Letter: People cannot expect churches to live on prayer alone

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The Independent Online
Sir: Fr Kenneth Leech (letter, 18 August) writes powerfully and passionately, and all those who have responsibility for cathedrals will do well to heed his words. If cathedrals are not places of prayer, then they are a hideous self-contradiction.

But the Dean and Canons of St Paul's are not faithless or prayerless men. They, like all others who have charge of vast and historic churches, cannot avoid the tension between being both a house of God and part of the national heritage which draws visitors in hundreds of thousands.

In the case of St Paul's, with its huge running costs, towards which the state makes no contribution (though there is marginal aid with the fabric), this tension is especially magnified by the enormous size of the building, and the multitudes who visit. It is the sad truth that these multitudes make only minuscule contributions if it is left to their own consciences.

Let me encourage Fr Leech by telling him all cathedrals make real and palpable provision to encourage prayer. In Exeter Cathedral, the Lady Chapel is set apart for prayer and some 30,000 candles are lit there each year. One could wish for a greater circumambient silence, but this is not beyond achieving, even if the cost of the necessary glazing is high.

Should cathedrals charge for entry? No, not if they can avoid it. But each must make its own decision, since each is in its own circumstances. Each must find its own conscientious way to avoid giving a bad witness to God's glory by becoming a crumbling building deeply in debt.

Yours sincerely,

RICHARD EYRE

Dean of Exeter

The Deanery

Exeter

18 August

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