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Hallo again to all.

A while ago we journeyed to East Anglia to attend a special service in which the bishop installed a dear friend as a Lay Canon of the cathedral. It was a very long journey from our home, but the event made it all worthwhile. Besides the intended purpose of the visit and the installation itself, we have two lasting memories of that day. The first is the look of surprise on the face of the ticket-taker when we stopped to buy an admission ticket and told her that we were there for a worship service. She waived the charge, but was still slightly suspicious that we were just talking our way in to avoid having to pay. The second lasting memory is of learning that nowhere in this vast complex of buildings was there a water closet available to non-staff. We knew perfectly well that there were working water closets for staff use, but their bunker mentality was more 'defend our holy place against all of these tourists' than 'welcome'. It became harder and harder to pay attention to the service as the time passed.

Earlier this week we saw an article in The Timaru Herald (a regional newspaper in New Zealand's South Island) that the quality of life at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapō (population 369) had been greatly improved by building a fence around the church to keep the tourists at bay and prevent them from interrupting worship services. An earlier article in another newspaper reported 'Iconic Church of Good Shepherd gets protection from tourists'.

We aren't yet to the point that we feel like freaks because we attend churches for worship instead of photography. It all makes sense, we suppose. Many cities have 'old city' centres that try hard to attract tourists. Be it Ottawa, Marrakech, New Orleans, Baku, Jaffa, Nashville, or someplace else, the notion of visiting an old city centre as a tourist experience is part of modern life. The old city centres have old buildings, old streets, suitable decor, and shops that sell souvenirs commemorating the past.* So if old city centres around the world cultivate tourism, and one of their dominant features is the collection of old buildings, then it makes sense to assume that old buildings elsewhere are tourist attractions, no longer being used for their original purpose.

The church tourism problem is a problem because the churches are still in use for their original purpose, but they look very much like tourist attractions. it hasn't worked to reject tourists; there are so many of them and they are so determined. We saw a report somewhere (we can't find it just now) that on an average summer day in Tekapō, the number of tourists was twice as large as the population of the town. Thinking about attending a 40-person worship service in a church surrounded by 100 tourists taking selfies brings thoughts of a zombie film. Certainly the tourists are not going to be quiet, even if a gated fence keeps them at bay. They might not howl like zombies, but they do call out to each other in outdoor voices.

The huge cathedral in East Anglia was built in the 13th century, and was designed to be beautiful in order to honour God. Its relationship with tourists is symbiotic; maintaining it costs nearly £6000 per day, and that money would not be available without a contribution from tourist admissions revenue.

The tiny Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapō was built in 1935 but designed to look much older, to embody the notion that even though this was a new place, not populated by Anglicans for long, that it carried the spirit of the pioneers and their forbears in the mother country. It charges no admission, and doesn't try to interact with the tourists (most of them want to photograph it rather than learn about it), but its tourists are just as unstoppable.

It seems obvious to us that as time passes and social attitudes towards religion evolve and diminish, that remaining churches will increasingly have a dual purpose: house of worship and focus of historical tourism. We are glad that there are prettier churches than ours close by, so the tourists probably won't interrupt our worship services. We should be glad that the tourists care at all. It means that, in their eyes, churches are still important and relevant, even if only as history.

See you next week, just like last week and last year.

Our Signatures

All of us at Anglicans Online

7 January 2018

*We were greatly amused once when we noticed that many of the souvenirs being sold in Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech had been made in India, and many of the souvenirs being sold in Old City, Hyderabad had been made in Thailand.

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