Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Would Jesus rebuild our cathedrals?

This morning's Christchurch Press tells us that the repair bill for the Arts Centre in Christchurch is likely to be $100 million. This historic precinct of stone buildings (which once used to be our university site) is worth rebuilding in general terms, but I am not going to try to get my head around the dollar number which would mean we walked away from it! On that basis I imagine a rebuild of the cathedrals in Christchurch would be in the region of $10 million each. Would Jesus rebuild our cathedrals?

I imagine Jesus might answer that question with a question (as he often does in the gospels), 'What important priorities in Christchurch city need to be met ahead of restoring historic buildings?' Listening to people and reading letters to the editor I sense that the people of Christchurch would answer that question with a request that power, water, and sewerage be restored to our residential and business areas before we make decisions about restoring our heritage. (Also before we host Rugby World Cup games).

Suppose, however, that the infrastructure of the city is sorted, that good progress is being made on the myriad of decisions both at a personal and civic level about repairing and replacing damaged homes (in some cases planning for new suburbs to be developed), would Jesus rebuild our cathedrals?

In principle I suggest we can say that Jesus would encourage us to have architecturally significant large churches. He taught us to honour our Father in heaven, he encouraged people to meet together in his name (including in his own ministry some very large crowds), and he cared for people in times of significant events such as weddings and funerals, events which sometimes need large venues to accommodate those who wish to gather for them. With more than a little Anglican bias I suggest Jesus is in favour of bishops as successors to his apostles and understands the importance of bishops having a 'seat' from which to preside over their flock as teaching pastors. That seat or cathedra gives rise to the desire to have 'architecturally significant large churches' which we call 'cathedrals.'

But let us then tread carefully through the next steps to understanding the mind of Christ on rebuilding our cathedrals! Would Jesus have us rebuild two cathedrals or one? Would he wish us to maintain continuity with the past by rebuilding stone by stone (as our mayor has already said we will do, at least for the Anglican cathedral)? Or, always one to look ahead, would Jesus favour a new cathedral or cathedrals for a new dispensation?

If the past is important along with the future would Jesus favour the 'Coventry model' (the old as a memorial side by side with the new) or the 'Auckland model' (the old completed by a new addition, forming a hybrid)? Or could there be a fusion in which a brand new cathedral or cathedrals are partly constructed of present stone but in a completely new design? Then there is always the question whether a cathedral for the 21st century in the midst of a world with great poverty should be expensively designed and constructed or otherwise. Would Jesus be satisfied with a 'warehouse' box for a cathedral?

Finally - being only courageous enough to raise questions and not to answer them (smile) - should there be two cathedrals or one cathedral in our city?

I am not so blindly Anglican that I think Jesus would favour rebuilding the Anglican cathedral and not the Roman Catholic one. Nor as a good Anglican do I think Jesus would favour the converse (unless he wanted to have some teasing fun at Anglicans' expense)! Theologically I struggle with Jesus as the intercessor who prayed ut unim sint favouring two expensive rebuilds. So here is one bold thought:

What if we had an ecumenical cathedral in Christchurch, one and only one cathedral? It could be available for all the churches to use as required for large occasions of gathering (recalling that Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists and other denominations have lost their large inner city churches). It could have individual seats for individual bishops (at least three, Roman Catholic, Maori Anglican, and Pakeha Anglican). It would be available to the community for large funerals and weddings, to say nothing of concerts and performances which glorified God through the arts.

The obvious site for this ecumenical cathedral would be the centre of Christchurch (i.e. the site of the present Anglican cathedral) and to make it truly ecumenical we Anglicans would need to give up our ownership of that site to an ecumenical trust. (Easy words to write, I know, but something to ponder given our commitment to ecumenical relations).

Each denomination would then be free to build at a location of their choosing a 'fit for purpose' large church in keeping with the 21st century, at lowest reasonable cost, and built to the very highest earthquake standards. In the light of the devastation of the tsunami in Japan, somewhere in the west of Christchurch might be desirable. From an Anglican perspective I favour whatever we do being of flexible purpose so that we could hold both worship services and our synods and conferences in the same building.

Other bold thoughts should be considered. The full implications of the gospel as the manifesto of God's kingdom need reflecting on. What statements in keeping with the gospel will be made when we rebuild? What gospel priorities might constrain us from rebuilding? How do we provide for ourselves both a large meeting place for the diocesan family to meet as well as support parishes in their rebuild of smaller churches for local gatherings? When we have dreamed our dreams, what actual dollars will be available from insurance and fund-raising to do what we want to do?

What would Jesus do?


Andy S said...

Why an Ecumenical Cathedral will never work.

The Reserved Sacrament.

About a year ago in Auckland's Anglican Cathedral a secular public debate was held, chaired by a local MP. A frothy thing, lots of fun no doubt.

But the chair and speakers had no sense of where they were a four letter profanities abounded.

The sad thing is that our society is so degraded and Godless very few even noticed the inappropriate use of vulgarities in a sacred place.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andy
With or without the Reserved Sacrament, a building designated as a church should not be the place where profanity is heard.

I would expect no less a standard of Christian behaviour within an ecumenical cathedral than in an ordinary cathedral (and much higher than in Auckland cathedral!).

