Thursday, August 18, 2011

What price is a cathedral?

It is fascinating being in Christchurch through these days in respect of who knows what, who does not, and who, surprisingly, does know what I thought they were not meant to know. Take the Anglican Cathedral, for instance. I have been told a figure for the amount of insurance pay out likely, in confidence. To honour that confidence I will not disclose that figure here in print. But I am amazed to fall in conversation with people and find that people outside the circle of folk one might expect to know this figure (e.g. the Chapter, the Standing Committee) also know the figure. What is public is the plan to build a 'cardboard (temporary) cathedral', but prior to the public announcement of this, the plan was very secret. Except I discover quite a few people about town knew about it (and, indeed, the Press revealed the plan two days before the official media launch). A further matter of confidence is the possible location of the cardboard cathedral. Except, again, I am meeting with people and finding out that one possible location is being talked about.

In the midst of these conversations an emergent theme concerns the question in the title, What price is a cathedral? For the cardboard cathedral the figure of $4 million was announced as the likely cost and thus the figure for which funds need to be secured. Some see this as a reasonable amount to spend, others are balking at the figure. Incidentally, if the cardboard cathedral lasts ten years, that sum is $7692 per week, with the prospect that it may be able to be on-sold to some other body to recoup some of the costs. How we secure such funds, thankfully, is not something I have been given responsibility for: I imagine I would be somewhat anxious if I were given that task!

An excellent feature of the cardboard cathedral proposal is that it gets us all recognising that we need some medium-term but temporary means of housing the worship of the cathedral and its choir prior to reconstructing or constructing a permanent cathedral. In turn, that means we have time on our side to conduct a great conversation about the other part of the question, What price is a cathedral?, as it relates to a future permanent structure.

As I see it, this conversation could usefully include the following questions:

(1) Should we Anglicans seek to build a cathedral solely funded by insurance money?

In answering that question, other questions are associated with it: when there are so many other needs around us (locally, globally), on what basis would we seek extra funding? How much more should we spend on a cathedral relative to what we spend when building a new "average" parish church?* What is the importance of a cathedral for a diocese, or to what extent does a diocese wish to 'own' its cathedral, including sharing in the costs of ownership?

(2) What is the relationship of the city of Christchurch to this cathedral (remembering this city has other cathedrals that the city might wish to also be in relationship with)?

In answering that question, as above, there are associated questions: what kind of relationship does the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch want the city to have with the Anglican cathedral? Is a relationship possible in which the city puts up funds and has no say in what the cathedral is used for? (Comment: a significant difference between 1850 when the city was founded and 2020 when, conceivably, a new cathedral might be opened, is that in 1850 there was no pressure for the cathedral envisioned to be a meeting place for all religions, whereas in 2020 there would be pressure for a publicly funded building to be a meeting place for all religions - a consistent theme expressed in a number of letters to the Press).

*I estimate the difference between the monetary value of the cathedral prior to the earthquakes and our least expensive parish church to be a ratio of 200:1, and the difference in respect of an "average" parish church here to be a ratio of 50:1. In the 21st century, what would be an appropriate ratio? 20:1? 10:1?


Anonymous said...

I suppose the other question is (assuming the policy allows this) why spend all of the insurance proceeds on rebuilding the building?

Andrew White said...

Another thought: "temporary" things rarely are. Here is Sydney, we have "temporary" worker housing that is still being used over a century later.

liturgy said...


Andrew White makes a very good point.

The majority of Anglican cathedrals in NZ are "temporarily incomplete".

The cathedral that was in the Square in Christchurch is included in that - it was temporarily walled up at the East end - this was quite obvious from the outside

& to those of us who remember when the choir was in the chancel & needed to protrude into the crossing as the incomplete, temporary space was too small.



Kurt said...

Washington National Cathedral (Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul) has always been conceived as a “National House of Prayer for All People.” Could not Christchurch Cathedral be re-built under the same concept?

Kurt Hill
In Brooklyn, NY
(Where there is no snow!—Yet)

Brother David said...

Washington National Cathedral (Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul) has always been conceived as a “National House of Prayer for All People.”

I think that is what Episcopalians see it as Kurt, but I think everyone else sees it as the local Episcopal Cathedral. You can say that something is for everyone, but as long as only one group is responsible for it and has the only voice in running it, then I think the idea it is everyone's is no more than a figment in the group's imagination.

Father Ron Smith said...

When you ask, Peter, what is the special relationship of the Anglican Cathedral to the City of Christchurch, I thought that you, perhaps more than anyone else, would be clear about the answer.

The City of Christchurch was given its first Charter by the reigning English Monarch specifically upon the establishment of the episcopal seat of the first Anglican Bishop. Canterbury was and is an Anglican Settlement. I would have thought you would have known that - except, perhaps, that your home diocese was Nelson, which may not have been so founded.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I was baptised, confirmed, deaconed, priested, and married in the Diocese of Christchurch. Just the funeral to go.

My question is not about the history of the relationship between city and cathedral but about the present and the future of the relationship. Do you think the non-church going public of Christchurch supports a relationship between city and cathedral such that it would approve of (say) rates being spent on rebuilding the cathedral?

Father Ron Smith said...

The answer to your question, Peter, is that such a prospect would have to be put to the local community. I do know of at least some of the local people - not necessarily Anglican or even 'christian' - who respect the place of the Cathedral in the City - as one of its founding monuments.

I suspect, also, that the secular world may not be antagonistic towards the maintenance of a historic edifice - if it contributes to the aesthetic ethos of the City Founders. The fact that the building is also a cathedral for worship - albeit in the distinctive Anglican tradition - may not detract from its historic value as an icon of the Foundation.

Paul Powers said...

As a matter of curiosity, were rates used to build the present cathedral? Would doing so now interfere with the Church's role as Nathan to the political institutions' David?

liturgy said...

Paul, some clarification:

I think Christchurch/Canterbury is the only Anglican settlement in the world. One third of all the income from the sale of land here at the settlement went to the church.

The NZ church has a financially wealthy history in this land. I think that St John's College was the best-endowed Anglican seminary in the world.



Brother David said...

Are you asking Paul did US taxpayers help build the cathedral? I do not believe so.

Paul Powers said...

David, my question was about ratepayers (or taxpayers as we say in the US) in Christchurch (and I guess elsewhere in Canterbury). It never even occured to me that taxpayers in the US (or anywhere outside of NZ) would have been used.

Paul Powers said...

Whether and how to rebuild the cathedral is obviously a question for the Anglican community in Christchurch to answer, but I think that if given the choice, I would choose rebuilding with the participation of other denominations over rebuilding with the government's participation. I realize that this is a US American perspective that may not travel well past the Equater and International Dateline.

Brother David said...

Then I am confused by your question addressed to me Paul. My only comment concerned the National Cathedral in the US.

Which after this weeks quake now needs USD$ millions in repair. And has a hurricane approaching.

Blame it all on the gays, everyone always does;

Paul Powers said...

Ok, now I see the confusion, David. In my earlier comment, I was referring to the prophet Nathan and King David.

Prayers for your upcoming procedure. And for the victims of the recent shooting at the casino in Monterrey and their families.

liturgy said...

although many blamed the quakes here on gays
Not everyone did. Some Anglicans here publicly blamed it on the prostitutes and on those who sold legal highs.

Prayers for your operation