There is great excitement at Always Hope HQ this week, as I have had a letter published in the Church Times, a heady achievement for a humble Cornish parson. You can read it here, but only if you are a CT subscriber, so I reproduce it below for anyone who wants to comment. I was responding to a comment piece by a member of the Chapter at Durham Cathedral. He said that although Durham is one of the few Cathedrals that doesn’t charge for entry (good news), it may well consider doing so in the future (not so good). There followed a long explanation of all the good things Cathedrals do, and an argument that this means that they need to raise large amounts of money to fund them, including by entry charges if necessary.
I have to say this really presses the wrong buttons with me. I hate the fact that so many Cathedrals charge people to go in, as if they were no more than a big tourist attraction. How can we claim to be missionary if we won’t even let people in without asking them to hand over a tenner (or more)? No parish church would dream of doing this. Then we hear the cry "oh, but we must charge, because our costs are so high". Does no Cathedral Chapter ever consider the option of reducing costs? Again, what parish church would set itself such a huge budget that it needed to charge every visitor in order to make ends meet? It’s a shame, because I actually think that Cathedrals are hugely important and do many important things really well. But this attempt to set themselves a different set of rules is what grates with me. Hence the following letter:
Sir, — Adrian Beney makes a convincing defence of the case for cathedral funding (Comment, 25 November). He does not, however, seem to realise that the difficulties that he mentions are exactly those faced by any historic church that engages in mission. The difference is only in degree, not kind, and not even always that, since there are many churches that are just as big, just as busy, and, dare we say it, just as important to their communities as a cathedral.
Furthermore, these parish churches have to manage both maintenance and mission without the benefit of funding from the Church Commissioners, and are usually net givers to their diocesan common funds.
Our cathedrals should be commended for their activity in music, worship, education, and outreach; but when we hear that they “must” raise more funds in order to stay open, we may wonder whether the level of activity has become self-destructive.
Mr Beney mentions the 100 members of staff at Durham Cathedral. If I had 100 staff members in my parish, I might well consider charging people to come into the church, but I might also consider whether the wage bill was sustainable, and whether to rely more on voluntary labour. If mission is the aim, then surely access to the building is a prerequisite before constructing a “medium-sized business”?
Cathedrals have a crucial part to play in our spiritual and cultural economy. But they will play it less effectively if they begin to imagine that they are not subject to the same principles and pressures as the rest of the Church to which they belong.
The Vicarage, St Kea
Truro, Cornwall TR3 6AE
Am I being too hard on the Cathedrals? Or do I have a point? Comments are welcome.