In this piece from the Telegraph, Sir Simon Jenkins argues that cathedrals are more popular than parish churches because:
No one shakes you by the hand, no one says peace be upon you. I asked a canon once why cathedrals are doing so well, he said ‘unlike churches we don’t bang on about God’. Which is very odd but also I sense rather true.
In other words, cathedrals are “spiritual” but not “religious.” They give people space to hide behind a pillar and just be there, without requiring them to fit their spiritual longings into any particular form. Jenkins goes on to say:
Cathedrals don’t bang on about God in cathedrals but they bang on about beauty and that’s why I love them.
Clearly Jenkins is being something of a provocateur, but I do sometimes wonder if our churches don’t fail to make space for the tentative seeker after a vague “something more.” The liturgical reforms tended to downplay the aesthetic dimension of the liturgy and highlight the active participation of the assembly. But what of those who do not feel ready to participate fully, who just want to stay on the edge of things and absorb a little beauty that goes beyond what ordinary life offers? Do we welcome them?
Of course, one might reply, “If they want beauty they can go to a museum” (perhaps with the implication that this is what British cathedrals really have become). But how Christian is that?