The past week has seen me on holiday and one of the places we visited as a family had a number of amazing places to visit and the means of seeing the exhibits and visiting the historic buildings was made ors by the simple purchase of a ticket. When I asked at the sales desk they told me that the family ticket would enable me to visit the main attractions and exhibits and that this included the local cathedral too - so, of course, I forked out the required dosh.
Now, as I'm always being up for any opportunity to stop and enjoy chatting with the Boss in an historic sacred space I forked out the (not insubstantial) amount asked for so that we could all enjoy the sites and sights of that place with the thought that at the end of it all there was to be a 'God moment' to top it off.
So we went into all the buildings and visited the wonderful exhibits - made the mandatory stop at the souvenir shop for the equally mandatory thimble for the matriarch (AKA 'Nanna') and then I headed for the 'God slot' and the cathedral.
Upon entering I was ushered to a sales desk where, like a good punter, I showed my tickets.
'Ooooh,' said the really nice woman, 'They're not our tickets dearie. You'll need to buy one that looks like this (you'll need to imagine the ticket she waved in front of my nose!). 'But I was told that this ticket does everywhere and everything,' I mumbled, aware of the looks from the cathedral bouncers (I mean ushers - sorry, always get confused under pressure) and the sales staff.
'So,' I asked, 'How much will it cost me?'
The response from the sales person, reaching for the tickets, was, "Oh, it's such good value. It'll only cost you £28.80 for the whole family and we don't close for another hour' (because apparently there was a 'paying' event on and they were going to close early to set it up!)
The woman looked crestfallen and the man next to me mumbled something about not passing up a chance to see a building that had been there since the late twelfth century and how it was 'really great value' and stuff like that.
But in the end, making a point of telling the sales staff and supporting cast how I worked in a place a bit like that every day of the week and so was only missing out on some of the local variations but would take the bloke I came to chat with outside (where the encounter was free**) and do it there.
Not missing a beat, one of the welcoming staff (they weren't that welcoming really) then took great pains to point me to the cathedral shop (where apparently there were MANY wonderful things to purchase - and obediently I did visit and did purchase something to ensure I received a blessing (or evaded another stern look) and left with a smile towards the sales staff and 'welcomers'.
Oddly, none of them smiled back - not even a wave was on the 'free menu'!
Outside, I found a small church with the message: Come in, we are free! Perhaps they knew something that the cathedral didn't (or not being part of the Dean's people weren't that bothered about the cost of keeping what might have been a wonderful building going (don't know - didn't go in and so, like the folk in Dario Fo's great farce: 'Can't Pay - Won't pay' I moved on.
As we made our way along the edge of the cathedral, another of the (many) sightseers, noticing my 'cathedral' bag, asked what I thought of paying to go in. When I explained how I hadn't paid and so hadn't been into the building other than to shop there my sightseeing friend remarked, 'Bl**dy robbers, I'd be happy to make a donation but I'll be damned if I'm going to pay admission charges. It's a place of worship not a bl**dy museum.' (I think he liked the 'bl' word as he used it quite a bit.
One of our children then suggested going back in and turning the tables over but I thought that might disrupt the paying customers and get in the way of them closing early for the other 'paying' event so instead we found a music shop and bought a guitar with the money we hadn't paid to see whatever it was that was so special inside (and used it to sing God's praise for the rest of the week too - making it a real bargain I reckon).
I did try to point out that church buildings consumed a large amount of QEII drinking vouchers (AKA money) and that there was little in the way of government and other public support but my new friend was having none of as he pointed out that Church was always out there with its begging bowl asking people to support their cosy little club and their fine buildings and lifestyles.
I knew this was a battle I was not going to win and so left it for one of the Dean's staff (for it transpired that they lived in the place and were more than just a sightseer - they were almost a campaigner!
The problem is that I heard many people moaning about the charge for entry to what they assumed was God's house rather than part of the tourism industry of that place. The good news was that I didn't have my dog collar on and looked like the rest of the world and so, like the wretched priest in the tale of the Good Samaritan, I walked on the other side and kept my head down.
I took a moment to see how many others (and who they were) charging for admission. Apparently there are seven cathedrals, One Abbey (Westminster), an Oxbridge college and a royal chapel (you need to pay to get into Windsor Castle - the Chapel is then free) where charges apply for entry. Thankfully ours (Lichfield) is free and I often drop my change in there when passing to support the work of the place. I note, with great interest, that Chester have scrubbed the admission charge thing (went there the week they started charging and it was not popular with the locals at all.
Not a positive move charging for entrance I reckon: Even when it is 'such good value!' but then again, when the building you have is perhaps just to be considered as another stately home or museum (perhaps a sign with 'God used to live here once'?) where Church also meets rather than a place of worship would make the admission price policy right and proper./
Still, bumped into Jesus just next door to the cathedral when I bought a chap a sandwich (wonder if He might have even been happier at me spending my dosh on that exhibit of God's love made flesh before me than the bricks behind me?
** I didn't point that out in case they thought He was part of their package and chased me off for touting or something!