Leading Article: Pray or pay at Abbey

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The Independent Online
WESTMINSTER Abbey is to charge visitors an admission fee of pounds 5, but waive the fee for those who want to use the church for prayer. This raises the question of how the beadles at the West Door will perform the act of triage - distinguishing mere tourists from those with religious intent. And they must not let themselves be caught out by those arty types to whom gazing on Baroque sculpture or contemplating a soaring chancel equates to a spiritual experience.

Perhaps anyone in a leisure shirt or trainers gets shut out. But this runs against the Church of England's more relaxed and family-friendly ethos, which means that on a suburban Sunday worshippers are often more casually dressed than people in the street. Alternatively the door-keepers might look for signs of sanctity, an earnest desire for intercession or perhaps a protruding halo. Then again, everyone entering the hallowed portal might be forced to pay up and a refund be offered to those observed in prayerful attitude for a stipulated period of time. Perhaps the Dean could devise some sort of holy barometer and set it up in the Abbey rafters.

Alternatively Westminster Abbey, a national treasure, could be nationalised and, given a proper budget for repairs and maintenance, and could, in the spirit of the British Museum and National Gallery, charge no entrance fee at all.