Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cathedral questions: a theological response

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!


Father Ron Smith said...

Put me down for a NEW Cathedral in the Square. This will say something about the old adage 'Semper Reformanda' - keeping up with the times! Also, of course, something about sustainability in earthquake country.

Kalo Epiphania!

Kurt said...

New Zealanders in general and Christchurch residents in particular, of course, will make whatever determination suits them as to the cathedral. I’ll have to disagree with Fr. Ron on this, however, and cast my “consultative vote” for rebuilding the OLD structure of 1864 (modified, naturally, with modern, anti-earthquake construction methods).

Old buildings carry their scars just like people do; that’s part of their charm. Many historic churches and cathedrals in Europe have suffered similar catastrophes over the centuries and have recovered from them. Wars, revolutions, natural disasters all leave their marks. That’s part of history, part of life.

In America too, historic church structures have suffered damage yet have been largely preserved. For example, Grace Church Yorktown, Virginia (built in 1697) suffered a serious fire in 1814, but was rebuilt, incorporating the original walls, stone flooring, etc. It suffered additional damage during the American Civil War but was repaired again. It is one of the small number of Episcopal churches in Virginia to have survived the seventeenth century, and is greatly prized because of this continuity.

On the other hand, sometimes it is not possible to reconstruct an old building. The original Trinity Church structure in Manhattan (1698-1776) was one of the most splendid of Anglican houses of worship erected in North America during the Colonial Period. It burned to ruins in the Great Fire of 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. Some thought was given to reconstructing it from what was left, but eventually it was torn down and a new structure commenced in 1788. The second church was also torn down and the third (present) Trinity Church structure was begun in 1839.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

On a another level of seriousness--

One need not choose between clinging to the past and leaping into the future.

The extent to which an architect incorporates the old in the new is a matter of degree with widely separated extremes. The brief could stipulate that some particular features stay, and for that matter, that others go.

Dull churches result when believers fidget over the design so that the actual architect has to do all their believing for them. A better way is for the believers to commit themselves to some concrete pattern of faithful life and liturgy that the architect can accommodate.

A related sort of dullness results when designs are so liturgically flexible! and open whatever the future brings! that they seem weirdly uncommitted to concrete life in the present. Fonts should not have wheels.

It is worth remembering that rather few can fully visualise a building and its site in their minds. People will argue because people argue, but the sheer totality of a huge building with a complex programme will overwhelm their comprehension of what they are talking about. Even architects are sometimes surprised by the appearance of features that they themselves designed.

Is there a choice between accommodating the whole diocese for worship and accommodating only a representation of it? If so...

At least one feature of the building's exterior should appeal to the godless motorist driving past. Good politics, but also the right thing to do.

Rebuilding is resituating. Some cathedrals (like universities, theme parks, etc) are partly subsidised by rental income from adjacent properties, and some are not. A missional decision about this could be wise.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
Good thoughts, thank you.
A couple of notes might help you and other readers get a sense of the "context" for the decision needing to be reached.
- the cathedral occupies almost all the land available to it in the midst of a public square (there are a few carparks but not enough to think about rental income).
- my understanding of modern liturgical thinking about liturgical space is that simplicity should reign, and nothing by way of table, chair(s), lectern need be fixed, so I am sure that any freedom we have to reconstitute the interior could both cater for the pattern. of cathedral worship in recent decades (high, formal, choral, catholic more than evangelical) as well as for diocesan worship occasions which reflected a different pattern (e.g. by providing space for a worship band).

Father Ron Smith said...

For those who have never worshipped in our old Cathedral in The Square; it never was a great building architecturally - far out-classed by the tomran Catholic Basilica of the blessed Sacrament in another part of our city. It was originally designed to have been built in wood - like the parish Church pf Saint Michael and All Angels in the City - but it was decided to buold in stone, instead.

St. Michael's srivived the earthquakes with minimal damage and is being used daily for worship, while the cathedral has twice lost its spire, and has proved expensive to kewep maintained for worship.

Thise of us 'on the ground' long for a better situation - where the Cathedral can be better maintained and used as both a Church and Civic Centre to the mutual benefit of Church and local citizens. That is why I would like a brand new building. (Kirk, please note).

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Peter, for your notes to a mere visitor.

