Tag Archives: Anglican

Why ‘The Church’ isn’t Biblical

I have, interspersed with virus related issues – more coming – been running a series about why I left the Anglican church. Some of my issues with it apply to other inter/national chains.

I am now going to argue against these chains from the Good Book.

I invoke my usual proviso about using the Bible as our source:

—is it all from God as a timeless mandate?

—saying that the Bible is God’s only Word limits God as to what he can say and undermines our own intuition, where God speaks best

I am especially wary of cultural differences between Bible times and us, multiple translation, and of using texts out of context. Single half sentences a good argument do not make.

 

But if we were to take the Bible as our starting point to look for support of a chain church of the Orthodox, Anglican and Catholic variety, what would we find?

 

Our focus needs to be on the New Testament, since the Old is about a people whose faith follows a different course. It’s background to Christianity, and it can still be a source of learning and inspiration, but I wonder if the Old Testament is literally The Hebrew Bible: it’s the story of the Jewish people, but the Church’s story begins with the Gospels.

 

We must take Jesus’ ministry as a whole. His whole tone is one of subverting expectation.

What was his Mum’s prenatal hymn?

Swapping the humble and proud, the rich and poor, high and low.

Was Jesus born in a palace, or a stable?

Did he become a chief priest in the national church, or an itinerant independent preacher?

 

I wonder if those who argue that Jesus must’ve been a rabbi are those who are in a chain themselves, and like to think of Jesus being in it. Perhaps those who emphasise his mendicant, dissenting freelance nature are those in independent churches.

 

I think there is more support for the latter: Jesus’ father was a tradesman, not of noble birth

Jesus died as a criminal among thieves and robbers

he didn’t have an army – he wouldn’t even let his followers defend him at arrest

the sermon on the mount…more paradoxes and swaps

Jesus’ fraternising with outcasts, whom he favoured

Paul’s understanding – ‘he has taken the weak things of the world to shame the wise’

Jesus’ life and ministry seems to topsy turvy the established world:

He threw out money changers from the temple, defended the woman being stoned,

and broke their understanding of the Sabbath.

He seemed to hate the controlling abuse of power, and rules for rules’ sake.

His kingdom was and is internal and eternal.

 

And although Jesus said that not a jot or tittle of the law should pass away, he seemed both to fulfil it, and bring it to a new level, but not in the way that was anticipated.

His confirmation as Messiah came from anointing by a prostitute, on the feet, not the head.

 

The question arises: how much of the early church is relevant to us now. Is it background history, or something to emulate – or perhaps just when church planting. Is it the ideal?

If we do believe that the Bible is our model, and certainly our mandate, then we do not have the support of Scripture for the established churches.

 

Neither Jesus nor Paul and his fellow missionaries set up a rival to Judaism, a hierarchical religious chain as we know it. Believers met in homes; Jesus preached al fresco, not in Jewish holy buildings except for the day he said that Isaiah 42 was fulfilled in their hearing, and nearly got stoned.

 

As far as the Bible on church leadership is concerned, we just have Paul’s letters, often which were answering questions and dealing with issues in and from particular new communities.

The types of roles mentioned in Ephesians don’t match the establishment equivalent. For a start, as per the start of my novel, there is no vicar, no one person in charge of a community, no person set apart by a higher person. It doesn’t even talk about training and study.

 

There are deacons and overseers. Note these are plural, even in one congregation. Deacons are what C of E vicars get first ordained as. And what is their first deed at this ceremony (where they swear allegiance to the Queen and the Bishop!)? To administer communion. Like it’s the foremost power they get – not fully invested for another year – along with their new stoles [ceremonial scarves], a sign of authority.

I note that in the Metropolitan Community Church, the celebrant – not necessarily ordained – puts it on for communion with a spiel about a privilege invested in them by the community.

Note that in the early church, there’s no bishops or monarchs required, nor power passed from Masters like in Reiki or Freemasonry.

 

In online debates about the use of church leader titles, there is a divide between tradition and using the Bible. Those only arguing from the Bible point out that “reverend” is used just once, in Psalm 111, and is clearly referring to God. In the New Testament, no-one is styled with any title. Jesus in Matthew 23 speaks against this in an argument which ought to floor any adherent to being called Reverend… especially by appending Right or Venerable! They feel that ‘pastor’ is a better and more biblical name – but I would argue that isn’t a title, just a job description. It’s true that neither Jesus nor Paul nor Peter were given the titles used by clergy. There’s a claim that ‘Magdalene’ is one, but that’s about Mary’s spiritual understanding.

