In the unfolding saga of quake damaged Christchurch Cathedral, we seem to be edging towards the possibility of "restoration" becoming the probability of "reinstatement" (see my post last week). Not inconsiderable details of finance and safety need to be sorted. The tide of public opinion may or may not support the lean towards reinstatement in Miriam Dean QC's report, commissioned by the government: so far letters to the Press are running in favour of demolition and a new build.
I find in conversation with people that all sorts of things are being said about the cathedral, including whether we need to have one at all. Here are a few responses to questions/suggestions being made ...
Do we need a cathedral?
Naturally there is theology of "church", both people and building, as a starting point. The latter, I think, is pretty important because we the people of God are frail creatures. When we gather we like a roof over our heads (in most climates there is rain!) and walls (in temperate or colder climates for warmth, if not for other reasons such as protection from marauding insects, wild beasts or bitter winds). Roof and walls make a building so - despite some people going on at length about the church being the people and not the building - the reality is that most of the time most of the people of God gathering as church gather in a building. From that basic perspective of protective shelter, a cathedral is the largest building in a region for God's people (albeit God's Anglican/ Catholic/ Orthodox/ otherwise people). One observation I make about our (wonderful, I like it very much) Transitional Cathedral is that, at around the 500+ seating mark, it is not large enough for some of our diocesan purposes (large funerals, larger gatherings for multiple ordinations). That alone is reason for us to do something constructive about returning to the larger cathedral in the Square (with its capacity, from memory, for 1000 or so to be seated).
Cathedrals, however, are not only "the largest church in the diocese" but also the cathedra or seat of the bishop, that is, the bishop's church, for gathering people for instruction and guidance, that is, for gathering the largest congregation from across the Diocese on certain occasions, meeting together in the largest building of the Diocese fit for such purposes.
But gatherings for instruction and guidance are a witness to the wider community: this body of people believe certain things to be true and wish to testify to their truth by visibly moving from other places of ordinary life to this place of extraordinary life, a place dedicated to worship of and witness to the God of Jesus Christ. So cathedrals are involved in the mission of God. Their existence and their use by Christians sends out a message to the community: God exists, God is worshipped, God has revealed truth to humanity.
(Supposing it could be squared legally with respect to recent court judgments about the cathedral in the Square) why not sell the damaged cathedral to the city council/government for $1 and head out to the suburbs to build a cathedral with a decent carpark?
In my view this mission of cathedrals is enhanced by being in a prominent place in the Diocese - often this will be in the largest city of the Diocese (as it is in this Diocese of Christchurch) and prominence can be a feature whether a cathedral is built in the recognised centre of the city (e.g. Dunedin, Christchurch, Nelson), on a hill overlooking the city (e.g. Nelson, Auckland), or near to a "seat of power" (e.g. Wellington). I am not familiar enough with the location of cathedrals in New Plymouth, Hamilton or Napier to comment on the "prominence" of their locations.
I am strongly of the view that the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch having title to the most prominent location in the city of Christchurch should not under any circumstances give up that title. All Christians in Christchurch and Canterbury have a stake in the continuation of public witness to the people of Christchurch and Canterbury - a public witness to the God of Jesus Christ through the presence of the Anglican cathedral in the Square.
If we were to reinstate the cathedral, what might a theology of reinstatement look like?
Preliminary considerations, pointing both to the value of the past and of the future ...
A starting point here, I suggest, is some reflection on time. As Christians we live in time, past, present and future. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). God is the one "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8).
The past includes: we remember with thanksgiving what God in Christ has done for us on the cross, the saints who have gone before us, bearing witness to God and handing on the deposit of faith to succeeding generations.
The present is the existential moment in which we obey (or disobey) the revealed will of God, including obedience to the Great Commandment (which leads to worship of God) and the Great Commission (which leads to our missional engagement in the world around us).
The future lies before us and asks of us faithfulness: faithful bearing of the faith (continuation of tradition, what has been handed down to us as God's people, especially preserved in Holy Scripture) so that future generations may share the blessing we presently share, expectation of God's leading us forward, by fire and by cloud. Jesus Christ is the same tomorrow as today but the circumstances of the world keep changing. So today's English may not communicate the gospel tomorrow. Today's liturgical arrangements likely will look different tomorrow because they are not the same as yesterday: the future lies before us and teases us about our adaptability!
