Friday, April 8, 2011

Post Colonial Cathedral for Christchurch?

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.


Father Ron Smith said...

"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?"

Your rhetorical question here, David, will not, I suspect, exercise the minds of too many traditional Anglicans in either Christchurch, or New Zealand as a whole. As owners of the site of our iconic Cathedral in the City, we Anglicans ourselves - not just administrators, educators and synod members, will want to have some input as to what we, as a family of Christians, want to have built to replace this focus of worship for the whole diocese.

I, unlike you, still believe that there is a place in the City for a building which provides a central focal point for the historical character of Anglicanism, which was at the very foundation of the City which bears the name of its Cathedral.

Historical foundations still have their place in our City, and the Cathedral is a significant part of that - equal, perhaps, to that of the local marae, which may be a feature of any new building.

To deny the continuing presence of an Anglican Cathedral in the heart of Christchurch City is tantamount to divorcing us from the identity of our founding fathers and mothers.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Could you please read my posts carefully and not jump to unwarranted conclusions which I have no made.

I did not say in this post that I do not think there should be a cathedral. I think there should.

The question I raised was whether our cathedral - if it requires a 'rebuild' rather than a 'repair' - should continue to be in a style which recalls our English heritage or in some other style encapsulating other things which are important to us - there are other styles of architecture than Gothic to represent the gospel and our mission in these islands.

I concur with you wholeheartedly in hoping that all Anglicans in the diocese will have opportunity to have a say in what the future shape of the cathedral might be.