I particularly take issue with “rector” which was a more honorific title referring to the clergyman entitled to take parish tithes, when the whole neighbourhood, not just attending parishioners, had to give a tenth of their income and produce to their local Anglican minister. As this abhorrent prerogative has been abolished, the distinction is purely status driven, for there is no meaningful difference between ‘rector’ and ‘vicar’. If you’re a team minister leader, say so. ‘Rector’ is also related to straightness and rules, which I dislike – and yes, I am aware of another word from that root (chakra!).

The established churches interpret the Biblical Greek words used for church leaders in very different ways to other Christian groups. The word for ‘deacon’ becomes a councillor in the Presbyterian church, which it is at a local level in Baptists; in Anglican and Catholic churches, it’s the priests, traditionally the table servers at communion. Note that the eastern part of cathedrals especially is known as the presbytery – the space for priests alone to inhabit. Typically, the laity – the nonordained – have been disallowed in this space by the high altar; and today, it’s still got an awe and taboo around it and is often roped off or gated.

The higher the church, the greater the gates and the further back they push the laity.

Just like in the old Jewish temple which had various courts for the public (starting, like cathedral naves, with a kind of market), getting ever more exclusive as you got closer to the important bit, until there was the sealed empty room of God’s presence – the Holy of Holies – where the high priest alone may only enter once a year by pulling back the dense curtain.

Ruth Scott Connolly said in her Phoenix blog that the tearing of the temple curtain meant that no longer was God limited to the holy of holies: he came out, and we could go in.

No longer in a place for the high priest alone, God’s presence was now omnipresent.

Thus the role of priest as special mediator between humans and God, carrying out rituals and duties, allowed in certain places that others were not, ended with the Easter story. Paul believed that Jesus was now the great high priest, permanently. There was no need of priests: – yes to leaders, pastors, healers, word spreaders, but the priestly function of the Jewish world ended for followers of Jesus with Jesus. Hebrews 6 states the priesthood of all believers. It means we do not need an intermediary, and implies we can all potentially do all priestly functions.

Hence I wrote phrase that on my bosom when I left the church of England last month.

I do not see a scriptural mandate that only ordained people can administer the meal Jesus instigated. Breaking bread and drinking together is a wide old custom. Jesus is recorded to have said, “do this in remembrance of me”, not “here’s how you get fixed up to be able to do so.” No one in the room had to swear an oath, or put on a special outfit, or get blessed or zapped or gain a degree. Nor did the epistle writers say that. “Do this until he come” Paul exhorts in 1 Cor 12, and simply summarises the story of Jesus’ Last Supper. (These words are the only legal requirement of the church of England eucharist). It’s not: make sure it’s a man; make sure you have been to rabbi/Way school and got a certificate; make sure you’ve got this title and garment, and wear your stole like a Miss World sash until you’re deemed worthy to drape it.

 

The overseer is just that. Not a ‘I live in a palace and have big gardens and a hat shaped like a fountain pen, and a good salary and status.’ In medieval times, these office holders didn’t even necessarily live in or even visit their dioceses, and nor did some other senior clergy!

And as for Archbishops, or worse still, Popes…!!

Where are these in the Bible? God’s rep on Earth is the Holy Spirit; he sent no others.

 

It’s said that Peter was the first pope, but the keys speech doesn’t make him Father on Earth to Christian believers. There are but two people who are my father: my God and my Dad.

I certainly don’t acknowledge priests as ‘father’ as some honorific title.

 

And there’s the whole argument that Mary Magdalene is really Jesus’ successor, culverted by Peter’s followers, but who is re-emerging.

 

Ted Doe, writer of Who Do You Think You Are about Norwich Baptist history, states that the established churches are like old Judaism: “new wine into old wine skins” (Luke 5, Mark 2).

In fact, the wine isn’t very new either.

In fact, it occurs to me that modern Judaism doesn’t have priests and holy of holies. They have ravs and rabbis. Yes, even the Orthodox version. So why are certain Christians maintaining an order and division that even the original faith group doesn’t?

