A lesson about community

Bringing the Cathedral down to earth

Who would have thought that, in the saga that is the ‘recovery’ of Christchurch, it would be the Anglican Church that would give us the clearest example of the emptiness of modern expressions of ‘community’?

When push came to shove – which, quite literally, happened to the Christ Church Cathedral – citizens of Christchurch were given a clear message: Butt out, it’s not yours so you don’t have a say. The wording, of course, was more diplomatic than that – but the sense, ultimately, was the same.

There have been signs for some time that the decision was going to be taken ‘in house’:

Former Christchurch mayor Garry Moore has joined calls for cathedral leaders to be more open about the building’s future.

“A small number of people are making a big number of decisions that we all need to participate in,” he said.

“We need to have this debate in public. The church is an institution and, as a member of our society, they need to be open as well.

“I think for buildings like the old post office and the cathedral … discussions need to be held out in the public. They are part of the heritage fabric of this city.”

So much for ‘our’ Cathedral.

The veil has been ripped, and revealed behind it is a thoroughly modern corporate entity operating on bottom line principles, led by a new CEO (in all but title). (As with all new CEOs, there has also been a bit of restructuring.)

Yet the decision to demolish the Anglican Cathedral is bad for the Anglican Church, whose worthies are presumably too bent over the bottom line to look up and notice just how bad. They have just managed to undermine their influence in whatever kind of Christchurch manages to survive.

Let me be clear: I don’t mean that they have ‘upset’ a lot of ordinary people in Christchurch and the bad ‘PR’ will hurt their ‘brand’. I mean something far more materially significant that no amount of time or spin will counter.

Their own decision not to restore but to build some completely different building will ensure, on its own terms, that the Anglican Cathedral will not occupy the role the old Cathedral did. And that means that the Anglican Church will also not occupy what role of influence it used to.

I would have thought this was obvious but, as I said, bottom line considerations have a habit of making ‘decision makers’ take for granted that everything else stays the same while they are busy making their ‘optimal’ decision. Problem is, everything else doesn’t stay the same.

The social dynamic changes and some decisions – such as this one – manage to move you away from that dynamism and leave you becalmed in a backwater with few concerned about you or your fate. That’s what this decision will do for the Anglican Church in Christchurch. It amounts to a decision to forego the opportunity to continue to be identified with the city, and to be identified by its citizens as a special part of Christchurch.


Shorn of its historical significance as the quintessential expression of the efforts of the early settlers, any new Cathedral will simply become one of many new, post-earthquake buildings. Christopher Moore opines, hopefully, in The Press that:

Christ Church Cathedral’s story now enters a new, as yet unwritten chapter. But in whatever form it reappears, let’s pray that it will generate as much love, respect and pride as the church which occupied a central place in Christchurch’s heart for so long.

Sorry Christopher. That’s not going to happen, no matter how many PR efforts the Anglican Church puts in or how many fashionably ’21st century’, quirky design features the new (budget) Cathedral sports.

The vast bulk of Christchurch’s citizens are not Anglicans – and most of those who call themselves Anglicans are just ‘nominal’. (Figures for New Zealand religious affiliation are here and here.) There’s no reason for the rest of us to hold a new Cathedral more dearly to our hearts than any number of other new buildings – and, if the Catholic Cathedral is restored in full, my guess is that that will be the Church we’ll all be taking our visitors to see (it was always a far more beautiful building anyway).

No, the Anglican Church has just decided its way into irrelevance.

But there’s another, more general, aspect to the decision: it sends out a huge symbolic message to everyone in Christchurch: If ‘we’ can’t restore the Cathedral then what hope does any other building in Christchurch have?

In a word, the decision pronounces loudly and clearly that the Christchurch that was is completely gone and, what is more, that there is no recognition (by those who will have the power to decide) that some continuity is required amongst the imposed carnage of change (imposed as much by numerous entities’ ‘bottom lines’ as by the earthquake).

