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Religious diversity: rethinking religion
Religious diversity: rethinking religion

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2.2 St Paul’s: diverse visions

Described image
Figure 7 St Paul's Cathedral, London, 1675–1710, photograph c.1865–1885. A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library Accession Number: 15/5/3090.01143

Because St Paul’s is a powerful national symbol, the meaning and role of St Paul’s are contested. Now read these three short extracts which offer different views.

For each extract, try to summarise the article’s views about the cathedral in one sentence. Then reveal the discussion to reflect more on how each extract reveals a different understanding of St Paul’s as a significant cultural symbol.

Activity 4

Extract 1 Who We Are

The vision and values of the Cathedral Church of St Paul in London

Our Vision

  • St Paul’s Cathedral seeks to enable people in all their diversity to encounter the transforming presence of God in Jesus Christ.
  • As a community of worshippers, staff and volunteers we work with care and imagination to be a centre for welcome, worship and learning which inspires successive generations to engage with the richness of the Christian faith and its heritage.
  • We aim to do this with confidence, compassion and creativity, promoting dignity and justice for everyone.
  • We work with the Bishop and Diocese of London and the wider church, as a spiritual focus for London, the nation and the world.

Our Values

  • Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;
  • To uphold integrity, honesty and openness in what we do;
  • To aim for the highest possible standards in everything we do, acknowledging that we cannot do everything;
  • To make our operations as just and as sustainable as we can;
  • To foster and encourage diversity, being inclusive and challenging to ourselves as well as others.
(St Paul’s Cathedral 2017 ‘Who We Are’ [Online]. Available at www.stpauls.co.uk/ who-we-are (Accessed 01 August 2017)).
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Discussion

This extract is from St Paul’s own website. It states that its primary purpose is to promote the Christian faith by enabling people ‘in all their diversity’ to ‘encounter the transforming presence of God in Jesus Christ’. In his interview on the video, Ison emphasised how he saw his role as to maintain St Paul’s mission ‘in a dignified and just manner’. This understanding pays less attention to the multiple meanings the church has for many in the nation. However, by maintaining the dignity of the church, and in emphasising the diversity of those who might enter its walls, one could argue that its place as a centre for the nation will be better preserved.

Activity 5

Extract 2 Prince Harry pays tribute to bomb disposal heroes during service at St Paul’s

Prince Harry comforted a bereaved family and met wounded military veterans today after attending a service at St Paul’s Cathedral marking 75 years of Bomb Disposal.

In suit and medals, the fifth in line to the throne joined some of the bravest of the brave - the men and women from all three Armed Forces who run towards the bombs - among a 1,500-strong congregation inside Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece.

Second world sirens and a tannoy announcement from Afghanistan of the words ‘Op Minimise, Op Minimise, Op Minimise’ to signify casualties on the way into base with a Medical Emergency Response Team sounded out across the cathedral to evoke their sacrifice.

Harry, a veteran of two tours of duty in Afghanistan, met the family of Corporal Jamie Kirkpatrick, a bomb disposal expert with 101 Engineer Regiment who was shot dead at the age of 32 in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province in June 2010.

Kirkpatrick, an Edinburgh-born Royal Engineer who lived in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, was fondly remembered during the service, attended by his parents, brother, sister, and six-year-old daughter Holly.

His father, Ian, spoke of their grief.

‘We recall many family celebrations and events that would, under normal circumstances, be a source of happiness, but which are now inevitably a source of sadness too,’ he said.

[…]

As Harry, 31, met veterans after the service, he crouched down to chat to two ex-sappers in wheelchairs, Clive Smith, 30, and Jack Cummings, 27, who each lost both of their legs in bomb explosions in Afghanistan.

Both knew him from his work with injured veterans.

Mr Smith from Walsall, West Midlands, hopes to compete in cycling events at Harry’s Invictus Games for wounded veterans in Florida next year after coming fourth in two events in the inaugural games in London last year. ‘We were just chatting about my rehabilitation,’ he said. The former sapper, who lost his legs in an explosion in October 2010, found the service moving.

‘It was quite emotional. It brought back memories from times I’d rather forget but it was a very good service,’ he added.

(Palmer, R. (2015) ‘Prince Harry pays tribute to bomb disposal heroes during service at St Paul’s’, Daily Express, 22 October [Online]. Available at http://www.express.co.uk/ news/ royal/ 613928/ Prince-Harry-Bomb-disposal-service-St-Pauls-memorial (Accessed 1 August 2017))
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Discussion

This extract is a reporting on a service attended by Prince Harry in 2015. It presents St Paul’s as a splendid setting for royal and military occasions. Here St Paul’s provides a suitable context for reflecting on patriotic sacrifice. The role of Christian belief and worship is de-emphasised in comparison to St Paul’s own presentation of its purpose. The testimony of the veterans and their families emphasises the importance of these public acknowledgements of loss and sacrifice for the nation.

Activity 6

Read the article ‘Occupy Protesters Chain Themselves to St Paul’s Pulpit [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ’ which featured on the Guardian website in October 2012.

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Discussion

The Occupy protesters argued that in order to be true to the teachings of Jesus, the founder of Christianity, St Paul’s should be doing more to help the poor and to challenge economic injustice. Emphasising Christian charity is sometimes at odds with representing the powers of the established, national church in Britain. In the video, you may remember Ison discussing the difficulties the cathedral leadership had in seeing themselves as having a duty to both the City of London and the protesters during this particular incident. Those representing Occupy clearly believe that St Paul’s should be doing more for those less fortunate.

As you become more familiar with religion as a subject of study, you will discover many other examples of how a particular religious site, artefact, text, practice or experience can mean very different things to different people.

St Paul’s is but one expression of an enormous diversity within historic and contemporary Christianity.