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Pastoral care is made to care

I’m going to tackle the subject that should be at the heart of ministry and was at the heart of my leaving the church of England. I think that lack of care is a top reason for retiring from religion, more than a disagreement over dogmas and personalities.

I’ve commented that policy comes before care in the Anglican church. We all have external pressure to conform to safeguarding standards. Of course I care about safety, but I have two points to say.

One is that the state doesn’t have power over any church or religious group. That’s very important.

The other is this over-prevalent term isn’t about safety, but conformity and avoiding blame. I’ve heard it said that being deemed too fat or thin is a safeguarding issue for school children, as is expressing potential self harming and suicidal inclination in creative writing. Hardly room for freedom of expression, and to be yourself! But then, institutions tend to fear that…

Safeguarding is a close relative of signposting. I amused myself writing about this for a short story competition recently, about being certified in the Art of Signposition. It’s like seeing someone drowning and saying, “I must refer you to this Life Buoy and the information by it. There is a Helpline Telephone provided. If you leave the water, you can use it. [I’ll stay here.]” There’s a fear that if you’re not Water Trained, you’re breaching your insurance or legal remit. You’ll hear my further thoughts what I think should happen in my Show the Love sermon.

So rather than catalogue more shocking comments from church people to me and others, I’d like to constructively say what should happen.

We might ask: do I have a duty of care to this person? Are they my remit? Wrong questions.

Beyond policy is a greater, more universal maxim: it’s decency.

Beyond canon law or the law of the land or even international law

is the Lord’s commandment: love one another.

If that is really what you believe God is and life is about, and you believe the Bible, then there’s no footnote which says: but you don’t need to if… Love isn’t easy pronouncements, dispensed like a vending machine or a tissue box. Love means you get your hands dirty.

I’ll be attacking Unconditional Love – I love you but I don’t like you – in another post.

But for now, I must start with the most obvious problem: prayer without action.

It’s like that clanging cymbal of 1 Cor 13 – empty. Prayer and action is excellent – pray for what you can’t change, and go and change what you can. Pray to be shown what you can do. If you’ve been in the ‘Church’ – perhaps any church – a while, you get lofty and use lingo. Although the woo woo amongst us (that’s me too) believe that statements are generative, it’s not comforting be told, “We hold you at the altar of our Lord, our light and our salvation.” Do that, and ask me for a coffee or offer to call me, or visit me. Do I need money or healing? Ask me that too, and be prepared to give it.

Signposting might be appropriate if someone needs say, legal advice. But you might say – I know a good lawyer, or are you aware of that community legal project? Here’s the details. Signposting when the matter is care itself is more tricky. You may have something brought to you that you feel you can’t deal with on your own and is beyond your expertise. It might be wise and responsible in one way to say so, but this isn’t a gas engineer telling you need a plumber, or a General Practitioner telling you that you need referring to a hospital specialist. Note that I passionately believe that offering to phone to make an appointment and doing it without your permission are two different things, and that’s where signposting and safeguarding also go wrong.

What’s most horrific is being told by someone you’ve built a relationship of trust with, more analogous to your regular doctor you also know from bowls and chatting to in the village shop, says: you’re too much – go elsewhere. You trusted me to hold this, but it’s too heavy – I’m going to have to let go. You’ve had courage to tell me this, but it’s not safe with me – I’m going to have to tell someone else. I understand why the secrets of the confessional enjoyed by Catholics have been questioned because of all the abuse, but it seems unfair to destroy that secrecy, for there might be things we need to tell without fear of it being passed on.

This skirts the subject of self harm, and I’m going to say more about that another time. In fact, I’m writing another novel on it, but you can see some of my thoughts about it here. But I will say two things: firstly, take this seriously, and don’t downplay people’s pain. If you think they’re being an attention seeker, give them the attention they crave, and be prepared to believe that they might do what they say. This also applies to illness: don’t assume they’re hypochondriacs and exaggerators. They might really be that ill, or believe that they are.

Never call their bluff.

Yes, there are times you’ll need to call at funny hours and sit through the night with someone. And you really can save someone that way.

Ministers really need training in this, more than policies and what they’re not allowed to do.

