The National Cathedral in Washington DC has been criticised after charging people to attend some of its Christmas services.
In a social media post, the church announced: “Christmas service passes now available! Get yours today and join us this holiday season” with a picture of the inside of the ornate church, and an emoji featuring a snowflake.
On its website, announcing the schedule for this year’s Advent and Christmas season, America’s national church gives no immediate indication of the change: "Our hearts are preparing to make room for the newborn King this Christmas season, and we’re also making room for you to join the Cathedral as we proclaim Joy to the World!
"In-person or online, there are countless ways for you to join the Cathedral at Christmas, from concerts to worship to moments of quiet contemplation. We can’t wait to see you.
"Christmas Service Passes
"Due to capacity concerns, some of our more popular services require reserved passes."
On the surface, the offer of ‘Christmas passes’ appears similar to the 'crowd control' measures taken by many large churches at this time of year. There’s no mention of the cost until the user clicks through to a third page.
It’s only after selecting a service and the number of tickets required, that prospective visitors discover that a seat at 5 of the church’s festive services between 22nd – 25th December will cost $7.00 (approx. £5) per person.
The ticketed events include the Gospel Christmas Service, Family Christmas Service, Christmas Lessons and Carols, and the late night Christmas Eve Festival Holy Eucharist – sometimes referred in other churches to as ‘Midnight Mass’.
Like many large historic churches, which have huge upkeep costs and attract thousands of tourists every year, some of the reasons to enter the building are offered on a payment basis.
A ‘General Sightseeing’ tour of the National Cathedral for example, costs $18.00 (£22), with a discount of $5 (£9) for child visitors aged between five to 12yrs old.
But it’s the charging for Christmas attendance which has caused the controversy.
One theology professor, responding to the social media post, wrote:
“How can you possibly justify charging people to attend the Eucharist, or indeed any act of worship? If this isn't some kind of mistake in the settings, I'm genuinely shocked & appalled.”
Others called it “disgusting” and “surely a joke”, as well as referencing the time described in the Bible where Jesus confronts the ‘money-changers in the temple’.
Premier has contacted the National Cathedral for a reaction to the backlash. They have not yet responded, but we will update this story when they do.