 

‘The Churches’ are too much like the military, and judges. It’s all about stripes and twirls in your wig. I know someone who sent his cassock back because it didn’t have the red edging of a canon on it. But we rarely see cassocks, they’re covered with surplice/surplus robes, outfits that are ridiculous in our culture – not to mention expensive. What better use of the hundreds of pounds these worth might churches make, for general benefit, not just show?

I have much more to critique about how the C of E uses money.

I have an even bigger critique coming of pastoral care – the very heart of ministry, and why I left.

Leave a comment

Filed under society, spirituality

Why the C of E is wrong – I

Following my previous post, I am running a series on why I left the Anglican communion.

For me, there is no Church with a capital C. It’s why I write ‘the church of England’. Yes, I am aware of grammatical rules. But the Church is God’s people, and I’ve come to realise that some of those are not Christians. But at its narrowest, the Church is those who follow the teachings of and have a personal relationship with Jesus. Still pretty broad.

The Church is not Anglicans/Episcopalians, Catholics, the Orthodox or the Reformed churches.  Note how many churches call themselves the singular Church! But the Church is never the official church of a country, the one entwined with state. These are flavours of Christianity; they are not able to claim to be The Church, implying that they alone are God’s people and others are not, or that they get to speak for God and represent other Christians on any level.

There are other groups who think of themselves as only God’s truly chosen (also wrong), but they are not that sort of Church – not the sort of whom the Queen is the head and the Prime Minister picks its bishops; not the sort whose leaders sit in the upper house of parliament; who have their own legal system, as outdated and unjust as the secular one. To formally complain, you must ask permission from the local bishop!

The Anglican church does not represent the Christian faith, and certainly not those of faith.

Reading more about the history of the Anglican church, I become ever angrier.

Until recently, I didn’t realise that there were two prongs to the Reformation: we generally only hear of one, the Magisterial branch. This is the tine who made a pretty-similar-to-the- church-you-protested-about chain which still remains. In England, it put church and state together; it retained the hierarchy of its predecessor; it enforced a set service which is still used. It continued to be landowning, state steering, elitist and controlling, with long histories of single families or institutions having the right to offer parish jobs to those it wished, without reference to their spirituality and suitability. It turfed the Catholics out of their buildings and commandeered them, and then began persecuting everyone who was not of their ilk. It barred all but its own from study and offices for over two centuries and it still has succeeded in keeping other faiths out of the house of lords and off the throne of Britain. (Capitals deliberately avoided).

The other prong was the Radical reformation: those who wanted to go further than the magisterial in altering the church, who disapproved of the hierarchy, riches and rituals, who believed they should be like the early church of the Bible before it became an international chain. They too suffered persecution. Dissenters of the radical tine whom we recognise today are Baptists, Quakers, and those who became Congregationalists and Unitarians. I am proudly from the latter, although my nonconformity goes further.

The Anglican church speaks of ‘tradition’ in support of itself, but like all establishment faiths, its past is coloured by control and exclusion. It was Anglicans who killed those who wouldn’t accept Henry VIII as its head, who punished those who didn’t attend their church, who burst in on other believers’ services to arrest and beat them, who ejected 2000 men from office at once for not accepting its tenets, who imprisoned and tortured and debarred, who extracted tithes of income and produce from everyone for centuries, regardless of where (or if) they worshipped.

Not all these are in the past. There is still elitism and nepotism. Whereas tithing for the whole neighbourhood has thankfully stopped, there is great pressure on congregants under the parish share system whereby a centrally determined quota has to be paid. The local parish church is the one eternally fundraising – even though nonconformist buildings are also often large and old now, and other faith groups have sometimes huge edifices. I’ve been invited to snowdrop walks, fetes, concerts, talks, seasonal services – all to raise money for the parish church. Often the parish church is more concerned about a practical need – a cracked window, falling tower, new heating, kitchen, even just moving the furniture around… and not something which the wider community benefits from… It’s all accoutrements.

I’ve even heard of parish churches having the cheek to ask that local traders donate to their fundraising efforts. Yet the church may not engage with or assist local residents and traders. I will have a separate section on pastoral care, but suffice to say that it’s often not resourced or well executed. The nearest to providing for the community is the church clock.

The church’s teachings have crept into wider culture for centuries.They were part of bringing in and perpetuating capitalism and slavery, and traded in fear.

Of course it is also fair to say that established churches (like others) were part of abolishing slavery. Most churches now are concerned for the environment – they recycle, and some even show sympathy for Extinction Rebellion. They’ll serve Fair Trade products and support causes from leprosy to water aid to poverty and homelessness.

