"we do not want to build a replica but rather a mix of old and new. A renewed ancient vision that does reflect our past but also looks to our future ... build an inspirational building that gives glory to God"Canterbury is a region with a strong sense of its historical founding, which include an unembarrassed and ongoing connection with England, the place where the plans for the Canterbury settlement were hatched. I sense that a strong part of the motivation to save the cathedral is a motivation to remain connected through physics to our past. I believe we can nod in that direction.
Another part of the angst some are feeling about the cathedral is that, irrespective of the history of Canterbury it has become part of the history of New Zealand. We do not have many truly great New Zealand buildings, where greatness is measured not only in terms of architectural merit, but also in terms of people's affection. That is we have few buildings we really ought to do just about anything to keep in good repair and if damaged to restore. The cathedral is an icon of New Zealand (the argument goes) and we must not lose that icon. I won't rehearse the reasons why it has become all but impossible to restore the building to its former splendour (but if you would like to resist those reasons please offer $100m now, and don't just talk about fund-raising for it). I believe we can create a new icon: a bold, striking visual statement of the gospel for the 21st century which will excite the imagination of all New Zealanders. We can nod in the direction of the historical importance of the cathedral by creating a building which generates a new history of affection. Such a building will connect with England, but also with Maori, the South Pacific and with Asia.
So far we are dealing with general affections of the NZ public. What about Christian affections which are involved in an inspirational ancient future building? To be honest, I am not sure that I am particularly enamoured with the cathedral we have had as a place to be affectionate about as a Christian, as compared with being a Cantabrian! A bit dark, a bit cold (all that stone), and, in terms of aspects of modern worship (bands, projection screens), a bit restrictive. Surely we can do better in respect of light, warmth (wood?), space (i.e. the space from which liturgical, musical, dramatic, and kerygmatic leadership comes to the congregation as all engage in worship of God). We should nod in the direction of the way we worship today. Whatever was good in Neo-Gothic architecture, 21st century Christians worship differently to the Neo-Goths.
But a cathedral (like any church building) is a statement through physics. In a secularised culture with spiritual aspects (such is our multi-cultural society), can we make a statement about the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? That is quite a challenge. In secular terms an inspirational building is one which sets our hearts soaring. A Sydney Opera House (to give an example of a building I have seen in person) or the Louvre (so I believe). In gospel terms an inspirational building is one which enables the Spirit of God to meet our spirits. The movement of the gospel is the movement towards us of God who seeks to save the lost rather than waiting for the lost to find him. I have no idea how a building is inspirational in the sense that when we enter it we meet the Holy Spirit, and when we look at it we find ourselves coming home to the God who seeks us.
But I am sure it can be done!* We need to nod in the direction of the core message of the Anglican expression of Christianity: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son ...
Speaking generally of modern church architecture in NZ, my advice would be to look at Roman Catholic churches built in the last fifty years before any other churches. Speaking of cathedrals in NZ, I believe that we can learn from mistakes made in the building of Auckland (should have demolished the old part), Wellington (worst acoustics in the whole wide world), and Nelson (beautiful in Takaka marble, but horrendous bills looming re maintenance) cathedrals.