Should cathedrals be used as discos or playgrounds?

There has been another furore on social media this summer about the use of cathedral space. The one that caught my attention is the use of Chichester Cathedral for a ‘silent disco‘, where the music is broadcast to wireless headphones rather than through a speaker system. Whilst quite a number of commentators have expressed horror at the use of a cathedral for such an event, others have been more positive. Vanessa Baron, a residentiary canon at the cathedral, comments:

As a residentiary canon at Chichester Cathedral I can tell you that the event will be hugely popular. There are many reasons for doing it, alongside our usual daily worship and events like Alpha. I’m not certain if differs much in principle from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra using the space to play Mozart. It will attract large numbers of teenagers who have never been into the Cathedral before and I hope they have a tremendous evening. Yes, there’s a bar—but, so what? We serve alcohol at a lot of other events and this one is carefully monitored for numerous health and safety reasons. Our experience at the last one was that they drank very little alcohol because they came to dance. Oh, and some of us will be there at the bar to chat if they want. And yes, we need the money. I will be praying that some teenagers and young adults might go away thinking that the Cathedral was a great place to be, so that when they next see the words ‘Chichester Cathedral’ they do not think ‘boring!’

Peterborough Cathedral has been hosting a Star Wars event, which is perhaps less controversial.

The issues are similar to the ones raised four years ago, when Rochester Cathedral set up a crazy golf course in its nave, so I repost here the reflection I wrote then.

Another unusual use of a cathedral—another slew of ‘Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells’ letters to the press. That, at least, is how it often feels.The latest episode of this is the conversion of the nave of Rochester Cathedral to be used as a crazy golf course, with each hole featuring a bridge to be crossed, for the duration of the summer. This follows other similar adaptations, including artist Luke Jerram’s Moon installation doing the rounds of a series of cathedrals and larger church buildings, and controversy surrounding Derby Cathedral showing films about paganism featuring full-frontal nudity. Norwich Cathedral planned to install a helter skelter (though I don’t know whether that ever actually happened UPDATE it did!), and Gloucester Cathedral turned itself into an indoor skate park in 2016, and appeared to avoid the negative comments. And in a similar venture, Blackburn Cathedral produced and sold its own brand of gin to raise funds. It does seem that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in our cathedrals!

Such controversies inevitable give rise to awful headline puns, and this one is no exception. ‘Let us putt’ is the weak offering from the Times; the Daily Mail beats that with ‘Holy in One’; whilst the Sun offers a ‘Fairway to Heaven’. My personal favourite is the suggestion that the cathedral is now moving in the ‘par of the Holy Spirit’. But the objections were expressed more directly:

The idea has been met with horror from parishioners and clergy – including some who were ordained there – who say the Church of England is dumbing down and the course is an ’embarrassing shambles’ and ‘sad and painful.’

‘Rochester Cathedral was founded in AD 604. It survived the Norman Conquest, 2 fires in the 12th century, and several rounds of pillaging. St. William of Perth is buried there. And now*’

‘What an embarrassing shambles.’

‘Wonder what the shades of the holy Benedictines who built these places think.’

‘Rochester cathedral’s idea of mission. So devoid of theology they have forgotten ‘This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven’. Shame on you.’

Is there any merit in these criticisms, or are they just the usual moaners and nay-sayers? (In our new political climate, we cannot tolerate negative attitudes…!)

The theologically most substantial criticism comes from those who see the cathedral as a holy building which somehow distinctively encloses the presence of God. There is some irony that the quotation ‘This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven’ is taken from the story of Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven in Genesis 28:10-19—which took place away from any sacred building! But it has long been associated with a theology of church buildings, so much so that, for example, the front of Bath Abbey is decorated with two carved ladders on which angels ascend and descend on the outside of the West end.

Dr Michael Lakey, formerly tutor at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, outside Oxford, expresses this understanding of sacred space:

A sanctuary, and the liturgy enacted in it, is an idealised representation of universal and archetypical relationships between God and the cosmos as it ought to be (think of the way that the biblical temple represented the Hebrew cosmos with its metal sea and its creation-themed decor). In the Sibylline Oracles, there is a text about the eschatological temple which describes it as vast enough to serve the entire creation (there are similar ideas at play in 1 Enoch and in the final chapter of Revelation). In that sense, I think the Church as Temple is always ideally more or less representative of God and the World in idealised relationship.