Yet I’ve found that Anglican churches can be conformists in other aspects of social justice.

They can be policy driven and of a fix-it mentality. They don’t ask if providing clean water is part of literally tapping a community into the system and making this essential resource into a commodity controlled by someone else. I’m not sure if they ask enough questions about why people are on the streets, on drugs and drink, and how coming off all these isn’t again about resocialising these ‘unfortunates’ into the system. Just as water companies profit from pipelines, drugs companies profit from the prescribed drugs – in both senses – that those taking illegal drugs must use to come off the other sort. And being rehoused leads to taxes and rent being paid. Note that “3rd world” waterless communities and those living on the streets and imbibing illicit substances – and no I don’t imply those last two go together – are outside the mainstream capitalist system. So is well meant assistance really doing something more sinister?

I don’t know of any non Anglican churches in this country which install CCTV. I’ve seen snotty parking notices in a range of church car parks, included camera controlled fines extorted by parking firms – see my views on that here. But I’ve only seen wheelclamping threats in a parish church. Wht not just say – “parking for church users only please”?

Following another terror threat, Canterbury cathedral’s precinct was patrolled by armed guards. I told a minister who said, “Wow, they must have felt that was necessary”. I didn’t, as I shared here – and with the dean of the cathedral. After the Manchester arena bombing in 2017, its cathedral did bag searches on those attending services the next day. I was appalled.

Anglicans can be traditional about health. The evangelical end supports faith healing more, although it is wary of some alternative healthcare because of its new age or Eastern roots, and so can reject it – when actually faith and energy healing are similar. I’ve found that the higher end of the church focusses more on allopathic medicine and are great NHS supporters. Of course, many people have received good care from it and are understandably grateful. But Anglicans often uphold fellow institutions rather than critique them.

Coronavirus procedures swiftly appeared on Anglican websites. I’ve written my thoughts and concerns about that disease and our handling of it here and will again in my next post. But I will say that I’m glad that they kept meeting, when so much else was cancelled. (I was furious when I heard C of E policies, especially around Easter, where ministers were threatened for even entering a church alone!). And I saw a great poster today outside a church which made me smile – Mother Julian’s All Shall Be Well.

They don’t do everything wrong. And some of the individuals in them – including its ministers – comprise some lovely, genuine people who do good in the world, and whose faith and searchings are sincere. It’s the chain that I mind, although also the people who uphold the chain… and during this viral period, I continue to be shocked by clergy behaviours. I waited before saying that, hoping that the first sentence of this paragraph would be proven true for all I know.

I hope one day soon it’ll be possible to delete the latter half of the paragraph above.

Next, I will argue against the chain from the Good Book.

Leave a comment

Filed under society, spirituality

Why I’ve left the church of England

That’s not a typing error – the lower case for ‘church’ is deliberate. As I’ll explain…

image1

Yesterday I attended a rite of passage – the ordination of priest into this church.  That event was my swansong – for it marked the end of my Anglican involvement.

I went with a message written on my bosom, seen by a bishop and much of the congregation – especially viewable at communion. I thought: if you’re going to make me kneel before you like Oliver Twist supplicating Beadle to receive from my Lord’s table, you can get an eyeful and see something worth taking in.

 

From now on, I’ll only consider attending events that support loved ones. As this was.

 

It’s not about her that I made her special day my swansong. This has come only from me.

 

I’ve thought carefully about ramifications – whom I may hurt, affect, exclude myself from.

I’m aware of course of good sincere people in the church of England, and some of these are not only known to me, but dear to me. But I cannot agree that all are good but human people trying their best, and that’s enough. That’s a delusional excuse. We often can and should do more.

This isn’t about publicly singling out individuals or churches; I won’t be naming or allowing others to name. The only scrutiny is for individuals and communities to do for themselves.

I’ve ‘walked with the Lord’ over 40 years and attended the whole gamut of the Christian church, often as an involved regular; I’ve had Anglican relationships for half that time.

I’ve felt for some years that the church of England is a chain that I’m uncomfortable being linked with. Studying my nonconformist roots as well as understanding more of how Anglicanism works, I’ve felt an ever rising ire.

