Monday, 1 February 2016

Costs and Benefits

I have always done my best to keep this blog relatively light-hearted, even when attempting to deal with fairly serious subjects, but for today’s post, I'm afraid that I'm going to indulge myself and have a little bit of a rant about a subject that makes me rather cross.

Apparently, the Church of England is concerned about its cathedrals, or more specifically, about their finances.  Of 38 cathedrals who responded to a survey, 26 said that they were worried or very worried about their future.  Increasingly, to cover costs, they are being hired out as venues for concerts, lectures and banquets.  Now, I don’t have a problem with this.  I’m all in favour of using churches (and as far as I am concerned, a cathedral is nothing more than a big church) as social places, and to serve the community in which they are situated.  8 cathedrals charge people to enter (which is another thing that makes me Very Cross, but isn’t what I want to focus on now).

What angers me are the costs themselves.  According to the article, some have running costs of £4000 per day.  That £1,460,000 per year, per cathedral.  Blackburn cathedral is about to complete a redevelopment that cost £8,000,000.  In 2015, the C of E gave £8,300,000 to cathedrals to help with running costs.  In a world in which millions of people are starving, homeless, displaced by war and persecution, suffering from easily cured diseases and lacking the barest essentials, often even in the midst of ‘developed’ countries, those figures strike me as obscene.

I should explain at this point that I am from a Low Church background.  Methodism has no cathedrals (at least in the UK), and I am Low Church even for a Methodist.  I have no personal attachment to vast, ornate church buildings or trappings of rite or ritual.  A hall with chairs for the congregation and a lectern for the preacher are all I require for a church building (and a small kitchen for making the post-service cup of tea, obviously).  A nice big cross at the front and an organ/piano/keyboard are desirable, but not essential.  I enjoy visiting cathedrals; they are breath-taking buildings, awe-inspiring and beautiful, but as far as I am concerned, they are a nice-to-have. 

I am a firm believer in the idea that a Church is its people, not its building, and as soon as a building becomes a drain on, or even the focus of, a church’s time and efforts, it has become a sort of idolatry.  I fully accept that as large, prominent and highly visible symbols of Christianity, they can potentially be extremely valuable for the mission of the church, and many people find the ornate trappings and awe-inspiring spaces valuable, maybe even vital, in helping them connect with God.  However, if the Church of England is having to think of ways to scrabble together enough money to fund its cathedrals, instead of being able to think of ways to use its cathedrals to fund its ministry, then they have become a hindrance to be cast off rather than an asset to be kept.

There are several organisations dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings, and I am glad of it.  The Church is not, or rather should not, be one of them.  Jesus had much to say about what we should do to help others.  I cannot think of anything he said about the importance of maintaining buildings.  If the Church of England has £8,000,000 burning a hole in its pocket, it is grotesque that they spend it on shoring up mediaeval edifices rather than on building the Kingdom of God.  It is my opinion (and after all, that is all that it is) that if their cathedrals are not easily paying for themselves, then the Anglicans should sell them; to English Heritage and its sister organisation, to the National Trust, or directly to the nation, and put that money to what I would consider Christian uses.

This applies equally to the many ancient churches that the Anglican Church has which, although they don’t have the tremendous running costs of a cathedral are nonetheless a severe drain on the Anglican Churches resources, especially with congregation sizes and donations decreasing every year.  I would not be the first to call them a millstone around the C of E’s neck, and again if asked, I would advise without hesitation to get rid of them and buy or build something more modest and more affordable.

But then, for reasons wholly unknown to me, the Archbishop has not yet asked for my opinion.  Maybe he’ll read this post and be persuaded?

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