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Building for mission

Building for mission

The Anglican Journal reports on the Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews, bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand and her decision to take down the collapsing Christchurch Cathedral, despite formidable opposition.

“I was painted as the selfish bishop who wanted to build a whole new cathedral to leave as my legacy,” says this Canadian who became bishop of Christchurch in August 2008. “But the majority in the diocese and the country have supported my decision to put human life ahead of buildings, no matter how historic,” says Matthews. In an interview, Matthews pointed out that 26 diocesan churches need rebuilding after the quakes, “so the last thing on my mind is building a new cathedral.”

Matthews says she was deeply impacted as she watched from a crane while powerful machines delicately moved the huge blocks of stone during the search for human remains after the February 2011 quake. It was the realization that restoration workers’ lives could be lost if they went into the unstable cathedral that lay behind her decision.

“Christchurch is involved in an ongoing seismic event, which means that at any time the earth may move and buildings can come down,” she says. “The cathedral is literally rocking itself to death.”

Her fear is that onsite workers could be killed or injured by another quake during the long process of rebuilding. “We said, ‘That’s not good enough, so we will bring it down,’ but we are trying to salvage as many heritage pieces as we can,” she says.

In thinking about a new Cathedral, Matthews and others have looked at other buildings that are designed around mission, some which have been rebuilt after a catastrophe.

On her recent study tour, Matthews visited about 15 modern or recently renovated churches to gather ideas about building, not just for safety and economy but for mission and outreach. Her stops included Barcelona’s famed Sagrada Familia Basilica, Rome’s Jubilee Church, Coventry Cathedral and Christ the Light Cathedral in San Francisco.

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Acutting

I met Bishop Victoria in Christchurch in May 2012, and had a chance to discuss the cathedral and ministry within the city with her, having first seen something of the city that is still undergoing significant tremors daily.

When the locals I met and spoke with there said they still afraid to enter shopping malls or multi-storey car-parks, whilst they were in (relatively) good condition, the issue became clearer to me. No wonder there was considerable fear about ever re-entering the cathedral. It has, after all, suffered significant damage in four previous earthquakes, and the had the spire fall down on two other occasions in it's history.

Of course I understand the deep desire locally to maintain that icon of hope - which the cathedral's silhouette and image has been for 150 years in Christchurch. It has been fantastic. But a cathedral needs to be more than an icon; and be a place people can feel safe entering.

I mourn the loss of the old cathedral, but wholeheartedly support Bishop Victoria's endeavours for the other 26 worship centres also needing re-building, and her quest for a new vision for a cathedral for Christchurch; a new 'thin place' as the Celtic christians sometimes say, where it is easier for those on earth to touch heaven.

My own comments from my visit in May 2012:

http://www.acutting.co.uk/is-this-christchurchs-christopher-wren-moment

Acutting -- please sign your name when you comment - thanks ~ed.

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Don Hill

Nowhere in the Gospels do I see any commission to build and maintain buildings. We are to build the kingdom and help re-create the world "on earth as in heaven". If we need a physical structure to accomplish it that makes it a tool to be sued as long as it it effective not an idol to be worshiped and maintained at all costs.

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Peter Pearson

It's always interesting and saddening to see what some people are willing to accuse others of in order to get their way. Selfish? Really?

I think I like this bishop's priorities.

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