My full reasons will need to be an extended essay, if not a book; in note form they are:

The Anglican church’s ethos often clashes with Christ’s teaching who inverts worldly values: it’s old wine in old wine skins (harking both to the Old Testament and pre-reformation). It brings back the middle man, priestly/congregant divide, law based stratified oligarchy.

The Anglican church claims itself ‘The Church of God’ but there are several Christian chains calling themselves The Church (Catholic, Orthodox, Scotland, Dutch, Swiss Reformed) – as well as the denominations who don’t.

It has a history of bullying: for 300 years it effectively barred all but its own from public office and actively persecuted others whilst expecting nonattenders to still pay for their upkeep!

Prestigious families and institutions dominated and recruited ‘livings’ for generations – some still do.

I’ve heard prayers for people dead 400 years because they paid for them in perpetuity.

Anglican churches are festooned with benefactors’ fat cat tombs and mayoral sword rests: I’ve seen a recent public service to install a plaque by a mayor no longer serving.

I’ve even heard of secret services for elitist sexist societies.

Some churches are more interested in promoting their history and quality of their music than their message.

The Anglican church puts its own tradition over scripture and inner guidance.

I firmly believe that church and state should be separate – not PMs and queens picking bishops, nor that the House of Lords is automatically populated by the leaders of one faith flavour. And that the law of one cannot steer the other – in either direction.

The C of E is usually the go-to for media comment, but it’s not representative of Christianity!

Many views it expresses – such as those recently on sexuality from Australian and English bishops – bring harm, for those in the faith and without. It makes sure that more are without. Both lower and higher ends are bigoted, regarding women and/or gay people.

At ordination, ministers swear allegiance to the Anglican Church, Queen and bishop but in the Bible, Jesus said: “Do not swear….Let your yes be yes and your no be no”.

Ordination is based on the fantastical fallacy of apostolic succession, passing down powers as apprentice/master. At the services where these powers are invested, the presiding bishop lays hands on the candidate and only those previously ordained may also do so and reach forth. The rest of the congregation looks on in excluded bewilderment.

Hierarchy features in the Anglican church’s theology as much as its structure.

Some vicars claim to be ‘sacramental priests’ – that is those whose role is mainly just saying the services, especially communion, but that’s a travesty of ministry: the heart of of what you do is your care and a message.

Ministers are given unbiblical titles of honour, such as reverend – who is revering who?

Only my God and my Dad are called ‘Father’.

 

Bombastic leaders raise congregations with an imperious impatient jerk, push us out at the ‘dismissal’ (where else do you hear that word?) by the might of their hand and expect us to stand to show their authority, but this line between clergy and laity – which I’ve seen marked at coffee time with a top table – is imaginary.

 

Altar rails cut God’s meal off from the people. Do established ‘Churches’ get NT theology!? Jesus tore down the priests-only division at his death!

 

Huge favouritism is shown towards some members and candidates rivalling Jacob to Joseph and some ministers control who can be on committees and rush through PCC meetings to get to football matches and ovens.

 

Some vicars are more interested in showmanship than spiritual substance in sermons, have more ego than integrity, and all are under trained in the heart of ministry – care.

 

Vicars wear academic hoods at occasions that are nothing to do with their qualifications as if fitting in and showing you have a brain are what matters, rather than the act of worship.

 

The C of E is ageist regarding clergy – by 60, you’re expected to do the job for free.

 

You need licences from a bishop to distribute communion or preach or heal and you can’t use the pulpit unless you’re ordained.

 

So many clergy are patronising and distant: they lose sight of how badly, and how quickly adherents are institutionalised.

 

It’s heartbreaking to watch the colour literally drained from those joining the church.

 

Although some root for social justice, Anglicans are often not questioners and stand with other institutions and accept their practices, such as aggressive ‘security’ measures, which Anglicans themselves have allowed – armed guards, bag searches, and CCTV is prevalent and often the first sign you read on entering a church.

Some charities they support actually aren’t very just – they often resocialise people in need (Christians Against Poverty gets people paying taxes and their debts);

homeless people become ‘beggars’ you don’t give to directly (preferably via a charity we support).

 

The parish share is an onerous second tax for Anglicans, extracted by guilt, covering vicars’ salaries, homes and training (building maintenance is extra) but there’s no money for pastoral care whilst wealthy chain-within-chain churches get huge grants.

 

They’re forever fundraising, using outreach events for this purpose, such as passing a donation box round a pub event at point blank range.

