedral have resigned over the handling of the protest: Graeme Knowles (dean), Giles Fraser (canon chancellor) and Fraser Dyer (part-time chaplain).

Yesterday the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said: “The events of the last couple of weeks have shown very clearly how decisions made in good faith by good people under unusual pressure can have utterly unforeseen and unwelcome consequences, and the clergy of St Paul’s deserve our understanding in these circumstances.”

So far Quakers in Britain have not made a public statement. However, Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) staff have been keeping in close touch with the protesters. Turning the Tide, a programme of QPSW that provides training in active nonviolence, has run a strategy workshop for the protesters, at their invitation (see The Friend, 27 October, but you have to be a subscriber to read the whole article).

At Britain Yearly Meeting (the decision-making assembly of Quakers in Britain) this year, Quakers agreed a minute on economic justice that reads:

‘How can we renew our commitment to our testimonies of truth, justice, integrity and equality, and discern action to take our witness forward?

We have heard today of a number of initiatives in which our Yearly Meeting and its members are involved: the Ethical Trading Initiative and the work of Quaker Social Action. We have shared something of our experience, ideas and discernment from around the Yearly Meeting.

There are many small steps we can all take, as individuals and as meetings. But we also feel called to work on a larger scale. The global economic system is posited on continued expansion and growth, and in its pursuit of growth it is often unjust, violent and destructive. Several Friends have said, “we must move out of our comfort zone”, and we have heard that rage and passion may also have a place in our responses.

We need to continue to learn more about how we are influenced and constrained by the economic system. We need to ask the question whether this system is so broken that we must urgently work with others of faith and good will to put in its place a different system in which our testimonies can flourish.

As individuals, and in our meetings, we must return to the place from which testimony comes, to open ourselves to the Spirit and to wait humbly in the light. Together, we can help one another to overcome our inertia.

We rededicate ourselves to a corporate discipline of waiting and opening to the leadings of the Spirit on the issues before us at this yearly meeting. We ask Meeting for Sufferings to keep this in view over the coming year.’

Quakers worshipping outside saint Paul's cathedral. Photo: Martin Kunz.

Quakers worshipping outside saint Paul's cathedral. Photo: Martin Kunz.

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