This understanding was clearly an important part of Jewish understandings of the temple building, which is why the destruction of the first temple at the end of 2 Kings, and the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 AD were both such traumatic events for both the Jews sense of identity and their theological understanding of God and worship.

The problem with applying this temple language to contemporary (including historical) church buildings is that the New Testament consistently transfers the language of sacred space to Jesus and his followers—as Michael Lakey goes on to point out. In John 2, Jesus refers to his own body as a temple. In keeping with his theology of disciples as the body of Christ, Paul extends the temple language to the Christians in Corinth both as individuals and collectively in 1 Cor 3–5. And the climactic section of Romans 12, in which we are exhorted to ‘offer your bodies as living sacrifices’ is cultic and sanctuary language. For this reason, Protestant churches have been very reluctant to re-appropriate this kind of temple language for buildings.

(It could be argued that Paul was leading a long and mobile movement, and so doesn’t answer the question of what Christianity, once settled, might think about its buildings. In fact Judaism, both in Judea and in the Diaspora, offered an answered, as synagogues became increasingly like replicas of the temple in the first century, with the far end holding the Torah scrolls functioning as a sanctuary. So the local-meeting-place-as-temple option was available to Paul.)

This might then mean, at least in principle, that we can be fairly flexible in our use of our buildings. This is the reason why churches local to me have used their buildings to host film nights (though with the titles carefully chosen) or to screen showings of, for example, significant football matches. (We even watched World Cup matches at Synod last year!) It is reasonably well documented that the distinctive feel of historic church buildings can be off-putting for people not used to church culture, so many of the new Anglican Church plants are using non-traditional buildings, as are many of the ‘new churches’; Trent Vineyard, local to me, meets on an industrial estate in a re-purposed factory warehouse, and in a neat reversal of use, a church is being planted using central Strategic Development Funding in a former nightclub in Bradford.

This kind of connection and bridge building (pun intended!) is clearly in some of the thinking behind the Rochester project.

The Revd. Rachel Phillips, Canon for Mission and Growth at Rochester Cathedral, said: ‘For over 1,400 years, Rochester Cathedral has been a centre of learning for the community. By temporarily installing an educational adventure golf course we aim to continue that mission, giving people the opportunity to learn while they take part in a fun activity, in what for many might be a previously unvisited building.’

The Revd. Canon Matthew Rushton, Canon Precentor, at Rochester Cathedral said: ‘The nave of a cathedral has always been a public space, where the sacred and the secular meet. The adventure golf at Rochester Cathedral is primarily a joint education project with the Rochester Bridge Trust to get young people, with their families, engaged with engineering and bridge building – and it’s fun!

‘Worship in the Cathedral is unaffected. We continue to have at least 3 services a day and people can come in to light a candle, to pray or be quiet in areas of the Cathedral other than the Nave.’

But this approach raises another series of questions. Matthew Rushton’s comments assume an answer to the question ‘To whom does this space belong?’ or perhaps ‘Who is it for?’ A well-worn Protestant answer is that church buildings are not the house of God, but the house of the people of God, a place set aside for the purpose of the people of God meeting for worship, for the building of relationships, and a sacred space where the good news of Jesus may be encountered by those who visit. I asked someone involved in hosting the Moon art installation whether there would be any accompanying reflection helping those who visit to connect what they were seeing with Christian faith. The answer came back: ‘No: the terms of the installation were that it had to be free-standing from any other comment.’ I think I found that problematic. Rochester are not succumbing to that; Rachel Phillips comments:

We hope that when people come in, they will know that they’re welcome and they will have an enjoyable experience. So while people are here, having fun and playing crazy golf, they will take the opportunity to reflect on that wider theme of building bridges that they might find that they would like to pray, light a candle. Maybe talk to somebody. We hope that we’ll reach more people with the message the good news that Christians have to bring that Jesus came to bring peace.

So it will be interesting to see whether there is any evidence from the cathedrals that these public events do in fact lead to an increase in attendance at services of worship, and people coming to faith in Jesus.

The question of to whom these spaces belong is largely answered by the question of consecration. Unlike other denominations, because the Church of England is established by law, consecration of Anglican buildings effects a change in their legal status, and that in turn puts limits on what uses they can be put to.