 

Ministers made speeches about giving ‘folding stuff’ and that ‘nothing is not enough’ whilst I and others starved and they did nothing.

 

Some Anglicans hold Inclusive Church certificates, but oust their gay minister; and confuse inclusivity with compliant uniformity (such as churches in a benefice having to say the same liturgical words – that’s simply Tudor and Stuart attitudes resurfacing).

 

I can’t say many words of the service books – old or new. “We are miserable vile offenders… unworthy to gather the crumbs from your table…” are some of the worst most heard ones.  It’s not a theology I can uphold, and saying what I mean matters to me, not mumbling offensive words because they’re licensed and old and have a certain turn of phrase.

 

Most churches’ intercessions list sound as personal as calling the register (there’s a worrying correlation between high church services and public school assemblies);

their ‘welcome’ is more concerned with visitors getting out of processions’ way and taking off hats as a mark of respect – for whom? – even as heat visibly left our heads; vergers have told a deaf lady “shut that woman up!”

 

The biggest indictment and catalyst was my and loved ones’ experiences of pastoral care:

the preaching of a love not shown

the irony of safeguarding being about self protection in cahoots with other professions, signposting instead of succour.

 

I can’t and won’t give further detail to protect all those involved, but:

if a minister can’t or won’t support when most needed

at one’s darkest, if not final hour,

then the dog collar is meaningless and the notion of church is a farce

 

I am deeply concerned about some wearers of that collar’s suitability

 

This has led me to reject the Anglican church, which puts

hierarchy before humility

accolades before acclamation of a gospel that’s really good news (not bad news first)

spectacle before substance

privilege before innovation

protocol before pastoral care

terms of honour before terms of endearment

income before outreach

history before healing

formality before freedom

conformity before community.

It values are commercial and worldly;

as one visitor observed, much of the Anglican church is ‘plastic’ – including its wafers.

 

Some might read this nodding – amen, but this isn’t me or my church. (If you’re a minister who thinks of your church as yours, think again). And think again.

All these come from real church experiences.

 

I am a child of God

yet I’ve often been made to feel a lesser one.

 

Following the week of Christian unity, I am bringing a kind of love and light, but love that cuts through darkness as a laser, and that can feel the opposite of unity.

 

I cannot attend Anglican communities with integrity;

I and others feel damaged, used and abandoned

through negligence, through weakness, through deliberate fault – and just not being aware.

 

I felt I couldn’t just slip out, I had to speak out – publicly.

It is time for another reformation.

I will set up own church. It won’t be like this one and I’ll pledge to put right any wrongs.

You can read about it here at Between The Stools.

 

At the last service I attended we were given a candle each to depart with. It was to remind us of God’s love and to be light in the world. In that sense, my candle is inextinguishable; but it is also the time that my candle – for that place of candles – went out.

 

I’m looking at its smoke with relief and satisfaction.

Leave a comment

Filed under society, spirituality

Keep Cathedrals Free

I’m writing a travel book on my cathedral experiences and have just submitted a poem on them, so they are in my mind this week. This caused me to research entry prices which has led to a gripe I’d like to share.

I realise they are expensive to run, but worship and houses of God should be free.

No, cathedrals are not the same as castles and stately homes, though some who visit them may see them in the same ilk. Whatever your faith, it is a sacred space, even if you just like the quiet and are uplifted by the music and architecture – which no castle is or does.

Thirteen British cathedrals and abbeys have a compulsory admission charge, starting from £6. The only parish churches that I’ve found who charge are St Bartholomew the Great and Temple, both in the City of London, both £4. None of these who charge are Catholic or parish church cathedrals, and none are in Scotland or Wales.

I only know of one non Christian place of worship which charges – that’s also in central London, the Bevis Marks Synagogue. Despite some huge and lavish buildings, such as Leicester’s Mandir, also not publically funded, Eastern faiths offer free entry into their holy spaces.

The admission fees are too high and so they put many people off – even people who love cathedrals as much as I do. The cathedral administrators don’t seem to have worked out that they lose out on income that way. If I’ve paid £6-16 to get in, I’m unlikely to buy anything at the shop or cafe, let alone donate more. And I’m quite possibly going to not bother going in. When faced with a choice of two nearby equidistant cathedrals for a day out, I’m inclined to pick the one without an enforced charge.