No, it will all come down to the money and to the accounting of individual property owners. This decision should make all Christchurch citizens acutely aware that not only is the Cathedral not theirs (and never was) the same is true of the central city. It is not their city, it is owned by a series of private owners who will not be required to consider the views of ‘the community’ of Christchurch.

The neo-liberal chooks have well and truly come home to roost and we can say bye-bye to any notion of an actual community that is able to make decisions in its own interests.

The background to this decision and the way it was announced are object lessons in how talk of ‘community’ in today’s world is a snow job of alpine proportions. If a so-called ‘community’ has no real power to save its most ‘iconic’ building, used so extensively to define itself, then to what extent is it really a community worthy of the name? – and why isn’t it? (more on this later).

It also needs to be emphasised that the Anglican Church in Christchurch is one of the institutions most prone to talking about ‘community’  and its importance (probably second only to the Mayor). And, irrespective of religious affiliation – or lack of – the Anglican Cathedral has always been assumed by people in Christchurch to be an expression-in-stone of that level of ‘community’ commonly called a city.

Here’s how that building fitted into our sense of ourselves as a community – in very ordinary, non-religious, non-official ways.

I have climbed the concrete spiral stairs up the Cathedral spire at least twice in my life (probably more times but I can’t specifically remember when else). Once – around about 1971 – I was taken up there by a schoolfriend and his white-haired father.

I remember looking out of the west balcony and being told by his father that if you dropped a penny from there and it hit a passerby on the head it would be travelling so fast that it would go right through them to the ground. That impressed me in a schoolboy kind of way.

We spent maybe twenty minutes looking out at all the sides – seeing the Port Hills down Colombo Street, the clear sky above and any number of buildings. I remember the United Services Hotel was still there (now the ANZ building – well, that’s right now, but who knows in a few months time?).

The second time I was with some family members visiting from England in the 1980s. My brother and I were showing them the landmarks from the balcony, showing off the city as so many locals have done.

When Bishop Victoria Matthews made the announcement she mentioned the

“high level of community interest and sense of ownership” in the cathedral as an iconic building and a place of worship for many.

Sense of ownership’? I’m sorry Bishop Victoria Matthews but that was not a ‘sense’ of ownership – it was ownership, in a far more fundamental ‘sense’ than legal title.

And that is what your Church had always encouraged us to believe and it is one important reason why the Anglican Church retained an influence and prominence in this city far beyond the size of its diminishing congregations. It was also the reason it received constant support and, I suspect, funding from our city.

As a brochure (that can be downloaded from here) puts it:

It is a church for the city, open to all, and its programmes are supported by people of many different beliefs.

For those of us who climbed those stairs to stand looking out over our city or to show, proudly, those things that were ‘ours’ to our guests, the Cathedral was not just some private building (like a showy ‘Sky Tower’ or the reception foyer of a classy Hotel) that we thought we could get away with sneaking into.

No, for us the Cathedral was more like the Town Hall, the Provincial Chambers or the Arts Centre – it was a public building in the full sense of the term. It was ‘ours’.

But this decision has shown us, quite plainly, that we were wrong. It was not ours and, more significantly, the very Church that encouraged us to embrace it as ours was there to remind us, in the end, that it most definitely wasn’t.

With that decision, we – the rank and file people of Christchurch – have been turned from a ‘community’ for whom this Cathedral existed into an emotional, skittery herd in need of careful rhetorical massaging as we get let down gently into the ‘realities’ of the situation.

While ordinary people are often encouraged to think of themselves as part of a community (e.g., Christchurch or New Zealand) and to participate in the sentiment and emotion of that connection the reality is clearly that, when there are decisions to be made, the door will be closed to us.

As a result, the power to make decisions about the very things (e.g., the city’s Cathedral) which we were told symbolised the reality of our ‘community’ is denied us. It is telling that the Mayor, Bob Parker, made the suggestion to the Bishop that the Cathedral could move into public ownership in order for it to be restored. The offer was rejected.