I wonder why the counselling profession wishes to protect itself and expects ministers to state that they aren’t counsellors; and then that counsellors themselves have to defer to police and doctors, especially regarding self harm.

The licensing condition which makes it hard for counsellors and others to conceal such revelations is itself harmful. It causes more fear, less trust, and puts people in danger because they’ll be detained in the psychiatric system which is hard to leave. It is often abusive, as survivors in movements such as Mind Freedom International attest. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest is still flying with forced injections, ECT and lobotomies. So be very aware that when you contact police or mental health services about someone, this is what you’re likely sentencing them to. The system isn’t designed or run by people who understand nuance and diversity – and it’s often surmised that it’s meant to suppress rather than heal. The fact that therapists are also required to break confidentiality about confessions of terrorism and money laundering! says alot about what the government’s values are.

Can’t you keep hold and lead them to someone else (with their consent) in addition?

It’s not a weather man – you can both be out at once. And think about how you say it – for covering yourself legally and practising the Art of Signposition can sound like legalese.

Whilst on the subject of that: apologies. “I’m sorry if you feel I may…” says, I take no responsibility for whatever you’ve levelled at me. I don’t recognise your grievance. It’s what companies say when they’re being titty – and trying to avoid liability. We’re Christians and human beings, trying to live authentically in love. So do better!

Emails and listening

I’d like to run exercises for ministers and care teams. Read this email: circle the bits that the writer really wants you to respond to. Listen to this conversation: what’s this person really trying to tell you? Let the patter run, and you’ll hear deep wounds revealed. Learn that “I’m not too bad” might mean, I’m not too good. The last time I picked up on that, the person had cancer and other challenges. I’ve had a person tell me in the middle of jokes and impressions that their brother had died.

Some people like shorter communications; I make no apology for a long handed style (show don’t tell in fiction writing always takes more words). But there’s a fashion of efficiency which says: I’ll scoot through this long email/letter as I’m busy (never helped if it’s read on a phone) and distil my answer to a few lines. How economical I’ve been.

But you haven’t, for if you’ve not heard the person you’re replying to and have missed important points, you’ll just breed more emails or difficult conversations in the future; there can be a sense of continuing long division as things are unresolved. If the writer says it, they think it’s important, so don’t ignore issues because you don’t think they matter, or are tricky, or think it’s been addressed. Clearly it hasn’t been, so look again.

When you make a statement, it might sound really caring and spiritual to you, but be aware that it may not appear that way to the recipient, especially when it’s not accompanied by an offer. “I hope you’re well” doesn’t sit well when you could have said, “Do you have anyone to go to the hospital with you?” or “Would you like me to visit and pray with you?”

And “I hope you’re feeling better” isn’t the same as asking “How are you?” and being prepared to act if the answer is “I feel like bloody crap.”

Be aware when someone’s seeking reassurance, and doesn’t know how to directly do so from you, or tell you that they feel let down. “You’ve hurt me, where were you? Is that it?!” is quite hard to communicate, especially to clergy.

Ask after people directly, and not via 3rd parties. It hurts that someone’s only passed on a hello or sends their love… they know your phone number, don’t they? Would you let them have it if not? Third party enquiries say: I don’t really want to be involved, and so I don’t want to ask direct incase I don’t like the answer (ie I might need to actually do something), but I’ll kind of cover my conscience via a mediator. Not suffice. Also unacceptable is telling a third party and leaving it in their hands – not only does that betray confidentiality, you’re trying to wash yours of them.

And lastly – practical care. I’ll say more in my Show the Love sermon, but I’ll just end with: You can’t depart ere the service ends to attend to your oven if you’re in the ministry team. You’ve two families now. Use mealtimes as a way to connect and show care. Realise some among you can’t eat, and are fed up of dining alone. They might not be who you think…

It’s important to have resources to assist, more than new copes. Yes, even your church has poor people, or homeless people, or people suffering abuse. One vicar said her church was ‘overblessed!’ I said that she can’t really know her church.

A little sort of pithy poem to round off with:

It isn’t not adhering to safeguarding policies which put me at risk;

it’s not pretending to be a counsellor or doctor, it’s not that you didn’t refer or report me;

it’s not lack of boundaries, but that they were too high and self expectations too low.

Safeguarding is ironic, about protecting the profession and professional more than me.

