Commercialized cathedrals? Telegraph story has much to Compline about

People are flocking again to England's grand old cathedrals, and the Telegraph says it knows why: The churches have adopted tactics from the world of retail.

Attendance is sliding at most U.K. parishes but rising at cathedrals, says the newspaper -- more than 10 million last year, up almost a quarter in a decade, says the Telegraph. The churches still boast their historic appeals, the article concedes, but they're also trying new things:

Cathedral clerics say people are often drawn by the traditional music, the contemplative atmosphere and the fact that large city-centre churches offer services at different times of the day and throughout the week.
But several cathedrals have benefited from moves to attract late-night shoppers by opening late themselves.

Like how? Prepare to be amazed, or not:

St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne, has introduced a “night church” idea, opening late on Fridays and inviting people to experience stillness and contemplation.
It also regularly attracts around 300 people for late night compline services.
Salisbury Cathedral has been offering late night classical concerts by candle-light during the summer and Liverpool Cathedral opens its tower late on Thursday evenings.

Not convinced? How about Truro Cathedral? Last Christmas the church "offered its own late night shopping, setting up charity stalls and opening its own Christmas shop and restaurant late, while inviting community music groups to play to lure shoppers in." As if churches have never done anything like that. Try googling "church bazaar" and "church night concert" and you'll find out differently.

Only at the very end does the Telegraph article even quote a human being: the Very Rev. Christopher Dalliston, dean of Newcastle. And what does he think of the newspaper's notion?  We don't know. The newspaper only lets him say his cathedral tries to "respond to the number of tourists and visitors." He also says the church has people serve as "welcomers."

That last item is actually the closest to an adaptation of retailing in the story. It sounds rather like Walmart's blue-vested "greeters." But given the lack of confirmation, from Dalliston or anyone else, it hardly amounts to proof positive.

This is where a newspaper would normally plug in some outside observers, like religion profs or economists or the like. But as you know by now, the Telegraph didn't.

But is nighttime worship really alien to U.K. churches? What about Evensong, and its Catholic equivalent, Vespers? As you saw, the Telegraph itself mentioned late-night Compline services at St. Nicholas.

Catholics have other late services, too. The Holy Thursday liturgy is observed on the night before Good Friday. The Easter Vigil includes the Service of Light, when the Christ Candle is kindled. And the Midnight Mass should have occurred to the Telegraph; it's broadcast from the Vatican every Christmas.

And how about other traditions? Well, in Eastern Orthodox churches, dramatic Matins for Easter start around midnight. The congregation holds an outdoor procession, then returns to a brightly lighted church, decorated with flowers to symbolize the resurrection.

Jews mark Sabbath starting at sundown each Friday. They also begin Yom Kippur with a distinct nighttime prayer called Kol Nidre.

And Muslims do an extra prayer each night of Ramadan, known as Tarawih. The start of the month itself is declared by the first sighting of the new moon.

All of these traditions have been ongoing for centuries, long before concepts like "shopping" and "retailing." So it's just possible that English cathedrals came up with the idea of nighttime events all by themselves.

So why would a major British newspaper float such a flimsy notion? Maybe because it's always fun to use a phrase like "God and mammon" -- which was in the headline of the Telegraph article.

Photo: Salisbury Cathedral, England, via

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