Wednesday, October 26, 2011

hears about a 'Flash Evensong' occuring at St Pauls, as part of #OccupyLSX

If two or three Christians gather in a room, at least one is destined (rightly or wrongly) to say that 'the media ignores us'. This certainly hasn't been true over the past week.  Ever since the first tent was pitched outside St Pauls Cathedral, as part of a global 'occupy movement', suddenly church ethics have been at the forefront.

At first nothing happened, then suddenly the church accepted the protest, then decided it would be wise if they moved, then said they would shut if they didn't move. Then St Pauls Cathedral Shut.

The newspapers and media went wild, and somehow the cathedral staggered through (for full coverage of this side of the story see Dave Allen Greens very high quality blog), meeting its legal obligations by holding eucharist behind closed doors.

While St Pauls shut the public out, something bubbled up and suddenly a 'flash evensong' sprung up and christians gathered to worship outside this iconic church.  As someone who regularily tweeted with Artsy Honker, the person who organised it, I emailed over some questions to find out more about this surprising, and exciting, move:

Artsy Honker
Please, tell us a wee bit about yourself
I'm a freelance musician and a church organist; I've lived in various bits of London for the last eleven years and currently live in Leytonstone.

You've somehow started an evensong movement at the Occupy London event. How did that happen?
I thought it would be good to have Evensong at St Paul's cathedral, and half-joked about doing it myself if they weren't letting people in for worship. Things sort of snowballed from there. I've had excellent help and support, particularly from the person who has the @FlashEvensong twitter account, but from lots of others too.

How did you feel in advance of the first evensong, 
when did you realise people had come along to take part?

Like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! I didn't know how many people would turn up and I worried that either it would be just me, or that there would be so many I wouldn't have enough hymn sheets or something. But I knew I could count on at least some of the people who said they'd come, and so I decided to go for it. I was really glad I did.

Describe the moment of the worship that night that felt most like true worship to you?
For me, that was probably while we were singing the psalms. But I'm a musician, and I worship best in song. Others might have found other parts of the liturgy more meaningful.

What was the reaction from other occupiers as the service started?
Most of them left us alone; a few people joined in with us, but I don't really know if they were part of the protest camp or just visiting.

Why is there a need for an act of worship at the site?

The cathedral is a place of public worship, and has been for hundreds of years.

 Have you made any moves to encourage members of the St Pauls Clergy to attend/hold similar outdoor services?
All sorts of people are part of the occupation
Photo by Flickr user npmeijer 
I know that there was a service on Sunday afternoon that one of the St Paul's clergy was involved in; unfortunately I only found out about it after arriving, as it wasn't very well-publicised! I have tried to keep the cathedral "in the loop" about what we are doing, but as most of my communication on the subject is by twitter it may not have been noticed. Of course we would be delighted if any of the clergy of St Paul's could join us.

Do you know of any other religious events occurring within the occupation?
I've heard talk of some Quaker meetings, and I think there is a meditation/prayer tent. There were also celebrations of some Jewish festivals -- see here for links to the FaceBook pages:

Tonight another evensong will happen, how do you decide on the hymns/text?
We're using the same hymns as on Sunday: three well-known hymns. This is at least partly because I still have printouts from Sunday and I don't want to waste too much paper! But for another event on Sunday (which I can't attend because I've already committed to singing Evensong elsewhere) people are chosing them with an online poll.

 Social  media has been a strong part of creating these small acts, what role do you find it plays in creating and connecting christians around the uk?
I don't think of social media primarily as a tool for connecting Christians; rather it is a tool for connecting people. It does make getting in touch with people regardless of geography or circumstance a little bit easier; a lot of the people I speak with regularly on twitter, for example, are people I wouldn't have met in my everyday life. But some I agree with and some I argue with, just like in any other group of people.
St Pauls, 16 October, still open to the public
Photo by Flickr user garryknight

 What message do you think self-organising worship to occur outside a major cathedral sends to those inside the cathedral:
I don't know what message is being perceived, but I hope that those inside the cathedral see that we value the cathedral as a place of worship and would like it to be open for public services.

and those walking by
Again, it's hard to say. But I hope that the message is that Christianity is not just about the cathedral, or any building for that matter -- that we are all, if we choose, part of the church, and we are able to worship God wherever we are or whatever our circumstances.

Finally, if someone wanted to get involved but couldn't tonight, how can they find out more?
The best thing to do is probably to follow myself (@artsyhonker) or FlashEvensong (@FlashEvensong) on Twitter. Reading my blog at would also be good.

Thank You

Of course, this interesting story is doing the rounds at the moment so 
Read in the Guardian about it or listen to the interview on the World at One or read about Pete Philip's experience of visiting and praying at the occupation site/