When we move from general consideration of time to consideration of what we see God's people doing in respect of time, in relation to structures (including buildings, and how we organise ourselves as the people of God), we see both "reinstatement" and "newness."
Nehemiah famously seeks permission to "reinstate" Jerusalem, its walls and its temple. In this way God's people act presently to face the future with the assurance the past provides. By attending to the temple and rebuilding it, they show faithfulness to God: the temple God promised and provided for was in ruins, by rebuilding it, they demonstrated their love for God.
Yet Jesus comes and charts a new way, so "new" that the temple he comes to build as a replacement for the existing temple (now Herod's temple rather than Nehemiah's) is his "body" (John 2:21). His message, the gospel has a quality to it which requires new structures: new wineskins for new wine (Matthew 9:17). In the end, the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles leads to the "partings of the ways" between Jews and Christians. The old wineskin of Judaism cannot contain the new wine of Jesus the radical, reforming rabbi.
A theology of reinstatement?
Within the specific culture of Aotearoa New Zealand, we have considerations about the past which are valued. In Maori culture, whakapapa (genealogy) is important: through knowing and remembering our whakapapa we both honour our ancestors and anchor our own identity. This accords with Christian life, both the literal genealogies of Scripture which enable us to know who we are as God's people, as well as the chains of spiritual heritage which draw us into the life of God (Nana took me to Sunday School; my godfather gave me my first Bible ...). But there are also Pakeha considerations. We were not created from nothing. We came from somewhere (mostly from various places in Europe). We brought the Christian faith, continuing a journey begun in Jerusalem, moving through Athens and Rome to Britain (principally) and other European parts. Our churches, whether a small wooden "Selwyn" church or a great stone one like the Christchurch cathedral, connect us with that greater story. A (non-church going) friend recently mentioned the possibility that reinstatement of the cathedral in the Square would be appropriate honour and respect for our ancestors. In Christchurch and Canterbury terms, that respect, integrated into our larger story as the story of a specific Anglican settlement could mean we reinstate the cathedral as a means of telling that story, not only to ourselves "today" but also to our grandchildren and their grandchildren "tomorrow."
If we were to follow letters to the Press in recent days and build a new cathedral, what might a theology of new cathedral-ness look like?
On a practical level, NZ is a violent place with respect to buildings. Many of our older buildings have been destroyed through fire and through earthquake. We have not hesitated after such disasters to build new buildings, as fire resistant or as quake resistant as contemporary technology permits. For churches rebuilt after fires, floods and earthquakes, there have been opportunities to retell the gospel with new architectural language, to translate the gospel through the language of buildings into a tongue understandable "today" (when built) and hopefully for a long time "tomorrow" as subsequent years go by. (Yes, of course, some such buildings have been brilliant architectural translations of the gospel and some we are ashamed of!) In respect of Christchurch cathedral, we have a building which captures something of the ecclesiastical zeitgeist of the nineteenth century Church of England, notably marked by pillars impeding the view of the congregation when the cathedral is full!
A brand new cathedral could capture the ecclesiastical zeitgeist of the somewhat different "Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia" (21st century version). That zeitgeist, incidentally, includes various breezes of the Spirit inspiring late 20th and early 21st century liturgical developments. Those liturgical developments, we might usefully remember, are not solely about fashions and fads of the age (so that a cathedral designed to their dictates would look pretty out of touch by 2115). They are about the church of today rediscovering forgotten aspects of the ancient church of yesterday. The key to a brilliant new cathedral in the Square would be architectural capture of timeless liturgical elements, continuing creedal truth and distinctives of South Pacific Anglicanism!
What about a hybrid, an old-new cathedral which retained aspects of the old with fresh elements?
Anglicans, it is said, are keen on the "via media", so perhaps this would be a very Anglican-solution! What is not quite clear to me yet is whether the Miriam Dean report recognises and supports this possibility as a way forward.
Then there is the thoughtful letter in this morning's Press which takes issue with business leaders saying the damaged cathedral is an impediment to development of new builds around the edge of the Square. Not so, our letter writer says. The damaged cathedral is a drawcard tourist attraction!