Apparently, there was too much of an “emotional link” for the Church to what must be – even now – a valuable piece of inner city real estate. Bishop Matthews went on

“That is not a possibility for the church. The cathedral needs to sit on Anglican land because of the whole notion of consecration. That is not the way we want to proceed,” she said.

I hadn’t realised that a private property title was required for a church to be consecrated – quite a curious legal stipulation for a spiritual matter – but presumably she knows better than me what God requires. Further,

“This site is very important to Christchurch and the Anglican church. That has been a place of prayer for all those years. One-hundred-and-thirty years for that building.

Prayer has soaked into the walls and earth. You can’t walk away from that.

Well, it appears that, on the one hand, you can, indeed, walk away from the prayer-soaked walls, but, on the other hand, the dirt – which presumably collects the prayers as they seep earthwards down the walls – is another matter. That is far too special.

But perhaps there’s, in fact, a more positive lesson about community to be had from all of this, and one that applies to other issues in New Zealand such as land and asset sales.

When push does come to shove, we need to realise that all that rhetoric we hear (from all sorts of institutions – political, commercial and religious) about how we are all part of a ‘community’ is, as I said, a snow job. Yet there was one very real expression of community that has been noted constantly during these earthquakes and the recovery.

Many of us found our community in the same street and in the faces of people who came to bend their backs to the heavy tasks we had before us. Underpinned by the mountain of practical and material difficulties we all faced we generated connections and, more importantly, a sense of social ‘common fate‘. We ‘moved together’ to do what needed to be done.

This is the basis of community. It requires a collective project, performed together in a coordinated way (determined by all members of the community) and towards an end that all benefit from and contribute to.

What made us think that the Cathedral was an ‘expression-in-stone’ of our community and collective existence was the notion that it was ours and that we, together, could use it for our collective goals. But now we know we can’t.

No community exists when everything is held privately – that social condition is merely an association of substitutable, property-owning individuals who have, by definition, no ‘common fate’ (or none that they wouldn’t like to be able to avoid). We are seeing in Christchurch the result of that social condition every day.

The challenge, then, is obvious. If we wish to be an actual community then we need buildings, projects and resources (capital) that are ours, collectively, that we can employ- put to work – for our ‘common fate’.

That applies as much to New Zealand as a whole – its land and its ‘assets’ – as it does to this broken city I call home.

Our community – and that proportion of the material and practical ‘capital’ that is an utter prerequisite for its existence – must be held in common; in all of our hands.

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16 Responses to A lesson about community

  1. I remember the cathedral and, like you, I climbed the spire twice. It was my father that told me the penny story, and we reflected that the move to decimal currency had been a good thing as pennies were much bigger than 1c pieces. 50c pieces were a different story, about the same size as a penny, but much too valuable to waste. Back in the early 1980s, when I thought 50c was a fortune.
    My parents took my daughter to the cathedral and they climbed the spire back in 2008, toy pony clutched tight, and I’m sure my father told her exactly the same story. Like thousands of families across the country, that particular building is a part of our lives.
    I disagree with some of your post.
    The existing building, what remains of it, can not be safely rebuilt without extensive demolition. If it could be rebuilt exactly the same, it would not be earthquake-proof. If it could be rebuilt earthquake-proof, it would not be exactly the same. Either way, the first thing to do is to level the current structure and build suitable foundations. The level of desire in the community to save the cathedral is, in this sense, irrelevant. The structure is so badly damaged that the only way to proceed is to finish what the earthquakes started, and start again.
    It hadn’t occurred to me that the Anglican Church might cash up and leave the site. Is this what you are suggesting? It is possible, but I’d not heard anything of it. Perhaps I missed it. I can understand why the church would want to hold legal title to land on which it had a consecrated church. I’m curious as to your thoughts on why they should have some other arrangement, and what that arrangement might be.
    What becomes of the site will be interesting. In some respects it will be a reflection of the spirit of the community. I’d like to think that there will be a new structure built there (the new cathedral) and it will be better than the old one. Better in the sense that it will be a part of the community that the old cathedral wasn’t (hence your references to the decreasing or disproportionate influence of the Anglican Church) and will fit in with the new Christchurch in ways the old one didn’t. How – I’m not sure. Looking back at them I realise a decent description is beyond me and I’m left with aspirational words. But also, it will be earthquake resistant, and that’s something I do know about.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Armchair Critic,

      I guess my main point is simply that ‘we’ don’t have a say – yet the Cathedral (and Anglican Church) has ‘traded’ on our sentiment that the Cathedral is ‘ours’.