If that meant the exclusion of some secular events, so be it.

Lucy said...

Peter I hope the idea of a shared cathedral gets some traction - it is a creative first thought for dealing with many complex issues - including the one you raised earlier in relation to the tension between heritage and homelessness.
Andy: vulgarities in a sacred place should be avoided, of course. But I think there are other things that speak volumes about the degradation of a society,try hungry people, abused people, sick people .... perhaps your notion of profanity could be revised??

Paul Powers said...

With more than a little Anglican bias I suggest Jesus is in favour of bishops as successors to his apostles and understands the importance of bishops having a 'seat' from which to preside over their flock as teaching pastors.

Rebuilding the cathedral may be desirable for both religious and civic reasons, but is it essential? Not all dioceses have cathedrals. And at least in the U.S., there are some dioceses where an already existing parish has been designated as the cathedral. Would either of these alternatives represent better stewardship of the diocese's resources? I'm a complete outsider, so I don't pretend to have the answer, but I think the question is worth considering.

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, you've certainly given some of us plenty of food for thought here, Peter. I wonder what would be proper to propose if Anglican theological colleges had come under the hammer - instead of cathedrals. Would we then have to 'let go' the diocesan one in Nelson - in favour of rebuilding the provincial one in Auckland? After all. St.John's College has been in existence a lot longer, and why did we need another one?

This is not too different from the speculation you seem to be making here. What you are asking I think -in terms of the 2 Christchurch Cathedrals is 'Can we let go of our respective theological worship traditions in favour of a single ecumenical worship centre?'

Well, I might ask the same question of Anglican Theological Institutes: 'Do we need both Nelson and Auckland?' If not which one deserves the priority.

These are both very difficult questions to answer - in both instances. I think it would require a lot more than my voice and yours put together to make an intelligent estimate on such issues, and our speculation may not help the situation facing us.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Paul: any parish church could become the cathedral of a diocese (in my understanding).

Hi Ron: it would be a very large natural event that put both BTC and SJC under the hammer!

There are difficult questions here and I appreciate arguments in principle for each bishop having a cathedral. In practice we are talking about a lot of dollars and I am raising the question whether we could do more for the dollars we spend by focusing them on one cathedral. I am not arguing for less bishops!!

Andrew Reid said...

It's hard to judge from afar the emotional attachment the people of Christchurch have to the cathedral. In cases like these, rebuilding familiar buildings can help people to feel like life is returning to normal, and contribute to the healing process.
That said, I would gently encourage those thinking about this to ask the prior questions:
"What kind of ministry does God want us to do in Christchurch?"
"What building would facilitate that ministry?"
In terms of ecumenical sharing, I am all too aware of cases where this worsens ecumenical relations rather than improves them. There are fights over who gets the best times, locations, etc. and it becomes a mess very quickly. We have 8 congregations sharing our building, in a context where it is nearly impossible to get approval for new churches. That is a hard enough balancing act for a local parish church, so I hate to think what trying to manage it at a cathedral would be like.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew
It's hard to judge from within Chch what the emotional attachment to the cathedral is. Clearly some are attached (and write letters to the paper and hold cakestalls to raise funds), but there is a vast mass of mall shoppers out there who neither go to church anywhere nor to the inner city.

Sharing the cathedral potentially could be difficult, but my vision is careful to state that each church would nevertheless have another site for the everyday/Sunday stuff we associate with 'cathedrals' so the main call on the ecumenical cathedral's timetable would be special occasions when the bishop wanted a 'cathedra' for teaching/ordaining/confirming purposes.

Your point about ministry is well made. One question to ask of any cathedral ministry in NZ today is whether its stock liturgical diet ('choral services') is (a) representative of the worship of the whole diocese, and (b) appropriately missional for the 21st century.

Tim Harris said...


Some form of model for what you propose may be available in the The Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Canberra (check out the wiki article for a snapshot). Anglicans gave over some prized land in Canberra to create a ecumenical centre and hub for a range of related ministries (but not a Cathedral, which for Anglicans is in Goulburn).

Tim Harris said...

@FrRon... I have resisted buying into many of your occasional assertions with regard to Nelson and BTC, but need to point out to you that they are frequently ill-informed. As one example, a few weeks ago you made comments on the assumption that Nelson Dio. had a restrictive policy on women in ministry: not so - there is a clear diocesan statement in which support for women in all orders of ministry (including episcopal) is unequivocal. Nelson could very easily consider a female bishop at some future point.

With regard to the 'diocesan college', it is true that BTC would not exist if not for the vision, initiative an support of the Anglican Diocese, but it is formally independent, and recently invited a senior church leader from another denomination onto its Board. Over 50% of its students are non-Anglicans.

And BTW, BTC traces its origins to the initial Bishopdale College in Nelson in 1869, a significant initiative that can count the training of the first Bishop of Aotearoa amongst its alumni. Our vision is for a more culturally diverse, flexible and regionally located mode that is available throughout NZ.

Paul Powers said...

It's not a cathedral, but there's a joint Episcopal/Catholic church in Virginia Beach, Virginia:


It has been in existence since around 1978.

Even more interesting is that Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh serves both the TEC Diocese and the ACNA Diocese.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Paul. It can be done!