It’s risky to reach out – and that’s deeply wrong.

I hope this lockdown period is time to alter for those at the altar – and all of us


I enjoy preaching to the converted 🙂 I will do again soon – it’s Holy Week next week and I have a service for you all

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Christmas isn’t about giving

From the line “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” we get two disturbing directives: that because God gave us his Son at Christmas, we must give to each other, and to charity.  And we must give generously.

Why? Because retail needs you; the majority of its annual taking is acquired around Christmas. Your city, nay country’s economy depends on your buying into the consumerism that Christmas has become an excuse, if not a byword for. It’s celebrating capitalism – both the dream of fluffy families, and of love being shown by gifts, sometimes which are unsuitable, and which creates debts and fear to fulfil. The debt industry also does well out of Christmas, using social expectation to goad us into showing affection and thus our worth by what we have purchased or provided. (I note that many old ‘debts’ are revived at Christmas – collections agencies are active at this time of year and I find that especially reprehensible). Love is shown through stuff, say these prophets of Mamon, and status is shown through stuff. As kids and teens we asked each other, “what did you get?” As older people, it may become “who are you with?” or “what will you give?” All these questions are about acquisitions.

In my family, we give the presents of our presence with one another.

As for the other giving – to charity – the logic there also mystifies me. Charity of course can include church funds as well as special appeals.

There is a practical predicament – that if we are doing 1) above, we are more limited in 2). Those of us not receiving Christmas bonuses from work, or involved in retail or entertainment, will be stretched to pay for Christmas gifts, food, travel, work outings and parties. And on top of this – winter bills. So why do charities feel that this is a time for them to benefit out of already scooped out resources?

It’s actually supply and demand, and a captive market: capitalise on the full pews at Christmas services, and that non-attenders will attend at this time of year. Give them a bit of hearty cheer, bit of entertainment, some traditional refreshments, and they’ll fill the offering bowls. As cute kids pick noses in quilted quasi middle eastern costumes, or surly shepherds bark out local lines, as we sing cultural favourites, with or without personal meaning for us, there’s a trade off: we’ve provided your traditional seasonal needs – now stuff those little envelopes.

Charity is rather a nebulous term, for it refers to a legal set up of an entity, not necessarily good work. Are all charities automatically ‘worthy causes’? Are their causes fought for in a worthy way? Many of us are concerned that what we give isn’t going to help the cause that we’re touched by, or that the charity’s means of doing so is dubious. My experience of Oxfam revealed it to be a hardheaded disorganised business with charitable status that makes its logline ‘make poverty history’ ironic in the way it remunerates its staff – or doesn’t. A popular Christmas charitable cause, the Salvation Army support and administer workfare, which is a form of modern slavery. Do other charities involve enforced medication or proselytisation or animal cruelty in the name of care?

It’s worth asking for more information than is on those begging leaflets.

I’ve also seen a church run an alternative service which was all about the assumption that none of us could relate to the themed suffering connected to the nativity story. Not that the leaders got to know us well enough to know what we were going through. But we were expected to channel our pity into one bucket, going to Christian Aid, as a sleight of hand from solidarity to financial support.

Perhaps one could argue that this drive to donate is a natural extension of pass it on, pay it forward – we’ve got a gift, so gift to someone else. Don’t only give to those you know or who will give back. Yes, there’s a Bible verse to support that.

But if we need to seek a biblical mandate for our actions and beliefs – and I don’t think we do – then be aware that this giving at Christmas, or because of Christmas, isn’t in scripture.

Checking a concordance reveals that Biblical mentions of gifts or giving are about

1 – thanks and praise to the Lord

2 – sacrificial offerings in the Old Testament

3 – spiritual gifts in the New

and the nearest we get about the gift of Jesus is of God’s grace. Even the 2 Cor 9:15 passage I started with isn’t directly about Jesus’ entry into the world.

I’ve known the offertory hymn be “Give Thanks” – for God has given Christ his Son, but the verse and idea that chorus is based on is under point 1 – gratitude; and the upshot is the poor feeling rich – not so that they do a widow at the temple and pour their meagre funds into their place of worship.

