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The ethos of a cathedral as a house of prayer

04 January 2013


From the Revd Gareth Miller
Sir, - I have recently been to the only English cathedral I had never visited, namely, Blackburn; and various visits to other cathedrals and greater churches in recent months have led me to reach a few strongly held opinions, to which your readers may wish to respond.

First, cathedrals (and churches in general) should be free of clutter. They have a tendency to acquire stuff. Regular audits and purges should be mandatory. The churches that have the greatest spiritual impact on me are those that are unencumbered with an excess of artefacts and information.

Second, shops should, wherever possible, not be in the church. Although vital and useful, if they are in the body of the cathedral, they create noise and distraction. Have them in suitable adjacent accommodation.

Third, shops should contain mainly items of spiritual interest: a good selection of spiritual books, literature about the cathedral, music, and other appropriate material. I have been to several recently where there was hardly anything of any real value worth buying - but a rather tacky selection of tea towels and key rings, etc.

Fourth, notices and displays should be professional, tidy, up-to-date, and preferably laminated if permanent or semi-permanent.

Fifth, volunteer guides seem to make a profession of talking loudly, both to visitors and to each other. This was the one thing that spoiled my visit to a pleasantly uncluttered Blackburn. If there are guided tours, this cannot be avoided, although personally I prefer audio guides.

Sixth, welcome is an important ministry, but it needs to be done with subtlety and discretion. There is nothing I like less when entering a church than to be greeted loudly and over-enthusiastically by a well-meaning welcomer or chaplain. My own view is that a warm smile is all that is necessary. If people want to talk, they will say so. If they want information, they will ask for it.

The building that always makes a very deep impression on me is Westminster Cathedral. There are very few, if any, concessions to the tourist. There are holy-water stoups, The Catholic Herald on sale, rosaries and icons in the discreet shop, and that's about it. You have people popping in all the time to pray. There is an atmosphere of peace and reverence inside, and beggars just outside the door.

While I don't decry for one minute our Anglican emphasis on education and information, I do wonder whether we overdo it.

Chelwood, Market Street
Charlbury, Oxon OX7 3PL

From Mr J. Meenaghan
Sir, - My wife and I visited Chester recently. Being Christians, we had to visit the cathedral. We were greeted in the entrance by two cheerful ladies, and then passed into the area in front of the cathedral proper. And that was the end of the "church".

We were now in another place, another world. Gone was the subdued lighting, the calm quiet of a church. In their place were brash lights, posters, and price lists. We stood there, stunned for a moment. We were not expecting this.

Something else that we were not expecting (as there was no mention of an entrance fee) was the sign at the table now in front of us demanding £5 each (Senior Citizens price) to go into the main church. We could, we were informed, go in and pray, but I thought I could just as well go outside and stand under a tree to pray. There would be fewer people chattering out there.

Needless to say, to get out of the building we were required to go through the shop, with all its garish tat hanging from frames and strewn about on tables and counters. We were almost through the shop when one item caught my eye. It was a small "Post-It" type of pad with an image of Christ in colour, and, emblazoned across the top was "JEEZ-ITS". I picked it up and took it to the desk and asked the lady if she thought this was a suitable way to use an image of Jesus. I expressed my disgust at the cheapening of such a sacred image.

She looked at it, and agreed with me that she also thought it to be in very bad taste. She said that she was not aware of its being on show. This made me wonder who exactly was responsible for purchasing shop stock, and what other mockery of the Christian faith was in the shop.

I know that the Dean needs to raise money to keep the cathedral in good order, but why cannot all that stuff be in a separate place, apart from the house of God? And why cannot admission be a voluntary contribution? They may not get as much from us oldies, but it would at least be less like business, and more like visitors' showing appreciation for being in such a beautiful building, built for the glory of God.

72 Hunderrton Road
Hereford HR2 7AP

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