http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/01/08/do0806.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2005/01/08/ixop.html Sacred mysteries By Christopher Howse (Filed: 08/01/2005) Will cathedrals pay the price? English cathedrals have started reimposing admission charges or introducing more or less compulsory "donations". Their finances are under strain because fewer foreign tourists have been bringing in money since September 11 2001. But the reappearance of the turnstile is "bound to create disquiet and raise some fundamental questions about the nature of the cathedrals' future work". That is the opinion of the Very Rev Trevor Beeson, whose new book The Deans (SCM Press, £19.99) is published on Monday. He speaks from experience, for he spent a decade as Dean of Winchester. It is the deans who run cathedrals, with the cathedral chapter, and local bishops have less say over them than over any other church in their dioceses. Trevor Beeson does not use the word "betrayal", but he does say that the abolition of such obstacles to entry is "essential to a cathedral's mission". It is only 80 years since cathedrals were opened up without payment to visitors and worshippers, and the man who made it possible is one of Trevor Beeson's heroes, Frank Bennett, who transformed Chester cathedral in the 1920s. Bennett did not want to be Dean of Chester when he was appointed in 1920. He had had little contact with cathedrals and "looked upon deans as the fortunate occupants of an office in the Church of England that could easily be dispensed with altogether". But by 1925, when he published The Nature of a Cathedral, he had not only changed his ideas, he had established a working model of a cathedral as "the Bishop's and his Family's great House of Prayer". By "Family" Bennet meant principally the people of the diocese, and he saw as "outrageous" the charging of sixpence for those people "to whom the cathedral really belongs" to spend a limited time looking round it. That was the usual thing. Vergers could act almost as showmen. In the 19th century, Westminster Abbey had waxworks exhibited for the paying customer. Frank Bennett threw open the doors of Chester cathedral from early morning to dusk. Beautifully printed and framed notices explained the purpose of various parts of the building. Side chapels were looked after by diocesan organisations - the Mothers' Union, the Scouts and so on. There were no locked gates and no officials demanding 6d. Voluntary donations outdid former fees fourfold. Dean Bennett abolished the singing of early-morning matins, preferring to concentrate on sung evensong, choosing popular items of music when larger congregations gathered on Saturdays. The daily services were: matins (said, not sung) at 7.30am; Eucharist at 7.50am (said, but sung on Wednesday and Friday at 9.15am); sung evensong at 5pm. A far reaching innovation was "people's Communion" at 9am on Sundays. In most parishes at the time the lengthy programme of Sunday services was enough to "fairly wear the godly out and frighten the not very godly clean away". A 9am Communion, with organ and singing, was not as daunting as an earlier service, for working people who had spent the week getting up early, and it gave families free time after its conclusion at about 10am. For him, tinkering with service times was not the whole answer. If the cathedral was to be the great House of Prayer for the bishop and his "Family", then he had to live near the cathedral and enter into its life regularly. Bennett rebuilt the ruined monastic refectory at Chester not just as a commercial teashop, but to serve the parties from all over the diocese who came to use the cathedral. Parish groups would hold short services in the cathedral and end their visit with lunch or tea in the refectory. Since Bennett's day, ordinary life has become less integrated with the parish church. But interest in cathedrals remains high. BBC2 has just begun a new prime-time series on their history. In Trevor Beeson's view, the realisation that mission is the priority in Christian life means that parish system will be remade. Meanwhile cathedrals must retain their "heritage" role, provide theological resources for the diocese, and, foremost, ensure that worship of the highest level is offered.

source: news wire tags: Church, Evangelism