However, this is what happened when Sycamore Motors hired Peterborough Cathedral for the local launch of the new BMW 5 Series and the Mini Countryman. The cathedral, which will be 900 years old in 2018, allowed cars to be driven into the nave for the first time. The event involved a choir performance and a short talk.
The Times described the event as ‘God and Mammon collide’, while others took a more tolerant view. Many regarded the cathedral hiring out the space as simply a way of raising funds to support its upkeep.
There are arguments on both sides, but it does bring into focus the issue of work and faith.
Canon Jonathan Baker, acting dean, said: “One thing which the BMW event demonstrated powerfully is that God and the world do not belong in separate compartments.
“If Jesus is Lord at all, then he is Lord of BMW as well as Peterborough Cathedral. By holding the launch in the cathedral, this was made visible, with the event taking place literally under the shadow of the cross.”
Some may argue that Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple, while others would say that the real church is a body of people and a cathedral simply a venue where they meet.
The canon concluded that: “We do not believe that God can be contaminated by the presence of a new car, and we do not need to be anxious about allowing faith and commerce to come together – on the contrary, it is important for the health of both that they do.”
Although I have reservations about the use of cathedrals as showrooms, I agree that there should not be a division between faith and work. To ask people to park their beliefs at the dealership door reduces their capacity to function as genuine human beings.
In some cases, organisations make their beliefs and values more explicit. These values are often set by the senior management of the organisation and these should be an authentic outworking of their beliefs, whether they are faith-based or not.
Peoples’ attitudes to work and each other are shaped by what they believe and help to define their own self-worth. It was John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, who said: “In following your proper calling, no work will be so mean and sordid as not to have splendour and value in the eye of God.”
Maybe by breaking down barriers, both the church and dealerships can be seen in a different light.