      The ‘take away’ from the post – I had hoped – would be that if we are to be a community at the level of the city then we need something to represent us that is held in common, by us all.

      As for the possibility to rebuild or restore the Cathedral – I have no idea. And I’m ‘agnostic’ about that (though, as my post showed, I’m relatively sentimental as regards the ‘old’ Cathedral).

      I’m far more concerned about the question of community ‘power’ to make decisions over something that is supposedly so much part of ‘our’ identity – and ‘branding’ (hate the word in the context of people, but there you go).

      So far as the point about consecrated ground goes – I suppose I’m just being sceptical about the claimed spiritual reasons for staying on the site. I’m pretty sure there must have been Anglican churches built and worshipped in, for example, communist countries that had no private property rights – so weren’t they consecrated?

      It seems odd that a capitalist form of ownership is essential for a church to be spiritually operative. (Of course I can understand anyone – in our society – wanting private property rights; that’s the game we all have to play by.).

      I’m not sure if that helps?

  2. I’m off for a few days – no cellphone, no internet, not even a newspaper.
    It’s difficult to say why I hold strong feeling about the cathedral, as I equivocate between agnosticism and atheism. Really I should say to myself “it’s just a pile of stones, always has been”, but that’s not true. It was iconic. It was a source of pride for the community. Christchurch was lucky to have it, and I can’t think of anything equivalent in Auckland, Hamilton or Wellington.
    I accept your point about the “branding” aspect. Truth is “we” never owned the cathedral (unless we were part of the Anglican congregation).
    What I’ve taken from the earthquakes is that sometimes things change and there is nothing we can do to prevent the change, all we can do is carry on. My hope is that the Anglican diocese want to remain an essential part of the central city and build something (a cathedral, in fact) that justifies that decision. I think it will, because if there is one thing that the big Christian denominations are good at, it is surviving.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Armchair Critic – what I wouldn’t do for a few days ‘unplugged’! Hope they go well.

      I also hope that something is rebuilt on the Cathedral site. For me, though, the main thing is that decisions about it involve all of us. In our city centre should be something we all have ownership of and that is an expression of all of our collective hopes for the future.

      That might mean that the Anglican Church engage in a completely open process of decision making that involves us about the form of any new Cathedral. But I suspect that will be resisted. The Church has shown that – when push comes to shove, as I put it – it asserts its private property rights and excludes the rest of us from decision making.

      That’s fine and, as you say, they legally ‘own’ the site.

      I’m then left wondering what expresses our collective sense as a city in the city centre if it’s not the Cathedral (as many people thought, incorrectly, that it did)?

      Perhaps the central city library could shift to a building in the Square (opposite the Cathedral – if the Church sticks to its site) and that be developed into a complete community facility, meeting place, place to show off our creativity, place for reflection on our fragile hold on this shifting plate, etc..

      That kind of building would seem to be more worthy of being at Christchurch’s heart than a Cathedral of a particular denomination and religion, especially once that Cathedral no longer has any historical or heritage significance.

      Like you, I’ve been a long-term non-believer but I do know why this issue has ‘moved’ me – at bottom it’s about Christchurch people, all of us, being in control of what is at the centre of our geographic habitation and, therefore, symbolically, at the centre of this collective project we call Christchurch. In the 19th century, an Anglican Cathedral was no doubt closer to a true collective expression of community than it is today.

      So, if we’re going to have a policy of ‘out with the old, in with the new’, I fail to see why that should be restricted to the architectural argument. How about ‘out with the old’ institutions such as the symbolic centrality of the Anglican Church and ‘in with the new’ institutions of a democratic and collective civil society?