When property has been consecrated it is set apart solely for sacred purposes for all time (but see below).  This is effected by the Bishop signing the sentence of consecration.  In the case of ancient parish churches, consecration is presumed.  It is only when consecrated that a building becomes in the eyes of the law a church.

Certain uses are therefore ruled out, including (as recently demonstrated) the possibility of an Anglican buildings being used, even temporarily, for the worship of another faith. In the past, the question of consecration has been key in legal disputes; in 1863, a vicar pulled out the pew which was the habitual seat of the owner of the local Manor House, and he responded by arguing that the vicar had no right to do so, since the building had mostly been demolished and rebuilt and therefore no longer counted as consecrated! Nowadays, this idea of consecrated points us more helpful to the theological and pastoral sense, that these buildings are, in some sense, set apart not for one group of people or another, but for God.

But, it might be answered, if church buildings are for God, and God is lord of all, surely all of life should find its place there? There is some evidence that medieval church buildings did function as community centres, and the lack of pews in many of them (either because of the use of chairs, or more likely because people stood all through the service of worship) enabled that to happen easily; for many older buildings, the addition of pews was a Victorian innovation.

That then leads us to a sense of perception of whether the use of a church building space is appropriate and is honouring to God. Watching films might not be offensive or inappropriate in itself; but certain films might be. Selling goods, in the form of a traditional jumble sale, might be felt acceptable, but holding a high-end fashion show offering expensive designer labels attached to exotic animals skins could be beyond the pale.

My friend Toby Artis commented on Facebook:

I would say that, yes this is sacred space. Not because the stones are extra-ordinary, but because what takes place, and has taken place over the last 1400 years has been extra-ordinary. That is to say, the people of God have worshipped here. They have heard and responded to the word and celebrated the sacraments, through which Jesus has been fully present. Thus, it has and I would hope continue to be a sacred space, consecrated for people to worship and encounter the risen Lord. When you stick a golf course in there.. personally, I don’t think that’s the impression you would get.

We want to build bridges—but we want to build bridges between the mundane life and the sacred, which might suggest that church buildings should, in some sense, remain distinct. Cathedrals, which have a trans-local significance, might need to carry this especially carefully.

Some people, especially those who look from a distance, might well see this as something of a stunt, or that is smacks of desperation of the church to make itself relevant to ordinary life. And there is a risk that such negative perceptions might affect the partnership with the collaborator, in this case Rochester Bridge Trust and HM Adventure Golf.

So for me, the proof of the pudding is in the eating—or in this case the proof of the putting is in the holing out. Do these ‘social’ adventures have an impact on relationships and, ultimately, attendance? And are they worth the (sometimes slight, sometimes greater) offence that might be caused, both inside and outside the church? Only time will tell.

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53 thoughts on “Should cathedrals be used as discos or playgrounds?”

  1. At Chichester, I do not think we would have been as willing to host an ‘entertainment’ that took up the nave during the day time. I suspect we would have thought that diverted attention from the primary focus of the Cathedral as a place for the worship of God. As it is, a ‘silent disco’ takes place when the Cathedral is not normally used.

    • @ Venessa B

      And how does that make a difference? If the “primary focus” of a Cathedral is a place for worship, does it matter if its in use or not? And what secondary focus has it? As an entertainment venue to raise money? Maybe go back to the days of Oliver Cromwell and turn our Cathedrals into stables for horses!

      • Were not Catholic churches in our villages communal spaces that were used for many purposes before the Reformation? They were the only large indoor communal space there was. I’d be glad of more information about this.

  2. My son in law, recently ordained, reckons all cathedrals should be closed, people should be sent to worship in their parish churches, and cathedrals turned into climbing walls …

    • Given only big cities or very ancient cities have cathedrals that won’t make much difference to most rural or suburban or market town Parish churches.

      Personally I don’t have a problem with cathedrals holding concerts to raise much needed funds for their upkeep as long as the music and lyrics are respectful of a sacred space. However there are limits, golf courses don’t really have a place in a place of worship even temporarily.

  3. The meaning of consecration is to make holy, that is, to separate a thing, place or person apart for the service of God. Anything consecrated must only be used for holy purpose. That is the whole point.

    Medieval churches and cathedrals are temples by design. The Jerusalem temple was understood to be heaven on earth. The veil or curtain separated the Most Holy (the Holy of Holies) from the Holy Place – hence the screen in medieval churches and cathedrals which separates off the nave from the sanctuary.

