Friday, October 1, 2010

Theology before Rebuild?

The quakes in Christchurch are not yet finished so not much is being repaired as that could be premature, though as much as possible is being made safe. We are a boy's wonderland of bits of wood and metal holding up fences and walls lest they fall never to rise again.

That gives the churches a bit of time for reflection on questions of rebuilding - and not only the churches because there are plenty of other public edifices to ponder the future thereof. Of course in the pondering sit an array of insurers, assessors, engineers, architects, heritage boffins, bankers and other financiers all with their bit to say. Owners of buildings may even get to put their views in! But perhaps theologians could elbow their way into such discussions.

In my mind some interesting questions are emerging.

What is the value of a building? What is the value of one building versus another? For instance, if a limited amount of restoration money is available and only one of two heritage buildings can be saved, which one gets priority? Alternatively, if there are homeless people in a great city such as Christchurch, is it more important to house them in functional accommodation than to restore the (expensive) glories of our finest stone-and-slate buildings?

For churches there are a number of questions to add to the mix. Is our obligation in providing buildings for worship to the future or to the past? Of course, in some cases buildings from the past serve us well: many couples love the fact that we have an amazing collection of beautiful churches in Canterbury in which they can have their wedding and lots of lovely photos as well! Certainly there are a number of churches which represent the greatness of church architecture's historical development and thus offer brilliant 'sacred spaces' in which to meet with God. But there are also considerations about comfort (generally our oldest churches are our coldest churches!), about ongoing costs of keeping historic buildings in good order, and about whether churches located on excellent locations in the 19th and early 20th centuries remain in good locations as the city changes with 21st century priorities for roading, housing, and shopping.

One final thought for today: in the Bible, God's people are no strangers to building, rebuilding, and rebuilding again. Think Temple, destruction, restoration and rebuilding. But there is also an interesting history of flexibility (Tabernacle) and adaptation (Christians meeting in homes, on river banks, and in public marketplaces).


Kurt said...

I have been away from the internet for some time working on a special project, then taking a two-week break. I want Fr. Carroll and all Christchurch area residents to know that I am praying for them and for their speedy recovery from their recent tragedy. As a history buff, I am particularly concerned about damage to historic churches and other buildings in the area. The past is worthy of preservation.

New Zealand will soon celebrate the Bicentennial of the bringing of the Christian message to the islands in 1814, and there are an increasing number of buildings that are now 150 years old or older there. It should be understood that natural disasters, wars, civil strife, etc. leave their marks on historic buildings. It is up to us to pick up the pieces and to preserve and restore what we can. Such disasters can be opportunities as well as challenges.

One example (of many) here in NYC can be found in Manhattan’s famous Greenwich Village. The Church of St. Luke's in-the-Fields was consecrated on Ascension Day, May 16, 1822 to serve the growing population of Greenwich Village, then a prosperous suburb of New York City. Built of rose-pink brick brought over from Holland as ship's ballast, the church has the restrained elegance of a Federal-style building. High Church in orientation from early on, St. Luke’s instituted daily public recitations of Morning and Evening Prayer in 1832, and weekly celebrations of the Holy Eucharist in 1845. One of the first professions of monastic vows in the Anglican Communion since the Reformation occurred at St. Luke's in 1847.

St. Luke’s original Federal-style interior was aesthetically mutilated by Late Victorian Gothic Revival “embellishments.” A fire in the early 1980s allowed sympathetic architects to restore the sanctuary to its original elegant simplicity. A chancel-screen of connected Doric columns in the shape of a “U” surrounds the altar and chancel. Two three-foot gilt, winged angels, in flowing robes, (exact duplicates of the originals) stand atop with prayerful posture on the north and south ends of the screen, recreating the ambience of the 1820s chancel. The fire was a tragedy; but the parish used it as an opportunity for restoration. This can be true in the Christchurch area as well.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks, Kurt for the encouragement.
The affected parishes will face varying challenges. One or two have not long ago completed restorative work, so it may be a particular challenge to face (so to speak) "re-restoration."