“Crumbling Cathedral’s Lottery Bid….”

The Cathedral in question is Canterbury, seat of the Archbishop himself.  Apparently a total of £17.8 million is needed for various repairs to crumbling stonework, without which the building may have to close to the public, and they had been hoping that some £10.8m of this sum would be supplied by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which deals out a share of National Lottery money.  The articles I’ve seen are not clear whether this is a general closure or only a closure to tourists, but either would be a significant problem. 

First question; the Lottery is gambling and there are considerable Christian objections to gambling; not killjoy objections but serious philosophical objections based on the belief that God’s world is a matter of God’s providence, not of chance.  On those grounds alone the application for Lottery funding for England’s ‘mother church’ would seem very inconsistent and poor witness to Christian principles.  In addition gambling generally appears to be an increasing problem to society at large and again one would have thought that the Anglican Church should be speaking out against all kinds of gambling rather than seeking effectively to enjoy the benefits of other people’s gambling losses through the HLF.  This does not show our national Church in a good light….

Second question; how should the Church be funded?  Well basically by the gifts and efforts of Christians, surely.  We shouldn’t be imposing on anybody else to fund what we do; and certainly not trying to revive tithes or some other kind of state tax to fund God’s work.  OK, fair enough for the building to pay for itself by hiring out for various uses; and if historical circumstances have made a particular church a kind of tourist attraction I don’t see why we shouldn’t exploit that, though not so it gets in the way of or conflicts with the basic purpose and use of the building.

Canterbury and many other Anglican churches pose some wider problems.  Essentially these grand elaborate stone-piles belong to the ‘Christendom’ concept of what a church is; do they really fit with the New Testament vision of a Church as the community of God’s people in the world, or are they indeed mainly about national heritage, about a church saddled now with inappropriate buildings from days when church and state became improperly entangled and the nation glorified itself rather than God by producing such structures?  The nation may be able to justify the huge expenditure of maintaining these historic structures, and may be able to find all kinds of worldly uses for them – but can God’s people justify this as an appropriate way to do the work of Jesus in the modern world?  Do they even give out an appropriate message – indeed may they actually obscure the real message?

For cathedrals there’s a further question.  The raison d’etre of a cathedral is to be a bishop’s or Archbishop’s see or seat –  literally the place of his ‘cathedra’ or throne – in a system in which a bishop is a ‘prince of the Church’ and a quasi-nobleman in the state as well (with often a place in the House of Lords).  In the biblical system of ministry outlined in the NT there is no need of such a building; ‘episkopoi/ bishops’ are not princes of the church, they are the same thing as ‘elders’, just the local (and in our terms ‘lay’) leaders of the church.  ‘Episkopos’ just means an overseer; and overseers don’t need cathedrals … at least they don’t if they are in the spirit of Jesus who led by serving, who washed his disciples’ feet as a real act of humility rather than a grand gesture. 

In absence of Lottery funds, the Church proposes to “lobby US philanthropists” for the money.  But seriously – is this a properly Christian use of those resources, to keep up a building of dubiously Christian purpose??  If the Cathedral really can’t pay for itself in Church hands, is it perhaps time for the Church to ‘get rid’; to recognise that the buildings are indeed ‘national heritage’ rather than Christian heritage, and hand them over to the State in some form or other to be quite frankly run as tourist attractions, museums or whatever?  Any remaining Christian presence should represent New Testament Christianity by way of deliberate contrast with the worldly national heritage aspect.  Meanwhile the Church could more usefully employ its funds to actually preach the gospel….

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