    So everything that happens in church or cathedral should be holy – the common argument that secular stuff happened in pre-reformation days in sacred space is quite spurious. Cathedrals and churches were not built for mere entertainment – still less for simple fund-raising.

    • Perhaps. But the NT is clear: Jesus, and those who are ‘in Christ’, now function as the temple.

      There was a creeping tendency to make Jewish synagogues into ‘little temples’; we like our holy space! And the same has happened with Christian buildings.

      But neither stands up to theological scrutiny. Many of the churches which are growing in the UK either do not have special buildings, or have adapted ‘secular’ spaces, such as warehouses. There might be a lesson there…

      • Granted the church is not a building but a people. However, this is not contradicted by church buildings. The buildings are called “churches”, not from some distortion of the theological tradition but out of recognition that the building is a sign of the people who are themselves a “holy building”, a structure built up for the praise and glory of God. Yes, Jesus Himself has become the new Temple but that doesn’t mean God and his people can’t also dwell together in unity in a physical structure.

        Isn’t the real issue more to do with differences over the nature of the sacraments, more particularly, the Eucharist. But that’s a whole other story.

        • Jack Perhaps you are right re the the Eucharist; that it is “a whole other story”. However I agree with much of what you maintain elsewhere.In particular when you say that “the building is a sign of the people of God who are themselves a “holy building”. Even though you are speaking figuratively here , to me it comes across more biblically than “those who are ‘in Christ’ function(?) as the temple”. Anyhow, I believe that one of the ongoing factors in this saga is the persistence of a certain type of evangelical individualism, caught up in its own piety,and having lost sight of the historical and theological foundations of the faith . Another citation that clearly elucidates the gist of NT temple theology is Ephesians 2:20 – 22: “members of the household of God, built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, *with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone*. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises *to become* a holy temple in the Lord .Note the sense of future fulfilment counteracting the tendency towards a preoccupation with instantenous blessing.

          Recently BBC repeated an excellent series compiled by historian Simon Sebag Montefiore entitled ‘Rome: a history of the eternal city’. The third episode illustrated a type of church building in existence from the first century A.D. These buildings served not only as places of worship, but as living spaces and even burial sites.
          I speak, of course, of the catacombs. Persecution and the threat of death don’t necessarily create the conditions for a mass exodus. There is evidence nowadays of many Christians suffering persecution in the form of the destruction of property. When ‘normality’ returns, the majority concern is often for the restoration of the church building – even before that of their homes!
          To this day, the catacombs contain inscriptions, paintings, symbols and other evidence of a more than basic existence; evidence to be precise of the historical roots of the Christian Faith. Is there a possibility of the contemporary Christian Church imbibing a heavy dose of its own form of’cancel culture’? And could that be related to the preoccupation with the “spiritual” to the detriment of the historical – and the physical! . As one commentator has insisted:” God’s purpose was to give salvation (a spiritual inheritance) to believers in Christ”. What does “spiritual” actually mean in this context? According to John [20:19]Jesus appeared in bodily form to the disciples. It also says that “the doors were locked for fear of the Jews”. Could this possibly imply that Jesus came through a wall? And could this further imply that a physical object – *a building* was involved?
          Or are we to infer that a corporeal resurrection is biblical while insisting that reference to a’ new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth cannot *in any sense* be deemed to be physical? If this is the case, then why bother about maintaining these buildings, these symbols of a materialistic , ephemeral culture? Well in any case, if we deem them to be expendible, there’s always a new branch of Paddy Power waiting to open.

          • @ Colin McC

            Thanks for these thoughts.

            HJ recalls travelling around Greece in the early 1970s. Not the tourist spots but the more isolated mountain regions. He always visited the churches in the villages he was passing through. Wonderful spiritual oases they were too. Open and never locked. Loving cared for by local people with beautiful icons. Simple places, yet very profound because of this. We’re losing this sense of reverence for holy spaces and with it reverence and awe towards God. Or is it the other way round? .

          • but the new heaven and earth WILL be physical! And yes Jesus either could pass through solid walls or appear out of thin air after the resurrection. Yet sat down to eat. In other words His body had been raised to a different level of existence, but was still physical in nature. A resurrection body.


