Moneychangers in the Church

Katie and I were in Ireland the last few days.  We drove around the island, from Dublin to Belfast to Derry, down to Galway, to Cork, and back up to Dublin.

Our first day there, we wandered about Dublin, going to Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and even went on a tour learning about how beer has shaped Ireland.

This may be something that is unsurprising to people who have been to Europe before (it’s my first time)…but at both Christ Church and St. Patrick’s, there was an admission charge.  It was the same at Westminster Abbey in London – it costs £20 for an adult (about $30).  At Christ Church and St. Patrick’s, it was €6 – about $6.50.

There were two things that got me about this.  One – that you could be charged for coming into a church.  At all.  I do get that they are historical buildings and in need of maintenance…but the idea of charging people to go into a place of worship rubs me the wrong way.

Second – that the money was taken and exchanged inside the sanctuary of the church.  To enter Christ Church, you go in a set of large, wooden, double doors, and hang an immediate right through another set to enter the worship space.  Again, I realize this probably happens all over Europe – but having moneychangers in the church isn’t right to me.  If you are going to charge, there is plenty of space ouside the building, or at least the worship space, to set a ticket booth.

Third – we went to Westkerk in Amsterdam today.  It was free to enter, but in the worship space they had a bookstore with books and kitschy trinkets spilling out of a corner of the large room.  There was a coffee shop on the other side of the entrance way.  In the far corner, there was a “buy a brick to restore the church” section.

In all this, I kept thinking of Matthew 21 – here for those of you who don’t know the story: <Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”>  

Jesus probably was angry because the moneychangers were batantly cheating the people…it’s not exactly the same thing as what I’ve experienced – but it’s what I keep coming back to.

All of these churches do welcome anyone to worship times, with no payment or donation required.  So we did go to evensong worship at Westminster Abbey.  Not only did we get to see the Abbey, we got the joy of worshipping in that space, following in the footsteps and heartbeats of so many people before us.

Moneychanging in the worship space frustrates me.  Paying to get into church upsets me.  (I am fine with a donation box – free-will style.) Partly writing this is a way for me to process it, and partly I’m writing this because I think churches are to be open spaces for people to gather, pray, worship, be renewed, and meet God amidst the busyness of our crazy world – whether they have 6 Euro or not.

Will

From Ireland we flew to Brussels, and then bussed to Amsterdam, where we arrived yesterday – we’ll leave tomorrow.

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