Anything to boost attendance, cynics would say.
With fewer and fewer people attending the spiraling Episcopal Church, some prelates seem to see opening the doors to Wall Street Occupiers as a potential solution.
Since Occupiers lost their protest encampment at Boston’s Dewey Square, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has hospitably opened the doors of its Cathedral Church of St. Paul to the Occupiers to perpetuate the “conversation” about social justice.
“The issues raised by the Occupy movement are important to be discussing in society, and so I’m happy to offer our cathedral to provide hospitality and a venue so those conversations can continue,” enthusiastically chimed cathedral dean the Very Reverend Jep Streit. According the diocesan website, Occupation “general assemblies” would begin at the cathedral on December 13 and would continue three times a week.
At such a rate, perhaps Occupation rallies will become more frequent at the cathedral than worship services. Or perhaps for leftist “social justice” churches, demonstrations for governmentally orchestrated massive income redistribution are themselves a form of worship.
The Episcopal cathedral in Boston seems to resemble what comedian Flip Wilson once spoofed in the early 1970s as the “Church of What’s Happening Now.” Rev. Strait boasts on his cathedral website that this church named for the Apostle Paul resembles a “United Nations gathering” and holds weekly Muslim prayer meetings. One canon priest, he notes, is quite “disciplined” in yoga practice. And “ancient church traditions” mix with “urban grooves” at the cathedral’s “emerging church worship community.” No doubt.
Meanwhile, the rector at historic and very wealthy Trinity Episcopal Church at Wall Street in New York recently observed, somewhat defensively, that his church has “probably done as much or more for the protestors than any other institution in the area.” Trinity has given the Occupiers “meeting rooms and offices” for assemblies, private discussion, computer use, cell phone charging, and bathroom visits, he announced. “Hundreds” of these young class warriors have availed themselves of Trinity Church’s radical hospitality but apparently are not satisfied.
“We disagree with those who argue that Trinity should—indeed, must as a matter of conscience—allow Occupy Wall Street to liberate its Duarte Square lot at Avenue of the Americas and Canal Street for an open encampment and large scale assemblies,” protested the Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper. “In all good conscience and faith, we strongly believe to do so would be wrong, unsafe, unhealthy and potentially injurious.”
Rev. Cooper complained of Occupiers who have vandalized church property even while demanding access to it. “Calling this an issue of ‘political sanctuary’ is manipulative and blind to reality,” he reasonably surmised. “Equating the desire to seize this property with uprisings against tyranny is misguided,” Cooper fumed, citing “hyperbolic distortion” by grandstanding Occupiers seeking arrest. Apparently political correctness has limits, even in the Episcopal Church.
This Saturday, the Occupiers plan a “non-violent” occupation of Trinity Church’s Duarte Square, against which the church rector has threatened police action. Naturally, a retired Episcopal bishop will join the Occupiers. “Trinity might mobilize platoons of police in riot gear and ring this sad little space with multiple barricades,” bemoaned Bishop George Packard. “No room in this Inn!” Denouncing Trinity Church as “profoundly wrong,” he likened the potential confrontation to “some mythological drama out of C.S. Lewis.”
Located at the heart of the original Wall Street Occupation, Trinity Church, even if perhaps the Episcopal denomination’s richest congregation, can only afford so much patience and will risk the “drama.” In contrast, the Episcopal cathedral in Seattle has offered property to the Occupation. All these ecclesial hugs for the Occupy movement are just fine with Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. In a recent sermon at the Episcopal cathedral in St. Louis, she compared the Occupiers to the communal generosity of Jesus’ Disciples. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, titular head of the Anglican Communion, has likewise embraced Occupiers in Britain with mystic terminology, despite the mishaps encamped Occupiers have inflicted on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Leftist prelates internationally have identified with Occupy Wall Street. The head of the Geneva-based World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) pronounced in a lecture at Princeton University last month that John Calvin would have backed the Occupation. “I am sure he would have been in the streets of New York or London with a placard,” asserted WCRC General Secretary Setri Nyomi. “Calvin expressed opposition to all forms of social oppression resulting from money,” the Reformed theologian reportedly insisted.
Similarly, the top Capitol Hill-based lobbyist for The United Methodist Church declared that John Wesley would have supported the Occupation. “There is no question in my mind that Wesley would have protested greed and the neglect of the poor,” said Jim Winkler of the General Board of Church and Society. “He would support the goals.” Doubtless plenty of liberal Catholics also think St. Francis of Assisi would be encamped in Washington, D.C.’s McPherson Square or blocking traffic on K Street.
The prelates and theologians who eagerly invest Occupy Wall Street with transcendent authority almost all share a common spiritual ennui. No longer enlivened by the drama of their own faith’s teachings about divine redemption, they instead look for excitement in the bedraggled camps of unemployed twenty-somethings a fraction of their own age. The Occupiers will eventually get bored with their own tedium and move on. But will their ecclesial admirers?
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