      • It’s really a matter of time. If that cinema-turned Hillsong persists long enough and becomes “the place we were married”, “where I was saved” etc it will become holy space.
        Or maybe not, if the demands of urban (re)building tears everything down e ery ten years.
        Perhaps the ugly functionality of modern auditoriums acts against any instinctive human desire to sanctify space.
        Slightly off topic, but I would support any movement to tear down many of the secular temples of our age, especially the Tate Modern and the Scottish Parliament. Probably Coventry and Guilford Cathedrals as well.

        • That is to suggest that aesthetics are a dimension of this discussion, whereas they are irrelevant, a red herring. It is on a level with saying that a Mozart concerto played by a symphony orchestra is OK, but a pop concert is not… an aesthetic judgment, not a spiritual one, and a very unJesuslike dismissal of the intentions and intellects of a whole (largest?) tranche of concrtgoers, and horribly elitist. But since you mention Coventry, I remember the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra playing there in 1972. At the end, we were asked to stand as s sign of respect, not to applaud. How anaemic, how stifling, how ridiculous!

  4. Surely a sacred space should be used for sacred events. A church is not a public gathering space or hall; it is dedicated to the worship of God. As the Catholic Church teaches: “visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ.”

    Cathedrals manifest our faith – a faith that is “incarnational.” The kingdom of God is revealed to us, century after century, through the medium of church buildings; in their structure and design. They are “gospels in stone.”

    • I think you might have missed the point of the incarnation. In John 1:14 we read that “the Word became flesh and [literally] pitched his tent among us.” That ‘tent’ was the body of a human being. Then we, his ‘assembly’, have become a temple of living stones, and the body of Christ. The faith is incarnated in people, not places or buildings.

      In the first century there were no sacred buildings for Christians. They met in homes, or perhaps at an outside meeting place, later hidden in the catacombs. Perhaps they became, in a sense, sacred places because the body of Christ was meeting there, but the Christians did not meet there because they were already sacred places.

      • @ David B W

        You don’t believe churches/spaces can be sanctified and consecrated, i.e., set apart, made holy and dedicated to the worship of God? This is what HJ meant by our faith is “incarnational – it uses and makes holy material things.

        There may well come a time when the Christian churches and cathedrals disappear and we revert back to smaller groups meeting in homes or other locations; when Cathedrals and parish churches become museums and artefacts of past times. But we’re not there yet, so let’s not hasten the demise of Christianity by profaning our consecrated places of worship.

          • @ Anton

            Maybe …

            As you know, speaking in 1969, Fr, Ratzinger predicted the Church would have “to start afresh from the very beginning,” which meant that someday Christianity would have to build itself up again from its foundations.

            In a book length interview with journalist Peter Seewald in 1995, (Salt of the Earth), Cardinal Ratzinger continued this theme:

            “Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world — that let God in …. The Church of tomorrow will be a Church of minority.”

            He saw parallels with early Christianity, “[I]f society in its totality is no longer a Christian environment, just as it was not in the first four or five centuries, the Church herself must form cells in which mutual support and a common journey, and thus the great vital milieu of the church in miniature, can be experienced and put into practice.” (Salt of the Earth).

            In an interview as Cardinal, he said:

            “I never imagined that I could, so to speak, redirect the rudders of history. And if our Lord himself ends up on the Cross, one sees that God’s ways do not lead immediately to measurable successes.

            “This, I think, is really very important. The disciples asked him certain question: What’s going on, why aren’t we getting anywhere? And he answered with the parables about the mustard seed, the leaven and the like telling them that statistics is not one of God’s measurements. In spite of that, something essential and crucial happens with the mustard seeds and the leaven, even though you can’t see it now.”

          • He’s right; what he didn’t make clear is that a return to te apostolic church that wrote the NT means an end to prelacy.

          • @ Anton

            There will always be bishops, priests and deacons, just as there was in the early Church. And they will always re-present Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice, just as they did in the early Church.

            Or had they got it all wrong by the end of the first century?

          • How, Jack, do you account for the fact that there are multiple episkopoi per congregation in the church that wrote the NT, not vice-versa? The word is used interchangeably with presbyteroi, one word denoting superiority and the other function (oversight).

            We should junk priestly ordination too as all Christians are priests according to St Peter himself – with Jesus Christ as our high priest. An officer class in God’s people is a grievous thing.

  5. They lately showed Moulin Rouge in Westminster Abbey’s designated big-screen area (which I understand to be directly outside, but I may be wrong). Tone deaf is a polite way of putting it, since it is a spiritual deafness.

  6. The Canons of the Church of England have this to say:

    F 15 Of churches not to be profaned

    1. The churchwardens and their assistants shall not suffer the church or chapel to be profaned by any meeting therein for temporal objects inconsistent with the sanctity of the place, nor the bells to be rung at any time contrary to the direction of the minister.

    2. They shall not suffer any person so to behave in the church, church porch, or churchyard during the time of divine service as to create disturbance. They shall also take care that nothing be done therein contrary to the law of the Church or of the Realm.

    3. If any person be guilty of riotous, violent, or indecent behaviour in any church, chapel, or churchyard, whether in any time of divine service or not, or of disturbing, vexing, troubling, or misusing any minister officiating therein, the said churchwardens or their assistants shall take care to restrain the offender and if necessary proceed against him according to law.

    F 16 Of plays, concerts, and exhibitions of films and pictures in churches

    1. When any church or chapel is to be used for a play, concert, or exhibition of films or pictures, the minister shall take care that the words, music, and pictures are such as befit the House of God, are consonant with sound doctrine, and make for the edifying of the people.

    2. The minister shall obey any general directions relating to such use of a church or chapel issued from time to time by the bishop or other the Ordinary.

    3. No play, concert, or exhibition of films or pictures shall be held in any church or chapel except the minister have first consulted the local or other authorities concerned with the precautions against fire and other dangers required by the law to be taken in the case of performances of plays, concerts, or exhibitions of cinematograph films, and the said authorities have signified that the proposed arrangements are a sufficient compliance with the regulations in force as to precautions against fire or other dangers.

    4. If any doubt arises as to the manner in which the preceding clauses of this Canon are to be observed, the minister shall refer the matter to the bishop or other the Ordinary, and obey his directions therein.

    Thank God for the Canons of the Church of England.

  7. On holiday in Norfolk recently we were in the town of Fakenham on market day. After exploring the market stalls I walked a short distance into the parish church. Inside I found another market with stalls of various designs selling various objects throughout the nave. Coffee, tea and refreshments were being served in the north aisle. I couldn’t get the words of Jesus out of my head when he cleansed the Temple: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations, but you have turned it into a den of thieves!’

  8. “1. When any church or chapel is to be used for a play, concert, or exhibition of films or pictures, the minister shall take care that the words, music, and pictures are such as befit the House of God, are consonant with sound doctrine, and make for the edifying of the people.”

    I wonder what will be on the playlist for the Chichester disco? And will the lyrics of the songs stand up to the scrutiny above?

    • It is a high bar isn’t it, no pun intended. Our lack of familiarity with the Canons has led the C of E into a false sense of identity, as though everything can be decided on a situational and expedience basis.

  9. About a mile down the road from you Ian we set up a softplay facility as a 7 days per week social enterprise in the nave area. Hugely popular we had more footfall throught this Victorian parish church than any other in the diocese other than the cathedral!
    That we’ve had to close it due to a church plant led to a huge social media and community outcry, it was obviously meeting a need. Maybe we did not make the mosr of the missional opportunities but COVID had a big impact on the business and on the church.
    One question that’s been raised is how missional can you be when people have paid to come into a softplay – can the reasonably expect it to be “faith free” because they’ve paid?

    • Part of the argument behind the use of the church building space for social enterprise was the historic use of church buildings.
      Part of the research and theological reasoning was the distinction between Nave and Chancel, one a public space and one a “holy” space. When the church was the only large public building in many parishes the nave was used for many public and commercial events, but the chancel was reserved. Some church buildings only exist because of the financial contributions of the historical members of the parish, so they are public buildings in which the community has a stake. Intrestibgly it was often the (fellow) evangelical voices that decried the use of the space whilst those of higher church persuasion understood the differentiation between spaces.

  10. A great article Andrew S.
    If cathedrals were built to the glory of God, in Christ what does the use to which they are being put say about the understanding of the Glory of God in Christ, by those devising tyranny of entertainment schemes.
    It hardly represent Soli Deo Gloria.

  11. Blackburn Cathedral produced and sold its own brand of gin to raise funds.

    That’s nothing. Are you aware of the very divergent reputations of Buckfast Abbey’s Tonic Wine north and south of the Solway Firth?

