How to do a guided tour of a church

Did I tell you how much fun last Friday evening’s ‘Welcome to St Mary’s” meeting was?

No, I didn’t think I did. Well it was great. We had a guided tour of the building and had a good time together. I did a guided tour that I’ve done once before.

Last year we had an open day for photographers (advertised on the Glasgow flickr group – easy!) and I promised them a guided tour at the beginning to put the building in a bit of context.

My guess is that most of those present that time thought that I’d be talking about when the building was built and who gave what to make it so. Well, there are other people who can do that kind of thing better than I can. (I’ve claimed in the past to believe in neither history nor geography and I’m agnostic as to whether I believe in time). Instead, I improvised a tour based on what the building is for and what its used for. So, I chose the traditional pattern of seven sacraments and did the tour based on them. It goes something a bit like this:

Eucharist – at the altar table at the crossing.
Baptism – at the font
Reconcilliation – St Anne’s Chapel, where I hear confessions
Confirmation – at the Cathedra
Marriage – front of the platform and then up to the High Altar where the documents are signed
Ordination – through into the corridor to talk about the pics of Provosts and Clergy
Unction – the Oratory – built as the resurrection chapel and where the holy oils for healing are stored

Its proved a really good way of doing a tour. You get to talk about why people come to the building and how they use it and what they encounter when they are there.

Its a bit of a dialogue too, as people can ask questions. Questions that have come up at one time or the other have included:

Why seven sacraments are there not only two? To which I reply – our church has never numbered the sacraments – 7 is a traditional number. Then we talk about a sacrament being an outward sign of inward grace.

Do you really have confession? Yes. Its not for everyone but important for some people and important for some at certain times in their lives. All Episcopal clergy have to be willing to hear a confession when asked or otherwise immediately point the person to someone who will hear it.

What if someone confessed they were about to ……., what would you do? The seal of the confessional is regarded as absolute in our church but the option of refusing absolution until the person has, for example, gone with you to the police station/handed themselves in/secured the help they need not to harm others etc is always available. Anyway, this scenario is found more often in films and on the telly than in St Anne’s chapel. Reconcillitation is about putting things right with God, not about creating drama.

What if you give someone the last rights and they get better? Then we rejoice! But the idea of getting better should not rule out the reality of dying.

What is confirmation for? We don’t really all agree on this. Some people use confirmation as a rite to recognise they are Anglicans. It can also be used as a rite recognising renewal and recommissioning to a ministry. It can be a way into taking communion for some people but its not a requirement for taking communion in our church.

By the way, I think I see the seeds of this way of doing a guided tour in a mission festival based on the seven sacraments that I participated in whenI was a TISEC student on placement in Christ Church, Morningside. Does anyone remember that?

This Friday evening, we are not having the tour, but I’ll be talking about the ethos of St Mary’s – Open, Inclusive and Welcoming. Anyone who is new or feels new is welcome to come and there will be plenty of time for questions.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, there’s another event for photographers. “Faith and Photographs” will take place from 10 am until 1.30 pm. A short talk from Akma on looking at the building in a new way followed by time for photographs.


  1. […] Kelvin’s blog reminds me that, come Saturday, I’ll be welcoming to St Mary’s any and all who would like to come look around the church, perhaps ask questions, and take as many photos as time and lighting permit. I expect that, rather than talking about the sacraments, I’ll concentrate on church architecture and the semiotics of ecclesiastical space; the main point, though, is to encourage people to come look around whether they believe anything or not, take some photos (which we hope they might share on Flickr or other public sites), thus documenting our church in greater fullness and calling attention to the wonderfulness of the cathedral.   If anyone comes to church Sunday morning who might otherwise not have, that’s a bonus.   But if you have a few hours free Sunday morning, do come by and take some snaps of a very handsome, visually interesting nineteenth-century Episcopal church.   […]

Speak Your Mind