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.