(This was published in the Christchurch Press today - the context is the strong reaction to the announcement that the Anglican Cathedral is to be deconstructed rather than repaired)
What a year we have had! And as you observed it is likely that in many ways this second year is going to be even harder. It has certainly been a rough start to the year for you.
Now I obviously don’t know anything about the process that occurred to bring you to the decision to demolish the Cathedral. I imagine that was a really complex and difficult decision. I assume it was not clear cut but involved a massive judgement call. It has certainly provoked strong reactions. It seems to me that it has also brought to light very different assumptions about the role of the Cathedral in the city. Some see it as a civic icon, treasured by the city, to be preserved at all costs - it is on our logo for goodness sake! - and now really only Anglican in some incidental, kind of custodial way. How dare you not fix OUR Cathedral! Others see it as the functioning seat of the Anglican bishop, owned by the Anglicans and yes we loved it and we are sad it is gone but while acknowledging its civic role in our city, you need to decide what is best for your wider church.
At this time, as a non-Anglican but fellow Christian minister in the city, there are a few things I would want to say to you:
In my family like so many others the dominant thought after the earthquake was thank God we are all alive and safe. Our home was damaged and no longer feels quite like a secure home, four generations were camped out in our son’s flat but we were alive. It’s only a small thing in the bigger picture but my mother who lives with us lost wedding presents from 50 years ago and my wife lost the present her parents gave to her for her 21st birthday over twenty five years ago. I was upset for them but I was surprised when they said it didn’t really matter because bottom-line our family was together – including our precious little three week old granddaughter who lives with us and who could so easily have been hurt in the earthquake. One of the great lessons of the earthquake was that bottom-line it is people who matter. That wise old Maori saying: he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
Now somewhat parallel to that, post-earthquake many of us got to see what the church really is – networks of local communities committed to loving and serving our city. Politicians and emergency services will know the role that the church as community played. Grace Vineyard Church hosting a distribution centre in New Brighton, Parklands Baptist, Hornby Presbyterian, Spreydon Baptist, St Albans Baptist, Arise Church, the list goes on. This was the church not as historic buildings but as living communities of literally thousands of active participants. That church is so often invisible to media and politicians. Along with the student army and the “farmy army”, I would suspect that it was church based organisations and volunteers who provided a significant organised non-government response. The church as ‘people’ had leadership structures and experience, communication networks, systems of care and thousands of volunteers ready to help. This was the church not as relic of a bygone age but communities of average Cantabrians for whom Christian faith and community is important and service to the wider community is a key value. That is the church I believe in, love and serve. Bishop, we need that Anglican church to be strong in the coming days.
I think the other church leaders of the city understand that you are a shepherd for the whole diocese. You are responsible for the health, and strength and comfort and development of the whole diocese. And just in terms of buildings I hear that means you are responsible for something like 24 church communities that have lost their buildings. The cathedral is one building, granted in one sense the chief building of your diocese, but it is actually only one factor in the big picture that you are responsible for. In practical terms how much time, energy and money goes into that one building compared to the other 23 parishes that have lost buildings? You are responsible for developing a strategic plan for the whole.
But it seems that many people don’t seem to understand that even beyond those twenty-four buildings, the Anglican diocese is actually the people that make up your parishes. You are a shepherd of those people and those communities. And you are responsible to love them, care for them and to think strategically about their future well-being as a whole.
It is ironic that those of us who love those buildings the most and use them the most, actually love something more. We know that theologically ‘church’ is not the building but the communities of people who use those buildings. We believe passionately that it is important that those communities survive, and are strengthened and grow. We have given our lives to serve those communities.
I think we do need a great symbol of hope back in the centre of our city, a symbol of the city rising from the rubble again, a symbol I dare to believe that people might come from all around the world to see. And your diocese needs a cathedral. So we look forward to hearing your plans for that site and your cathedral. And in our post-Christendom and post-modern world that is an interesting contested place in the city square. But contrary to those who would celebrate the building as a monument to an ancient faith now a relic or memorial, we would say please ensure that the real Anglican church - your tens of thousands of members who gather in over seventy parishes in your diocese - that they find life, joy, comfort, challenge and opportunities to serve the rebuilding of our city. Bishop you have not failed the city if one iconic building falls rather you have served the city if the Anglican communion rises strong in hope and confidence to contribute to the future of our city.
What is really important to the Anglican church in Christchurch, to the churches of Christchurch, and to the city of Christchurch? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. Those people do need a beautiful city with beautiful architecture and historical connection but much more than that they need your leadership and care to create a hopeful future.
Kia kaha, Bishop.
All the best. Thinking of you. Praying for you. Grateful, Victoria, that you are in this role at this time
Rev Steve Graham