The consequence of John 3:16 – the most famous verse about God’s giving his Son – is that there’s no condemnation for believers, but instead eternal life. It’s a verse I now find less palatable, for it pairs gifts with threats. Perhaps exhortations to give also have a dark side.

And many theologians would argue that the real gift of Jesus wasn’t so much his being born – that is necessary for the rest – or even, just his ministry, although his teachings impress and inspire even nonchristians. No, Jesus’ ultimate mission was his death and resurrection. Hence the real showing of God’s grace, the ultimate gift of Jesus’ earthly life, is in the cross and tomb. Yet Easter giving is much less than at Christmas– eggs abound, but not parties, presents, donations or consumerism.

So Christmas giving is not a scriptural mandate. In John 10, Jesus gave ‘a new commandment to love one another as I have loved you. By this will all know that you are my disciples….’

Love does not have to include gift aid envelopes and big cheques, queues in department stores, debts and guilt. Jesus’ real gift dealt with guilt and shows us that God’s love subverts earthly ethos.

If you want to use Christmas as a time to give, then do, but I encourage thinking carefully about the charity you support. If you want to buy presents, I’m not exhorting you to stop. But I am exhorting: stop manipulating us, advertisers, and stop twisting Christmas into a major revenue collection time under the guise of seasonal spirit, or worse, Christian duty.

Stop using peer pressure of offering buckets and sad eyes of supposed recipients.

I like that it’s the birth, rather than the death, which we celebrate as a gift, making the whole of Jesus’ life matter, and not fixating on his cruel end. The fuss about Christmas stems from mainstream attempts to gazump the major Pagan festival of Solstice and Yuletide, although we’ve made Christmas pagan with a small p: it’s usurped by secular Western culture; actual Pagans are very spiritual people and this season is very meaningful to them and considered a High Holy Day. Here, Christians are doing as the pagans with small p do.

Christmas is not a time of giving, by any theological or scriptural or even logical discourse. Christmas is a time to celebrate a particular gift which – and not store vouchers – is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Or rather – a once for all gift that produces grace ad infinitum, all year round.

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What I think of Christians at Pride

There was quite a noisy group at my recent most local LGBT etc Pride, who now have a prominent stall. They have their own uniforms – a T-shirt with a slogan which matches their banner; and then a self styled one of rainbow dog collars… for these are Christians, and several are clergy.

On one hand, it’s to be applauded that this group is there and is trying to be visible, despite the fact that some other Christians criticise them. I also overheard a flag clad woman holding the hand of another comment: I hate it when the Church tries to join in with our day.

And I – a woman on the outer edges of both worlds – understood that.

The Christians in the parade want to say: we accept you, LGBT+ people. (Often they mean just gay… I’m not sure churches have got their heads round all the letters yet.) They acknowledge that Christianity and other faiths have hitherto persecuted their gay siblings – and some still do.

I’d like to point out that the notion that same sex love as being something to decry and exclude over has come from faith groups.

Many of those who still judge homosexuals are those with a conservative faith.

So one could say that the need for Pride came out of religious prohibition, which influenced laws and morals and medicine, so that what denounces LGBT people can be traced to faith roots.

Hence, it’s brave but ironic that there is a Christian presence at Pride.

Sadly like many, I have experienced struggle in coming to terms with not being heterosexual, especially as a woman of faith. I’ve written and published a novel about it, which is available to buy from many online sources, called Parallel Spirals. There will be a sequel.

I happen to know that many of the people on the Christian stall and march are not LGBT. They’re allies, but they have not experienced the challenges of the realisation that you are other, and that otherness may not be welcome. They have not sat in a pew (or sofa with a smoothie, if you’re that kind of church) wondering if the message of God’s love and theirs will still apply if this church really knew them and who they loved. Would they still get a hug (or even a handshake) in the peace; would they still get an invite to homegroups or youth or elder groups or those endless barbecues or garden parties if the truth about them was known? Would they still be allowed their positions of leadership if it was known what they were really like? Do these church people know what it’s like to earnestly search scripture to see if they really are condemned? NO YOU AREN’T, by the way!! Do they have to hear exhortions about the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman and the inevitable family you’re supposed to have, and feel nervous and excluded? Have they had to put up with people who have – almost for granted – what you don’t, and tell you that you can’t have it – namely marriage and family?

