I managed to wangle a few hours at the OccupyLSX protest camp at St Pauls Cathedral this week : I don't trust media reporting of things like this and thought it better to find out for myself. About 100 tents, I'd say, including the welcome/info tent, the multi-faith prayer tent, the first aid station, the kitchen tent, the coffee bar tent (all free food, by the way — guests and donations welcome), the Tent University for seminars, linked to the library ('Starbooks', opposite Starbucks). Photo album here.
I met all sorts : a retired theatre director, a supply teacher, an archaeologist between digs, American students, local workers popping in to help with the kitchen or whatever, visiting speakers, some seriously knowledgeable and professional activists and organisers, a few drifters and layabouts, and one complete nutcase from Merseyside in a smart suit. Oh, and a sharp-witted Irish street poet hanging around the fringe extracting money from people. I joined in a seminar led by some lovely young anarchists who'd never led anything like it before and weren't much good — but once people started challenging their ideas they revealed a much greater wisdom than first impressions gave. People were extremely interested in my Christian input, and Jesus was very highly thought of — the 'Big Man'. Then we had a pretty technical talk on Land Value Tax from a former Vice-Chair of the old Greater London Council, the notorious (to some) Dave Wetzel. There was a bit of street theatre, which had led a local bank branch to close its doors. "A bank closed by poetry" was the claim.
There was a full programme of events. A lot of effort was spent on making sure the camp remained harmonious, welcoming, safe and tidy, with notices up reminding people not to make a noise when prayers were being said in the Cathedral (whose staff, after the initial mishandling, maintain constant friendly contact). Inevitably the camp has attracted some of the very vulnerable, marginal people in London who've gone there because they find a welcome they don't find anywhere else. They were unsurprised, albeit disappointed, that the London Evening Standard had twisted this into a front page headline "Needle bins at St Paul's camp to beat junkie health hazard".
The twice-daily Assembly ('Church Meeting') where policies are thrashed out and occupiers are briefed about similar events happening worldwide, was a mixture of good discussion and tedious debate about admin and procedure. Sound familiar? I saw the 'elders' of the camp preparing for the meeting in Starbucks beforehand. They'd a lot on their plate : they've just planted a 'mission church' by occupying a large building in Hackney (left vacant by the multinational bank UBS for years) and turning it into a 'Bank of Ideas' (http://www.bankofideas.org.uk/welcome/) and community centre. Quite apart from the logistics of getting that running there were all the court hearings to prepare for.
At the heart of this are thoroughly organised, very inventive and creative people with determination and a passion for a better society. Like us, they can't describe the 'Kingdom of God' in all its details, but they know what is not'kingdom-like' and are trying to explore and model a different way.
My overall impression : "All the right questions, right spirit, right organisation. Living out a lot of the answers." All in all, just what I'd want the United Reformed Church to be, and in many ways, perhaps, what we are already in a very unobtrusive way. Except, perhaps, without the passion and spirit.