Ely says that before it made people pay to come in, the average donation was 34p per person. I quibble that. I note they’ve had a fee since at least 1998, when 34p was worth more. And how did they work out the number of visitors? If it’s by a foot counter by the door, these can be misleading as these often get set off more than once by the same person. Perhaps too some of those visitors were fairly regular who didn’t qualify for a free pass – ie those who didn’t live, work or worship in the right place, but who nevertheless felt the cathedral as a spiritual home. I’ve fallen into that category in several cities and resent the notion of paying to enter what I see as both my heritage and mother church by right.

However, I might drop in some money and choose to support them by buying things from their shop that I could get elsewhere – that guidebook that’s all round the city, a greeting card or gift; or by having lunch in their refectory.

Westminster Abbey claimed that it too had a tiny donation per visitor. But it gets about 3 million of these a year and currently charges £16 to enter – more than any other British great church, the same price as a major stately home with multiacre grounds. Even with group visitor rates bringing the head price down to £13, one can quickly see that they gain about £50 million a year from visitors, which is huge. Why do they need so much to run? The church is shorter than Ely, who asks for £8 (but with a tower tour and entry to the stained glass museum, it’s the same amount as Westminster). Lincoln’s about the same size, and their current price is around £6. What does Westminster require that these other cathedrals don’t? And why does the even bigger St Albans not ask for a fee, who gets less visitors?

And why does modern lump Coventry ask for £8?! They’re hardly in the same need of conservation!

Especially as the experience inside Westminster Abbey is not a pleasant one. I’ve only paid to go in once, when I queued for longer than it look to go round. You’re limited with how long you can tarry. You’re herded about and everything’s roped off. I have twice been to a service, not something I wish to repeat. I often find High Church services cold and dull, but this is worse than anything else I’ve experienced. After again queuing for an hour on a Sunday morning, an American verger barked at the would-be worshippers to get in line and not take photos. Not once did we get a welcome. When I tried to leave through the wrong door, I was barked at again. I felt the service was at us not for us. I did not feel part of the service which just felt like going through motions rather than anything about feeling a divine presence or an act of worship – would that be for the choir and ministers, or to God?!

Paris’ Notre Dame did not charge when I visited, and managed its large amount of visitors better than London’s national church.

One does wonder what these fees are going on. No website breaks that down. Some make the vague suggestion that it’s on salaries. I wonder if the staff and stone masons are being paid too much? And yet they rely heavily on volunteers and I’ve seen cathedral job adverts – not everyone is well paid. A 1994 book on Canterbury Cathedral says that 549 staff are in its employ, including 30 holy dusters!, and 250 guides, assistants and chaplains (aren’t many of those volunteers?). So we are paying for staff, not even just the building, and some visitors may not endorse the cathedrals’ beliefs and policies.

Many churches quote a four figure sum for their daily running costs, but I know something of how the C of E works, and it has much red tape and wastes money on procedure. I know that a simple change in a modern building was made 3x the amount by C of E dictates, which meant that it was no longer affordable.

I’ll be posting more on this later, but utilities and professional services over charge, and perhaps churches are victims of this.

The Church is still a large landowner and landlord.

Another points against these fees is that they preclude 10 minute pop in visitors.

Cathedrals offer a free tour; but perhaps we don’t want one and would be happy to pay just for that if we did, rather than paying to enter the building – though some of these are now a staggering £9 for just an hour. And so cathedrals miss out on donations of the poppers-in. Why not ask for £2-3 entry which we’d all pay, rather than so much, and perhaps we’d add a little more?

Some cathedrals say it’s free to pray – but how do you know who’s doing that? I once went in on the free pray plea – I sat with my eyes squished shut, and peeked and then moved to another quiet corner. Well, it was my birthday after all! And not paying to get in meant I had a bag laden from the gift shop, which makes quite a profit – guide books sell at 70-80% more than cost.

Happily, the majority of great churches are officially free, though some are pretty heavy about making you pass a desk and expecting a donation, which angers me as it shouldn’t be that a voluntary donation is coerced or assumed – it should be freely given. There’s about 16 other cathedrals and abbeys who do not force a charge – and hurrah for Chichester who says in big letters on the home page of their website that they are committed to keeping entry free. And so am I.

You might also like my thoughts on Canterbury here:

Happily, since writing this, some fees – such as at Coventry and Chester – have been abolished. They realised that they were getting less visitors and that the ethos was wrong. Thank you!

2 Comments

Filed under heritage, society, spirituality