Letter: St Paul's Cathedral is no place to pray

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Dean of St Paul's (Letters, 14 August), responding to accusations of commercialism in the cathedral, inevitably raises wider and more serious issues.

I believe that the practice of charging for entry to a place of worship is appalling and borders on blasphemy. I do not enter such buildings. But I must say I have had problems of a deeper nature with St Paul's Cathedral since I was ordained in it in 1964. Apart from my ordination and two occasions when I preached there, I have hardly ever entered it, because I find it a most unprayerful and unwelcoming place.

I recall, with horror, one friend, in deep distress and anxious to make his confession, being told by a virger that this was an Anglican cathedral. For a time, when the saintly Evan Pilkington was a canon, there was a deliberate attempt to make St Paul's more a place of prayer, guidance and openness to those in spiritual need. This may have continued, but my impression is that there has been a backward slide. But this is a wider issue than that of St Paul's alone.

Why is it that so many Anglican churches - on the rare occasions that one finds them open nowadays - are so unconducive to prayer? I often pray in Westminster Cathedral, which, while it also is full of noisy tourists, encourages and incites prayer and devotion. People who try to pray in Anglican cathedrals are often looked at as if they were 'up to something' (as, indeed, they are). There seems little attempt to create a climate in which prayer is likely to happen.

I am sure more hard work needs to go into this essentially spiritual task. If the people who run St Paul's Cathedral sought this first, I would not be surprised if the money they want might be added unto them. But if this is not taken seriously, I suspect more and more Anglican cathedrals will fall into disrepair and eventually close - because of their failure to respond to the spiritual needs of the age.

Yours sincerely,

KENNETH LEECH

St Botolph's Crypt Centre

London, EC3

14 August

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