In this morning's Christchurch Press Dr Katie Pickles a University of Canterbury historian argues that the earthquake may be Christchurch and Canterbury's moment to break free from its colonial past. She does not quite go so far with specifics to also argue that we should rebuild our Anglican cathedral as a post colonial cathedral, but that prospect could be inferred from her article.
Our Anglican cathedral is badly damaged, beyond the obvious visible damage seen on TV screens around the world (at the west end). To a layperson such as myself in engineering matters it seems that the least radical decision, to rebuild the Cathedral stone by stone, would be an exercise in total deconstruction before beginning again (presuming, of course, potential difficulties with the land beneath being sorted out and clearance to rebuild such a big, and heavy structure being given). As a resident of Christchurch it is intrinsically unlikely that even this least radical decision - should it be made by church and civic authorities* - would not be subject to vigorous debate. The cathedral was built originally out of a colonial vision. Through the twentieth century it acquired its post-modernist status as an icon of the city, one of the symbols which readily identifies Christchurch as Christchurch, and one of the places which locates the centre of the city. "Meet me at the cathedral at 12.30 pm" needs no further explanation or direction to a fellow citizen (except for this period where it is out of bounds in the red zone). Do we want the icon to continue as at present or to become different, perhaps expressing a new sense of what Christchurch means to its citizens? Do Anglicans want to vest their identity in a mother church for the diocese which reminds us of the English rock from which we were hewn or which encapsulates some other value or set of values?
I have no idea when the debate about the future of the Anglican cathedral will properly begin. I predict it will be a debate both internal to the Anglican diocese and external to the citizens of Christchurch (and beyond). I appeal to fellow local Anglicans reading this post to not underestimate the external debate which will occur, that is, to not be naive, should we be so tempted, to think that we can make decisions purely on the basis of our own ideas discussed in house in our synod.
In part the debate will be constrained by what engineering reports recommend and what finances are readily available (i.e. insurance, city or national grants). It will involve arguments for retaining the visibility of our past and arguments for providing sacred space for the future of our post-colonial, post-modernist, post-secular, etc communities of faith (yes, there will be arguments for/against its ecumenical availability and arguments for/against its multi-faith accommodation).
Katie Pickles' op-ed this morning has not fired the first shots in this imminent debate, but it has opened up one of the areas over which the battle of ideas, if not of ownership of the vision for the cathedral's future will range. Is this the moment to leave our past behind by building a cathedral representing a post-colonial vision of our future?
*While the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch ultimately will make the decision as to what it will do with the land on which the cathedral sits, to which it has title, no building in our country can be built without resource consent and building permit, as granted by civic authority, and to which process of permitting, citizens may contribute their views.