In, let us say, the Church of Cockaigne, a diocese of modest means lost its historic cathedral to a catastrophe. When the replacement was being planned, those responsible realised that, whilst by being in the neighbourhood their edifice was creating enormous economic value for it, very little of that value was being returned to them in cold cash that could feed the poor, heat the building, pay the bishop, etc. The city fathers were so anxious to have the spires rise again that they offered financial help to expedite this, but an accountant among the responsible ones noted that those spires would be very costly to maintain. As is the custom in Cockaigne, many had much to say over a more than ample period of time. The shape, height, purpose, history, meaning, colour, and proper finial* of spires was exhaustively and exhaustingly discussed. After that, the responsible ones made a counter-offer to the city fathers: if in addition to the promised grant, the city helped the cathedral endowment to acquire properties in the surrounding district, then their rents would support the cathedral and the higher taxable value of the whole district would repay the city handsomely for its investment. Most people still do not quite understand where the money to pay for all of this came from, but they do enjoy having so many good places to eat near the cathedral.

Cathedral liturgics is a vast topic. I'll wait until you post on it someday.

Bowman Walton

* To some it was obvious that a spire should have a golden cross atop it, but others felt that this was too religious for a public building in a secular age suggested a simple golden orb, whilst still others recalled that a medieval pope had ordered churches to mount a crowing cock on their spires to recall St Peter's betrayal of his Lord. The last was an unpopular thought until someone suggested that the crowing cock could be a weathervane. This was acceptable to those who had preferred the orb, but appalled those who wanted the cross or the simple crowing cock. A committee appointed to find a compromise suggested a golden pinwheel on a swivel that would not only symbolise the star over the manger (to those who like religious symbols) but also report the direction and speed of the wind to meteorologists (for those embarrassed by religious symbols).

Anonymous said...

Fr Ron explains much. I always thought your old Cathedral was like an anywhere English market town parish church; a bit odd for the jewel of a non-working class settlement. I suspect that your chances of moving into the 'burbs are minimal. I assume that your bishop could have her cathedra in Temuka If she chose. That might be more realistic a move; or at least to Fr Ron's church!


Anonymous said...

Kurt said he would vote "for rebuilding the OLD structure of 1864 (modified, naturally, with modern, anti-earthquake construction methods)", or - to put it perhaps somewhat unkindly - to build a fake Gothic revival cathedral.

He also said "Old buildings carry their scars just like people do; that’s part of their charm. Many historic churches and cathedrals in Europe have suffered similar catastrophes over the centuries and have recovered from them", and goes on to use as exemplars "Grace Church Yorktown, Virginia (built in 1697)" and "Trinity Church structure in Manhattan (1698-1776)", structures almost two centuries older than the Christchurch Cathedral.
To put it in another context, I was some time ago in Vertou, now an outer suburb of Nantes, France, and remarked on the rather fine church in the town centre. My guide - a local resident - said "pfft, it's only Gothic Revival, about 1850". Nantes of course has a 'proper' Cathedral, started in the fifteenth century, so that a mid-nineteenth-century church is entirely unremarkable and of no historical significance.

So, if Jim Anderton and Phillip Burdon wish to build a tourist attraction in the centre of Christchurch, then good luck to them. The Diocese of Christchurch should offer to sell them the site and structure and those contents that the diocese does not wish to retain for $1, and use the insurance money to build a new Cathedral fit for purpose and placed where it will best serve the missional purposes of the diocese.


Kurt said...

“Nantes of course has a 'proper' Cathedral, started in the fifteenth century, so that a mid-nineteenth-century church is entirely unremarkable and of no historical significance.”—Mike

Historical significance is relative to the culture, Mike. If age alone were the criterion, Nantes’ fifteenth century cathedral would hardly impress Albanians, Greeks or Italians who may have garden pavement stones made from buildings a thousand years older.

An 1864 building for New Zealand or Australia is the Down Under equivalent of a fifteenth century structure in France. It’s all relative. I was brought up in a house that was built in 1835, not at all unusual for my Upstate community in Chautauqua County, New York. In New Zealand, such a structure would be on the Historic Places Trust list, and in Tasmania it would be a tourist attraction.

One may not think much of an 1864 structure today, but two hundred years from now it will be a real historical treasure. That’s what preservation is all about—future generations.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY