Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 2 September 2014

What Price Sanctuary

I went to church yesterday.

More information on visiting
Canterbury Cathedral
Churches are extraordinary buildings. I like them. The husband and I often visit churches when we go to new places, and sometimes we visit them in places we know well. We have favourite churches that we visit quite deliberately.

We are not religious people. That isn’t really the point. I don’t have to be religious to understand that a church can be a special place.

Yesterday, we went to Canterbury Cathedral. Of the special churches owned by the Anglican church, it is, ostensibly the most special.

I remember not going to Canterbury Cathedral on a number of previous occasions. It is not possible to enter the precinct of the cathedral without paying a fee, except in special circumstances. 

This is a bit of a problem for me. 

I am, by default, I suppose, Anglican. My head of state is the head of the Church of England. I espouse no other religious affiliation, and, if and when I go to church, I go to an Anglican church. I went to Sunday school and I was a brownie. I have sat through any number of church services. I attended church services while I was at school and I attended my children’s school services. I am no stranger to the church... this church.

I am a UK citizen. I pay UK taxes and I have not renounced the church.

I am an old-fashioned woman. 

We live in a time when and a place where our neighbours are strangers and our communities are loose and fluid. We do not live cheek by jowl with our families, and we move from town to town as we change jobs or follow our hearts.

I am an old-fashioned woman who clings to some of the more traditional ideas, and one of those is that there should be a place where any and all might find sanctuary.

There are a great many charities and organisations running in the UK to help people in need, and they often do a fine job, but they also meet the specific needs of specific sub-sets of people. 

Long gone are the days when the church door was always open and the person in need who passed through it could find help. I suppose it would be unlikely that anyone would ever actually claim sanctuary, but that the church no longer offers it as a right saddens me.

Perhaps I am too sentimental. I very probably am.

The numbers of faithful among us are dwindling. It comes as no surprise that we are a more secular society than we were five hundred years ago, or a century ago or even fifty years ago. But the church, (any church, but I’m referring to the Anglican church) preaches belief in a deity, and furthermore it puts its own faith in a loving god.

The Anglican church puts its faith in a loving God and then puts locks between that God and those in need of his succour. That manmade organisation preaches faith in a loving God and then denies access to God’s house to those most in need of the shelter it can offer.

I suppose in the twenty-first century it might be weird to leave those doors open. After all, there are thieves and vagrants, and the World is a dangerous place. God’s house, his houses are valuable, they cost vast amounts of money to maintain, they’re listed buildings, they must be preserved.

I suppose they must, except we were all taught Jesus's charitable responses to thieves and vagrants.

It’s a pity that God's house has become so profoundly part of the world of money and status, of commerce, tradition and heritage. I can’t help thinking God would hate that. Everything I learned about Jesus, as a child, suggests to me that he would have hated it. 

It’s ancient history, though. Church doors haven’t been open 24 hours a day 7 days a week for a very long time. There has been no such thing as sanctuary for years. Man has seen to that.

And I’m a romantic.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 
                                                                                                              Mark 10/25 KJV

There... I’ve said it.

What’s more, the church preaches the message.

It could preach it from anywhere, but it preaches it from God’s house, and God’s house is very often the most opulent, most valuable building in any community. 

The Anglican church owns some of the most valuable real estate in the country. It owns about 45 percent of the grade 1 listed buildings in the country. It also owns income generating assets, mostly in the form of a portfolio of stocks and bonds to the value of about four billion pounds. It raises around £460m in donations, another £100m generated from reserve funds, and it has a fund of historic legacies. The church also receives a government grant to aid with building works worth in excess of £40m a year.

It’s all very big business... very, very  big business.

The problem is that most businesses work on the premise of supply and demand. We are becoming an increasingly secular society. 

When businesses begin to fail they up their game in order to attract new business, and the Church of England is now in the history and tradition game. It’s not preaching God and handing around the collection plate to keep its business afloat, it’s charging a fee to allow those of us who can afford it to take a look at its buildings and dig a little into its history.

I’m a romantic, I’m sentimental, and I’d love to see a little of that money given over to first principles. The house of God is still standing, and I’d really appreciate it if admission was free to those seeking sanctuary, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

We went to Canterbury Cathedral yesterday, and it was magnificent. I’m glad I went. I will go again.

For two adults to enter God’s number one Anglican house costs £21.00. So, I can afford to enter his house... but if Mark 10/25 is to be believed I fall into the category that isn’t going to make it into his kingdom.


  1. And other fine rant here, Nicola. I think of these grand old buildings as part of our collective heritage like museums. You'll remember there was an experiment in charging for museum entry which has since been abandoned (though you never know when it might start up again).
    On a more positive side, I think it's great how many of the smaller churches have opened up their doors to be used for community functions with a more secular purpose: concerts, playgroups, community shops.

  2. It would be very nice if the cathedral were free. As well as for the reasons mentioned above (not a one of which I would dream of arguing with- as they seem pretty obvious to me), but because so few of the locals consider going there to enjoy the beauty, and the history, of the place.

    I love it of course largely because I see it most days. From the carvings on the gate of the very naughty people (literally) under the gaze of god, to the breathtaking towers and the grand scale. I can not begin to imagine how wonderful it must have looked until the reformation, with the painted and gold leafed interior.

    But that is the point. So few of my friends see it as I see it. They don't know what the reformation was. Or why Thomas Becket was slain. Or who Mad Thom was and why he was slightly less immortal than he thought (or why his heart was kept by the coroner until the nineteen fifties just to be sure). They don't know the history, the legend, the myth or the stories, because the price puts them off going to look and having that first spark lit in them. With out appreciating the fabric of history around us, why should they feel any need to wonder about the history?


    1. I mentioned above that, "It is not possible to enter the precinct of the cathedral without paying a fee, except in special circumstances." I'm pretty sure that those circumstances include living within a given distance of the cathedral and/or worshipping there, so you and your friends might just qualify. I'd look into it if I was you, and treat yourselves. Smiles.

  3. When I last checked (as I hoped it would be one of the museums on my Residents Card) the circumstances largely included functions at the Cathedral or Lodge and Worship. But you never know I may have been misinformed, or it may have changed since....


  4. Hi Nicola, I happened upon your blog from Dan's latest blog post and found this article. I totally agree - thieves in the temple truly.
    I remember a part in one of the gospels where Jesus himself threw racketeers and the like out of the temple. I think that particular story ought to be heeded by people in power over the church.