Holy "Last" Orders
The Church of England is planning to open wine bars and introduce "loyalty cards" in a package of measures designed to make it more businesslike.
The first "director of hospitality and welcome" at an English cathedral has unveiled far-reaching plans to make its operations more business-like. Mark Hope-Urwin, a former executive with the John Lewis department stores chain, has been recruited by Birmingham Cathedral to oversee a radical change to its image and branding. His plans, revealed today, include a chain of city-centre wine bars and "loyalty cards" for regular worshippers to obtain discounts at the cathedral's shops. The new approach to attracting and retaining worshippers could become a blueprint for dioceses across the country.
The wine bars would feature stained-glass windows, pictures on a religious theme and be decorated in "episcopal purple". They would be intended to raise the cathedral's profile around the city, and would represent a significant departure from current practice, which is limited to bookshops and cafes in some cathedrals and churches. Staff would have to be sympathetic to Christianity and times of cathedral services would be posted on the walls.
Mr Hope-Urwin said: "We're not trying to encourage drinking, but the cathedral has to engage more with the city and find ways of meeting people on their territory. Cathedral wine bars should be seen as a potential commercial operation with profits going into the upkeep of the building and paying for evangelistic work. This isn't about turning the cathedral into a big money-making machine, but we have to think of how we can change and spread the brand. We are in a competitive environment. People have all kinds of distractions in their busy lives and at the moment too many just see the cathedral as a big brick monolith. That has to change if we are to bring people in."
Mr Hope-Urwin said that the Church needed to be more imaginative in how it connected with people and should look to the commercial sector to learn about retaining its customers. He argued that the introduction of "loyalty cards" would help encourage a sense of belonging and could be used to get discounts in cathedral book and gift stores, and preferential access to services and performances. The plans will be presented to the dean, the Very Rev Robert Wilkes, after research has been conducted into how the different schemes would work.
Mr Hope-Urwin, who starts his new job this week, said: "I've mentioned it to the dean, who isn't averse to the idea as long as we cost it out to check how viable it would be." The Very Rev Christopher Lewis, the chairman of the Association of English Cathedrals, welcomed the proposals. "We have to be willing to embrace change to keep places going," he said. "As long as it's done carefully, wine bars are a good idea as they bring people in and are a good meeting place."
The Rev David Phillips, the general secretary of the Church Society, a traditionalist group, said: "Opening wine bars doesn't seem an appropriate way to generate money. People who attend church should give more so that this doesn't have to happen. The idea of the Church getting involved with selling alcohol will worry people." The plan comes after the Association of English Cathedrals accused the Government of having a secular agenda – as it fails to provide "proper" financial support to cathedrals, despite providing large grants to museums.
Sir Dayvd ( Bless me father, for I have Signed ) the Signmaker of Oxfordshire