Charging For Churches



Along with London theatres, political sites and gentlemen’s clubs, churches are among the last buildings to remain fundamentally unchanged in the capital. But while theatres charge a fortune (West End prices have trebled in less than a decade) and clubs are monetising themselves (the venerable Arts club in Dover Street elected Gwyneth Paltrow and became an overpriced city-boy disco) churches remained untouched.

That is, until St Paul’s began charging an eye-watering £16.50 for a look inside. Temple Church in Lincoln’s Inn charges £4 to enter since Dan Brown turned it into a silly plot point in ‘The Da Vinci Code’, and fact £4 is now the standard price for any church that has featured heavily in a movie – St Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield starred in ‘Elizabeth – the Golden Age’, ‘Shakespeare In Love’ and ‘Four Weddings & A Funeral’.

At one level this is a good thing as it helps pay for churches now that congregations in the UK have dwindled and footfall comes primarily from tourists, and £4 won’t buy you much anywhere else. But the Church isn’t exactly poor. Moreover, charging prevents people who live and work in the area from casually using churches as places of quiet contemplation in a noisy world. If you go for services it’s free, but I’d find it hard to attend Evensong in order to treat it merely as a concert.

Churches have long looked for alternative revenue in the UK, and many are used in their downtime for everything from book launches to concerts. St James in Piccadilly has rented out its forecourt for many years, selling tourist gifts. But at what point does a church cease to be a place of peaceful refuge and become a cash-churning chunk of real estate?

For a different religious sightseeing trip I’d suggest the amazing Neasden Temple, which is free and just like being in India, right down to its gift shop and restaurant in the car park opposite.

12 comments on “Charging For Churches”

  1. Wayne Mook says:

    It’s just wrong charging to go into a church especially St. Paul’s, and then the church wonders why people see the church as less relevant. It shows these are not places for people to visit, either they are locked up or charge, and so distance themselves further from society. At least I guess it’s better than selling them of for flats, which seems to be a vogue in Manchester.

  2. pheeny says:

    They have to decide whether these churches are primarily places of worship or monuments of national importance – if the former they should be funded by the church and free, if the latter they should be funded by the state and should also be free given that we have already paid through the taxation system

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    In Germany some little or seldom used churches have been refurbished and glassed off just inside their entrances. A visitor can see much of the church from the entrance and also see long, orderly independent marble stands, angled in rows, with many labeled drawers. These “library-like card-files” (I’m missing the exact word for what they’re called, so using a lengthy Germanesque compound construction.) contain the ashes of relatives.
    An interesting use of a old church, excellent for a city burial, and a way to maintain a still and beautiful, historic church, and keep the transit distance between this urban “graveyard” and any still living relatives in the area.
    If I’ve mentioned this previously, you should proceed directly to the next post.

  4. Alan G says:

    A few years ago I took a friend to St. Pauls. I wanted her to see (hear) the whispering gallery in the dome. They indeed had the cheek to demand that we stand in line and wait for a ticket. I asked for the Dean and all problems went away. Bluff often works when dealing with idiots.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I am the tourist in this equation and I’ve had mixed feelings about it. The Abbey is an historic monument – a place where so much has happened – that an argument could certainly be made for having the state take over its maintenance. Possibly the same could be said of St. Paul’s, but the argument isn’t as strong. The church would say that they are places of worship and the worship pattern is being maintained so that’s where ownership belongs.
    The charges are to provide maintenance money and how many people are wanting to “see” the buildings as opposed to worship in them? We did go to Evensong at St. Paul’s and appreciated the service as such. We paid the price at York one day and attended Sunday morning Service the next. Both were satisfying. This year we were at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) and while the cathedral did not charge (and they’ve got Charlemagne!) they did charge for photography – a euro for every photographic device and you were given a tag to put on your camera strap. It was very quietly done and worked. Churches that charge seem to set aside an area for quiet contemplation and I haven’t checked but wonder if they are places that have another access.
    As for the Church of England being rich, I don’t think they are when you look at all the stuff they’re responsible for and each parish is responsible for its own upkeep, however they can manage it. Are there still tithes to go to the church?
    Here in Canada the Anglican church in B.C. had to go into bankruptcy over the sex abuse scandal and I don’t know where that stands now.
    I heard tourists say, “Churches should be free” in London outside the Abbey but it’s not as simple as that. If I want to see the building I’ll pay the tourist price and if I want to worship I’ll go at the listed time and not tour. After all, there are some things you can’t see if you aren’t a British resident. I would have loved to see the Houses of Parliament but you could only do that if there were no British residents in line and that wasn’t about to happen..

  6. Alan G says:

    Helen – can I gloat a little? My late godfather was Clerk to the Commons. I recall visiting for Question Time and touring both Houses (in the Lords “Do NOT sit down). Lunch and beer on the balcony was nice too. Being 14 did not seem to matter…

  7. Debra Matheney says:

    I am not at all religious, but on my trips to Britain I spend an inordinate amount of time in the churches and cathedrals. Maintaining these ancient and magnificent buildings is extremely costly but 16.5 quid to enter St. Paul’s seems a bit steep. I attend even song and church concerts whenever possible. I find a great comfort in knowing these buildings have been there for 800+ years and will be there long after my life ends. I laughed when the guides at Norwich Cathedral talked of this being the “new” cathedral as the old one burned down in the 14th century. I have been disappointed to find the Temple Church closed on the one day I could visit so if charging means regularly open times maybe not so bad BUT for non-tourists who want a respite in their day, it really is not so good.