Of course, nongay people in church have other kinds of suffering and misfitting, and it might allow them to have great empathy and solidarity with the people that Pink Pride is about. I’ve heard people speak of other kinds of otherness… it’s not only LGBT people who feel a sense of not fitting, if not exclusion, in their faith communities.

But some seem to be presumptious and patronising. Is it fair to say it’s like white people in a Black celebration saying “We weren’t slaves ourselves, but we do know how you feel”? Of course it’s their way of saying – you never should have been, and we stand with you to show we’re not part of that. We see the well-meaning as much as we might cringe at the execution.

It’s also easy for the oppressed to allow no outsiders to sympathise. Am I angry at men against  violence against women in White Ribbon? Have I not applauded those who stand with something they’re not? Would I not march in solidarity with something  I care about, and be put off if I was told that I had no right to, as I’m outside the oppressed group?

I observed this tribe within a tribe with bemusement, oblivious to how their rainbow stickers and collars seemed amongst the outre costumes, squirting their God’s love like bubbles to passers by with the proffering of a gay positive sticker and a few words…but these little interactions felt like that delicate transient rainbow film.

Or actually, was that bubble the start of a new idea, a new relationship?

So am I saying that Christians shouldn’t have a stall at Pride? Am I saying that their well intentioned solidarity is wrong? No…but am am saying: your message has to be relevant and congruent and consistent, and be aware of how it looks from the other side. Don’t pretend you easily understand when you don’t… But actually, you might. And yes, I do think my novel can help with that. Listen to LGBT people and hear their stories. It will mean really chatting – often in a way that you can’t at fast moving, raucous Prides – and really sitting with them, being prepared to follow up, and to hear how LGBT+ people feel about faith and church and what it’s done to them. And to put it right and show a better way. As I know you can.

And actually, I’m quite touched that a group gives up its day to show that solidarity for something they aren’t, risking censure from both sides, and to transform the view and relationship from judgement and exclusion into love and welcome.



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Why I Hate Mother’s Day

I hate today, especially that churches make this commercial circus worse. I know lots of Christians who don’t go to church and who generally avoid places with large points of sale – from shops to cinemas – inviting you to spend more under the guise of being a faithful child.

What churches do worse is that they have now realised that parents’ days are hard for lots of different kinds of people – unlike commerce. So the godshops publicly list all the reasons why anyone might be suffering, making pews uncomfortable places, even for those who are happy with their offspring situation.

I don’t want to repeat that list here and hurt anyone who has already struggled through today. But I want to remark that there’s a wide range of reasons why Mother’s day is difficult, and not all of these are understood.

The worst that a church can do is expect a public display of affection from children to mothers; and then  – for the childless among them – to get a kid skipping up to often someone they don’t know with a flower they’ve no use for. No, it’s not inclusive, it’s patronising and thoughtless. It says to the recipient, you want to be part of this money and baby making carnival and you’re not but we’ll make it right for you by going through the charade. We’ll be your surrogate child. Aah.

It feels like a fertility rite, boiling one’s use down to whether one has sprogged.

I think many feel: if they don’t have children present, they don’t want someone’s else’s pretending. Perhaps to some people, it feels hard to be reminded of their childlessness, whether they be a young person who hasn’t thought about children yet, or a mature person reflecting that (especially for women) their childbearing days are over, or running out. Perhaps that approach of middle age is attached to other thoughts about singleness and physicality, life achievements etc and that well intended posy can bring on a whole load of issues. Perhaps even to one well known by their congregation, there may be situations (including absent children) and private hurts that are being contained – until the flower pots come out.

If we wanted our issues all brought up, we’d be with a counsellor, not in church.

Many of us feel we’d like to make a fuss of our parents on their birthdays, which is a day special to them, not to jostle with everyone else with overpriced set menus and specially (often ill) chosen films. Something for retailers to consider.

I’d also encourage people to be thoughtful about asking what one is doing on a parents’ day, or getting (especially in a chiding/expectant way) and for those leading church services to think that sermons on the women who nearly didn’t get fruit of their loins – at every service – along with long prayers ‘on this mother’s day’ constantly repeated and then family issues being listed – might be just what some worshippers do not need to hear.

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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!


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