    • @ Anton

      Catholic monks across Europe make a range of alcoholic drinks to this day at monasteries and abbeys.

      Chartreuse is a French liquor made by the Carthusian monks for more than 200 years.
      Aromas de Montserrat is a Spanish herbal wine made by Montserrat Monastery monks.
      Trappist beer is brewed by Trappist monks, in monasteries and abbeys across the globe.
      Aqua Vitae (Scotch Whisky), was first developed by Friar John Cor at Lindores Abbey.
      Belgian Blonde Ale from the Monastery of St. Benedict in Italy.

      “Monastery crawl” anybody!

      • I’m only a few miles from Montserrat as I type!

        I heard a fine story in Bavaria once. A strong beer there is called Starkbier and brewed in late winter/early spring. A mediaeval Pope grew concerned that the Bavarians were breaking Lent by drinking it. So they rolled a barrel of it over the Alps for him to sample. By the time it reached Rome it had gone off and the Pope took one taste and said that if they were mad enough to drink that stuff then he wouldn’t stop them. There is still an annual Starkbierzeit festival in Munich.

      • And then there are Canterbury Cathedral’s large chocolate medallions (the size of a CD) inscribed “Indulgence of St Thomas a Becket”. The chocolate is tasteful, but the sentiment?

        • The joke is lost on the tourists (and no doubt the Cathedral staff as well). As for Canterbury Cathedral, with about 180 staff and no pastoral duties to perform despite its many clergy, it is largely a tourist installation and venue for graduations, concerts etc. Somebody told me once of attending a Kent University graduation there where a “Doctor of Science” was awarded to Britain’s biggest provider of abortion. Surrounded by stained glass and crosses, speakers extolled the great “scientific” work of the honoree in promoting millions of abortions.
          This was in Advent and at the entrance of the Cathedral stood a giant illuminated crib celebrating the birth of Christ. My acquaintance wondeed if anyone got the irony.

  12. The function of a cathedral was to impress people with the might of the Catholic church. They are superlative works of art and of engineering which impress today even in the skyscraper era, but they are theologically questionable. And many of them are dedicated to Mary.

    • @ Anton

      Or alternatively ….

      Cathedrals are one of the most distinct achievements of the Catholic Church. These grand edifices of the Catholic faith stand in cities all over the world. The great Gothic cathedrals were the foremost manifestations—architecturally, culturally, artistically, and liturgically—of the grand aspirations of the Age of Faith. The cathedral was at the center of civic life, both geographically and spiritually. They are an expression of the ecclesiastical life of medieval Christians and a physical demonstration of the theological priorities of the time. To this day, the Gothic cathedral remains a prominent and symbolic feature of Christianity as it was in centuries past ….

      The cathedral also became the center of economic activity during the Middle Ages. In Troyes and Chartres, for example, merchants used the precincts of the cathedral—the largest building in the city—for their stalls and fairs. City dwellers of all classes also gathered there to pray and to socialize; the cathedral was the heart of the metropolis, the place for everyone to see and be seen. It was also a permanent hive of the artistic endeavors of the specialized craftsmen and artisans who worked on its expansion and maintenance. Beginning with the Carolingian Renaissance in the ninth century, the cathedral also became an intellectual center where the predecessor of the university took shape as cathedral schools …

      The monumental growth of the cathedrals was tied to the parallel growth of the cities themselves. The towers of cathedrals stood with those of the palaces of magistrates and burghers to define the city skylines spectacularly. Civic leaders were eager to display the wealth being generated by the economic, technological, and intellectual expansion that was moving across Europe. The result was a morbus aedificandi, a “fever of building,” as contemporary chroniclers called it, that led to the creation of 1,587 new churches in France alone during the twelfth century …

      At a time when the average medieval Christian could not read or write, and when books were not common, the cathedral was a school in stone and glass. As Pope St. Gregory the Great observed, “Painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can read.” According to scholar Justo Gonzalez: Church buildings thus became the books of the illiterate, and attempt was made to set forth in them the whole of biblical history, the lives of great saints and martyrs, the virtues and vices, the promise of heaven and the punishment of hell …

      The cathedral deeply expressed the medieval understanding of society and unity in belief. In the cathedral, people in the High Middle Ages understood that they were united in their faith and their aspirations for eternal life. In a time in which we seem unable to be united in our Catholic faith, the Gothic cathedral is a powerful reminder of the oneness in faith to which we are called.

