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Occupy Sheffield have today responded to a letter from The Very Reverend Peter Bradley, Dean of Sheffield Cathedral. Please find copies of this recent correspondence at the end of this statement.

The Dean was understandably upset by a disruption on Sunday to the Eucharist by someone who had been associated with Occupy Sheffield. This was a regrettable incident, and we are calling on all parties to dig deep and show compassion towards an individual who is clearly unwell. This person is no longer part of Occupy Sheffield, having repeatedly breached our guidelines.

We additionally set the record straight regarding another interruption, which occurred on a previous Sunday – although as it turned out this was done in accordance with the Cathedral’s own procedures (‘a response to the sermon’), by an individual who is both a supporter of Occupy Sheffield, and a long time member of the Anglican Church. This person made a short point, which is worth reiterating: the goal of Occupy Sheffield is not to criticise the Cathedral.

The goal of Occupy Sheffield, in common with other Occupations worldwide, is to raise awareness of the corrupting effects of money in politics, to highlight the daylight robbery which is corporate tax evasion, to bring to public awareness the facts about our current economic situation – that the privileged few who have caused the current crisis are still active and actively enriching themselves at the direct expense of British taxpayers (a situation which is repeated across the Western world) and that the pain being felt to recover the dire economic situation is being felt in Sheffield by the poor, by the sick, by the
young and old.

Occupy Sheffield is there to stand in solidarity with those who are suffering, and to actively promote the conversation whose goal is to define the fact that there is an alternative, and what that alternative could be.

Finally we reiterated our desire to continue the substantive conversation which was begun last Monday, between OS and Ecumenical leaders in the city. We believe that there is a huge amount of common ground between us, and that as the world, the country and the city of Sheffield stands at a crossroads, a unity of purpose expressed by both the Occupation and the Ecumenical community of Sheffield can be a powerful beacon of hope at a time of need. We look forward to working with the Cathedral and their winter calendar of events, to ensure they can continue business as usual across Christmas and beyond.

Email dated 5th December 2011, from the Cathedral:

Dear Occupy Sheffield protestors,

I write following Sunday morning’s interruption of the Cathedral Eucharist. I now formally request that Occupy Sheffield end immediately its occupation of the Cathedral Forecourt, land which you have neither the right nor the permission to occupy.

Over the past four weeks, the Cathedral Chapter has shown a good deal of understanding of the reasons behind your protest and occupation. We have done this despite our significant concerns about matters of health and safety in the running of the camp, and also about your misrepresentation of the Cathedral’s position in the media.

During yesterday’s interruption of the Cathedral service a representative of Occupy Sheffield shouted profane and threatening obscenities at the congregation and clergy during my sermon. This was completely unacceptable, and deeply distressing for all present. After the previous interruption of the Cathedral Eucharist on 6 November, the Cathedral had made it clear to members of Occupy Sheffield that the Cathedral would hold all members of the protest accountable for the actions of individuals associated with it. Yesterday’s incident shows that you are neither competent nor capable of fulfilling your stated commitment to allow the Cathedral to continue its work uninterrupted, nor of ensuring that the protest is respectful of people’s right to worship without being interrupted or intimidated.

From the beginning of your illegal occupation I have consistently affirmed, in all my statements to the media, that there is a need for many of the issues raised by Occupy Sheffield to be heard more widely. The meeting at the United Reformed Church on Monday 28 November was an attempt to begin this process in Sheffield.

However, I have also consistently stated that the Cathedral Forecourt is not the right place for you to be. The Cathedral’s financial and human resources are being stretched to the limit by the need to manage what has become a very complex situation, and my colleagues are under considerable stress.

In my sermon I said that the time for protest is over and the time for action has come. I now reaffirm my willingness to continue a process of discussion and reflection about areas in which we might act together. However, this process cannot move forward with any degree of goodwill unless you end immediately your occupation of the Cathedral Forecourt.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Bradley

Email reply to Peter Bradley from Occupy Sheffield, dated 6th December 2011:

To The Very Reverend Bradley,

We write in response to your letter of the 5th December.

Firstly, we would like to express our regrets that the cathedral Eucharist was interrupted on Sunday morning last and acknowledge your continued opposition to the location of the Occupy Protest on the cathedral forecourt. We must however point out that the person involved was not a ‘representative’ of Occupy Sheffield, she was there in an individual capacity. We do not send representatives to the Eucharist or any other cathedral event to which we are not specifically invited.

You comment also on a previous interruption at the cathedral on November 6th. This was actually a polite response from a a confirmed member of the Church of England. This young woman also happens to be a part of the protest. She asked to reply to the sermon, and was given two minutes in line with Cathedral policy. She didn’t start responding to the sermon until after she had been invited to the microphone (and therefore onto the hearing aid loop). She estimates that she spoke for 45 seconds of the two minutes that she was allowed under the cathedral policy. She didn’t swear, and informed the cathedral at that point that Occupy Sheffield were not protesting against the Cathedral. Whilst you seem to wish to hold us all responsible for the actions of individuals, we have to say that we are a collection of individuals not a membership organisation, we include a broad range of views and we encourage anyone to come along and get involved in the conversation. Those members of your congregation that have spoken with us have expressed a significant level of support for the aims of the Occupy Protest and have in many instances been generous in deed as well as thought.

We have over the last four weeks made every effort to ensure that the operation of the camp impacted as little as possible on the business of the cathedral but it is impractical to expect no impact at all. We have addressed health and safety issues as they arose and have taken advice both from professionals in the field and from the fire service with respect to the operation of the camp. We continue to meet with the cathedral management team on a regular basis to discuss your concerns and look at how we can mitigate the impact on the operation of the cathedral. We do this at the request of the cathedral and if this is causing overwork or stress for your staff we would happily meet less often.

With respect to our misrepresentation of the cathedral’s position to the media, we can only respond to the media according to our understanding of your position, perhaps you could have made greater effort to talk to us direct rather than taking your comments to the media first, such as your interview with Edward Stourton on 27th November, where you showed little understanding of our position, or of the makeup of our supporters, and you yourself misrepresented your own “conversation” with the protest when there had been none. It is also unfortunate that you felt it necessary to discuss this situation with the media before talking to us direct.

We are engaged in positive discussions with the leaders of all the political parties in the city council and have received a positive response from the people of Sheffield as well as positive media coverage for our views. We have also had very positive support from other faith bodies within the city.

You state in your letter that the cathedral chapter understands the reasons behind our protest and yet despite our continued efforts to involve yourself in the conversations between the cathedral and our camp it was not until the ecumenical meeting at the URC that we have actually come face to face. We would dearly love to progress our discussions with all interested parties, yourselves included, and we would encourage you to examine the positive aspects of the camp in drawing positive attention to the cathedrals mission within the city and the way your support for our protest would enhance the efforts of both.

In the end however we must decline your request to end the Occupy Protest.

Yours sincerely,

Occupy Sheffield.