  8. Alan Morgan says:

    I dunno, these are club houses for the faithful so if I want to have a poke around a few quid that goes towards the upkeep it doesn’t seem unreasonable. St. Pauls at £16.50 sounds like a lot I’ll confess, but that’s about a pint and a bag of chips thereabouts so really… 😉

    Where castles and stately homes are of historical interest people don’t seem to mind paying but the church is meant to be free, it seems. Which for the church it is, those in the club, who want to have a bit of a sing song and (in the CofE) a passing mention of a god. You could probably arrive a bit early and have a wander about and I’m pretty sure they don’t check a club card to see if you’re up on your church dues*.

    If the churches went over to state funding then they wouldn’t be funded. Or more likely there’d be sponsorship**. And certainly putting them into the care of the state would hardly mean the places would be more likely not to charge. Indeed quite possibly the opposite.

    *There are no tithes or dues in the CofE.
    **Virgin churches anyone? Hey, Virgin Birth centres? ‘Today’s sermon is brought to you by Money Payday Throttle Loans, you’re so holy with MPTL’***
    ***Average apr 4000%, or your immortal soul. Sorry, and your immortal soul. Hey, you go to church you might even believe in such a thing. Although not the CofE where you probably don’t. Or if you do then we won’t bang on about it too much. All that cermony is down the road in new build Catholic cathedral. In the CofE mostly the belief is in a nice cup of tea.’

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, Alan, I envy your connection and the lunch on the balcony. Even if I were a resident I wouldn’t have been able to do that.
    I like your first sentence, Mr. Morgan, puts it fairly well, except that any church is supposed to be welcoming everyone, member or not, and holding out the money bucket doesn’t seem to be quite right. And no, coming early doesn’t give you an opportunity to have a wander. Access by main door, straight through to worship area, no lingering. It’s not as blunt as that, of course, but they do say so if you’re asking about the alternatives to paying. I love the Virgin Birth Centres. I should put the sponsorship idea to our stewards since we are in financial straits.
    The reason I mentioned tithes is that I understood that there are farms or other places owned by the church (CofE presumably) where percentages of the produce sales or whatever is one calculation for rent. I may be way behind the times, of course.
    I’m taking this seriously because it is a serious issue in a nation where there are both historically important and architecturally dramatic or lovely buildings which are left to a decreasing number of people with decreasing income to maintain and staff. Eventually the House of Bishops (I think they call it) may have to state that worship will have to be centralized even more than it already has been, buildings will only be kept that are being used and the rest will be sold off or converted into Virgin Birth Centres? or wedding chapels.

  10. Alan Morgan says:

    Sure Helen, absolutely. Truly.

    But most churches don’t charge. Indeed by far the majority. Just those that are genuine tourist spots where people wish to tramp around and rightly enjoy all that lies within. A few quid seems fair. Churches do welcome people in but I suspect a lot of the tourists wouldn’t bung a few pound coins in the collection box otherwise. I don’t pirate books or music, I leave a tip for good service at a restaurant, I’ll always drop a fiver in the box when taking my kids to the big museums which are free once again. I’ll happily drop a quid or three for a fascinating old building then that lets me drift around happily within. And as I say, most don’t charge. But those cathedrals must have a scary amount of upkeep and thank their god they are there. There’s no happier a place for me to eat a pasty* than in the grounds of Salisbury cathedral. And the grounds don’t have an entrance fee, they’re just a beautiful place to have a snack. Preferably from Reeves, the Willie Wonka of Salisbury bakers. 🙂

    *Chicken, leek, and stilton. Yum.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    I think I actually read about the Reeves bakery and if so it has an impressive reputation. The name throws me because Reeves for me is art colours. I love the thought of pasties on the lawn, which would be approved highly by the builders.

  12. jan says:

    we think of churches and cathedrals as places of quitet contemplation but historically this hasn[t always been true in the middle ages churches were virtual markets and “drop in centres” and were busy pretty much all througout the day. Theres loads of remarks made about the first st Pauls being almost “irreligious” in its boisterous atmosphere there were horses allowed in the cathedral and i think – but could be wrong there was a horsemarket held there on occasion. Theres a church in Hereford which has partly being converted into a cafe part of the church is left for people to use for worship but there is a thriving cafe and lots of people in the building throughout the day. There are lots of deserted churches in the countryside either new uses need to be found for the buildings entry charges aren’t ideal but theres got to be some way found for these buildings to survive. i tell you wot i was thinking about recently (nothing to do with church charging) u know lots of cathedrals and some major churches have a saint who is said to have healed the sick. Well if you think of cathedrals and churches – cathedrals in particular being built on ancient sacred sites often at places where theres a fault line, a change in the rocks below or a spring, blind spring or stream. Well wot if its the land itself a special “Earth force” which is the healer ? Go on you like that don’t you its interesting and lots more interesting than charging for going in churches! Wot if all these miracles were manifestations of forces within the earth acting in tandem with peoples hopes and beliefs and actually helping to cure. I’m done for now

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