[An article in The Telegraph inspired these thoughts. A link to the article can be found at the end of my reflection.] SSH+
I have heard people rail against English Cathedrals charging a fee – including US clergy from pulpits. After having spent time in various cathedrals and churches in the U.K. a couple of years ago, I’ve become appreciative of their predicament. I never encountered one that charged at times of worship. Some have small chapels where one can pray anytime without cost. Others would have such space if they could but the historic nature of their structures and/or the physical layout… make that impossible. I have talked and prayed with deans and parish clergy lamenting and heart struck over this very predicament.
The wear and tear of visitors, averaging from 300 a day to well over 2000 presents enormous cost challenges. Add to that the waning respect for sacred space and the challenges expand. As noted in the article, each cathedral is its own financial entity, and while admittedly anything they do reflects on the Church (for good or for ill), the wider Church does not share in the costs of its witness, worship, and mission – including being a source of art, music, and general contributions to community and culture.
As dean of an Episcopal cathedral in the US, I’m not without skin in such a conversation. There are no easy answers. While I recoil at the notion of charging to enter a space intended to be a place of God for all people (and never ever with a cost for worship), I am constantly amazed, broken-hearted when, in the cathedral, I find partially eaten food, discarded trash, coffee and other beverages spilled, people climbing on altars to get a photograph, brass plates pried off for a souvenir or scrap money, urine (and, shall we say, other things) on our front steps, and more.
There is, I am deeply convicted, an important offering and witness cathedrals make – certainly I believe they are called to make – to the church, the community, the believer, persons of other faith traditions and of no faith traditions at all.
The challenge is great, of that there can little doubt. Such a loss, while debatable by all, not missed by some, in all likelihood cheered by others, would, I believe, be a penultimate wound to the life and soul of the realm, of our realm.