Sunday, September 16, 2007

A House of Prayer or a Den of Robbers?

When I'm on my travels, I always try to visit a church or two. Call it almost a professional interest, if you want. I'm always fascinated to see how things are laid out, to read the monuments and plaques, to visit the graveyard and to take in the history of the place.

On my most recent visit to Scotland I was able to take in Dunblane and Glasgow Cathedrals, as well as Rosslyn Chapel, and St Monan's Church. There may well have been more, but I can't think of them at the minute. At Rosslyn, the first thing you encounter is a wee hut with a till inside. To gain entry, you have to part with some hard cash (or if you don't have cash, they'll take your credit card). In one sense, I suppose this is fair enough - most museums have an entry charge, and Rosslyn to me was as much a museum as anything else. Indeed, the two cathedrals in Dublin also charge you an entrance fee.

So it was refreshing to visit Dunblane Cathedral and then Glasgow Cathedral and discover that there are no tills at the door refusing entry unless you pay, no high profile demands for money. Instead, they have a few discrete signs up saying how much it costs to keep the cathedrals open, and a wee box in which to put any donations.

What are we saying about our faith if the first thing we do when visitors come is to confront them with a till and a demand for money? Are we saying in deed (if not in word) that money is the most important thing for us in the life of the church?

Whenever I visit a meeting house with a till at the door I'm reminded of the actions of Jesus when he went to the Temple. 'And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not let anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."' (Mark 11:15-17)

Maybe if we didn't charge into our historic church buildings where tourists want to visit, we would have a better evangelistic witness about our faith, and be more able to speak to them of Jesus. At least they wouldn't have their focus on the lightness of their wallets and purses!


  1. An excellent point, however it strikes me that in Ireland most churches are closed to the public completely, whether a fee is paid or not? Is this not a greater evil?

  2. Thanks for commenting. It is a pity that many churches are closed, except for Sunday services. On reflection, though, this might be for many reasons.

    A local church here used to be open throughout the day, until something was stolen from the building. However, tours can be arranged in advance.

    Another reason why churches may only open for services may be a reformed principle that there are no 'holy places' - that you can pray anywhere and so don't need to pop into a 'church building' to pray. Following this line,the building truly is a meeting house, for the congregational gathering of the people of God.