      But more than civic or episcopal pride was at work in the construction of cathedrals. Although the cathedral was a point of pride for the city and the center of much of its life, it was, above all, a place of faith. The bishops, master builders, and laborers brought diverse experiences and talents to the project with one aim: to express in the creation the glory of the Creator, in ways that were meaningful to the believers of their time …

      • If you visit St Peter’s in Rome
        You’ll see Michelangelo’s dome
        It’s impressive but
        In a fisherman’s hut
        I think Peter would feel more at home

        – Lesslie Newbigin

  13. My thinking about cathedrals is not so much that the presence of God is there in a special way but rather that they help to make real what is the presence of God in all places and at all times.

    • I think it’s largely aesthetic. They often induce awe simply because of their size. Im not sure that is making real the presence of God.

  14. In all the (Church of England) dioceses I have served in, the Cathedral has been promoted as the mother church of the diocese, and the seat of the bishop. As such it has a subtle power to influence the tone of ministry in the diocese. As the senior priest of the diocese, the Dean has the responsibility to model a wholesome ministry to the presbyteral college. Perhaps this is why what goes on the Cathedral pushes our buttons more than having an autumn sale in the parish church. I have a feeling the Oxford Movement might have pushed our ideas of what we can and cannot do in the parish church by promoting a stricter liturgical shape on the architecture and furnishings of our church buildings. But I suppose by the time box pews were installed a few generations before that there was little chance of a cattle market taking place in the nave.

    • “As the senior priest of the diocese, the Dean has the responsibility to model a wholesome ministry to the presbyteral college. ”
      Seriously? I would have thought most cathedrals have zero impact (or maybe a negative one) on most parishes and deans hardly affect parish ministry as most people experience it.

      • The role of the cathedral and dean could be harnessed for great good, but as you say their impact can be zero or negative. For parishes looking within the CofE structure for guidance and best practice, the cathedral is often where they look. The Dean is usually given a role within the bishop’s senior leadership team, and as such contributes to the tone and culture of the diocese. Everyone in leadership is having an impact of some kind, most obviously in their local and immediate context, but often more subtly in the wider context.

        • “For parishes looking within the CofE structure for guidance and best practice, the cathedral is often where they look.”

          This entirely surprises me. In 46 years of ordained ministry, in 4 dioceses, I’ve known quite a few Deans of various hues and don’t doubt they can have influence (whilst not necessarily, at all times and places, good). But looking to cathedrals for guidance and best practice? Someone somewhere might I suppose… I’d suggest it’s a vanishingly small minority.

          Nor do I buy ” the senior priest”. If that’s anyone it’s the Bishop surely?

  15. Concerning Cathedrals
    Christopher Haigh gave a brilliant St George’s Cathedral Lecture at Perth Cathedral on “Why Do We Have Cathedrals A Historian’s View.
    Christopher Haigh MA (Cantab), PhD, FRHistS
    See @ //
    Simply put “there never was a “reformation” the English Church never fully embraced the Reformation”
    Jesus had a very simple answer to the use of temple and Church uses.
    MARK 11:15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
    11:16 *And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple*.
    11:17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

    No doubt the hierarchy complained that they were providing a *service to /for the people. *and perhaps pointing out that they were raising revenue for the temple upkeep.
    Jesus was pointing out that the temple was meant to serve God and a place for all people to seek God’s mercy and grace.
    For my own part, in all the different churches that I have worshipped in. there seems very little reverence of God and little quietness in which to pray, as most sound like a cattle market of bleating sheep prior to the services.
    Provisions for prayers not sideshows.

  16. From the rite for “The Dedication and Consecration of a Church”, BCP, 2002.

    On the day appointed, the clergy and people gather with the bishop in a place apart from the church or chapel. When all are ready, the Bishop says the following or similar words:
    Through the ages, Almighty God has moved his people to build houses of prayer and praise, and to _set apart places for the ministry of his holy Word and Sacraments._ With gratitude for the building (rebuilding, or adornment) of (name of church), we are now gathered to _dedicate and consecrate it_ in God’s Name.
    Let us pray.
    Almighty God, we thank you for making us in your image, to share in the ordering of your world. Receive the work of our hands in this place, now to be _set apart for your worship,_ the building up of the living, and the remembrance of the dead, _to the praise and glory of your Name;_ through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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