Our visit to York Minster Cathedral stirred up conflicting emotions, to put it mildly. I still haven’t worked through exactly how I feel about the place. I was impressed by the dedication to worship and Christian witness. But the financial implications of maintaining such a heritage building are staggering.
Certainly I recognize its historical significance. The church is a massive structure that has been around for centuries. Of course with anything that old, sometimes you have to pay a bit for upkeep, and York Minster is no exception to that.
It’s the cost of that upkeep that staggers the mind: 20,000 British pounds, daily. That’s more than 36,000 Canadian dollars, 365 times a year. Do the math! (Okay, I did it for you; it’s more than $13 million.) That is a huge sum of money. You could build a new modern church that holds a couple of thousand people for that price, and you could do that every year.
I struggle with the question of whether it is money well spent. York Minster is beautiful; there is no doubt about that. But is spending that much money to maintain the beauty a good stewardship of church resources? The church is first and foremost about people, it seems somehow sinful to be spending that much on a building. Where the repair and restoration of a single stained glass window can cost eight million dollars, and is a beautiful piece of art, there is still the question of how to justify the expense.
The mission of the church after all is to preach the gospel, to help those in spiritual and material need. The building is a money pit. But there are those admission fees. I don’t know how many people pay to take the tour each day. For ten pounds you can see the church (with a guided tour if you so desire). Add another five pounds and you can climb the tower also (I didn’t – I’m frugal). If a couple of thousand visit each day that meets their needs. Probably easy enough in summer, less easy in winter when there are fewer tourists.
It’s easy for me to ask the questions. It is a lot harder to come up with answers. York Minster Cathedral itself is a work of art, filled with works of art. What sort of stewardship is it if we allow such works to deteriorate? But is there a point where we just walk away and say, “No, we can’t spend the money on this anymore?” You could do a lot with $13 million if your desire was to feed the hungry or help re-settle refugees.
With so many pressing needs in the world is it right to spend that cash on a building?
I think opinion is probably divided on the answer. I suspect though that the money that is raised for the church comes primarily from those who visit it as a tourist attraction. If the church building crumbled (which I gather almost happened not that many years ago when less attention was being paid to upkeep) they wouldn’t be visiting and wouldn’t be paying those admission fees. Would that money then be given to worthy causes? Somehow I doubt it.
It boils down to a matter of balance. York Minster is trying to find a balance between heritage and ministry. That isn’t easy and there probably will be those who criticize, no matter what they do.