      One way to express that in physical space would be to make some other building occupy the physical and symbolic centre and focal point of our city. (We could even put it on postcards!)

      • I have some idea of what you are saying, and perhaps we have been talking at cross-purposes.
        Christchurch is most certainly broken. My evening constitutional took me to Kerrs Reach and what remains of the rowing clubs. I literally held my head in my hands, in awe and in horror.
        Christchurch is also being fixed, I am most certain of that.
        What interests me is the link to the other political actions of the day. The proposals of Dr Smith, as Minister for (and I use that word with a strong sense of irony) Local Government would further damage the sense of community you express a desire to see.
        In many ways we express our sense of community through local government. The proposal to amalgamate local authorities will weaken our ability to act as a community. And the proposal to regulate how local governments spend their money takes this ability away from the community.
        But back to the church. There is an opportunity for them to validate their relevance. The old cathedral was iconic due to its location, its architectural merit, its age and good branding. Any new structure will automatically get the first, the second depends on the architect, the third it will acquire with time and the last is the opportunity for the church. I still hope they take the opportunity.

        • Puddleglum says:

          Hi Armchair Critic,

          I think we’re pretty much on the same page. At the end of the day the one thing that needs to be incorporated into whatever building occupies that site (whether a restored ‘old’ Cathedral, a brand new Cathedral or some hybrid) is the community (beyond the Anglican community).

          As you say, Local Government is one institutionalised form of our city-wide sense of community so maybe some cooperation at that level would help.

          For the record, some of my best friends are Anglicans 🙂

  3. My take on the issue…

    Who Should Decide What Happens to the Christchurch Cathedral?:

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Brendan,

      Thanks for the link.

      I certainly agree that the personal innuendo and attacks on Bishop Matthews as a person are entirely unjustified. It is, of course, her formal role that is relevant (not whether or not she ‘gets’ Christchurch given that she is from Canada).

      I’m not so convinced about the central point you return to in your post. Private property rights certainly make it possible for people and organisations to make legally enforceable decisions with regards to their property.

      But this issue is not really about legality but about something that comes prior to that: relationship and community. For me, who legally owns the building and site, is only part of the consideration – not the final word.

      I might do all sorts of legal but annoying things on my property that can upset my neighbour. While I have those legal rights there is – legally – no obligation on my neighbour to then continue to act cooperatively with me on other matters upon which I might seek his or her cooperation.

      And once that dynamic is set up I think we all know where the relationship is likely to end.

      Wisdom is a better guide to a civilised world than legality.

  4. Desk-chair enthusiast! says:

    Brilliant piece! (and because it is so well written, I am sorry for the quality of my own writing….!)

    I struggle to come to terms with your depiction of the Church’s decision as ‘wrong’, even if I agree that the decision making process was inherently flawed.

    In terms of this conflict between neo-liberal and community values, I completely concur. As a passionate advocate of democracy and civic society – I fully see the Church as an institution to be used for the benefit of the community. Its ability to bring disparate political viewpoints together, to promote social justice and care for the environment, can not be surpassed by a free-market ideal. Its entire purpose for being is to show the love of God in the wider community – again, not a profit-driven, competitive ideal. This is in contrast to its current decision making process, I know, but does that necessarily set a precedent for the way in which it will proceed with any reconstruction/rebuild/re-____ plans?

    Following on from this, as a Christian [Anglican at that, too] I often enter into the [quiet] debate of ‘tradition’ vs ‘traditionalism’. A quick summary of this would be to argue that one should respect ‘tradition’ – the actions taken by those who came before us, to provide us with certain habits, values, places, objects, etc., to honour their work and to continue to build on it as a faithful community. ‘Traditionalism’, one might argue, is the process of worshipping heritage – so rather than respecting an object as something that leads into or assists in worship (e.g. an organ leading a hymn, or a building providing a place for a worship service), one rather starts to worship the object itself. I must say that there is an element of this happening here; too many people are calling blindly for the saving of an heritage icon, arguing its merits as a building or as a location. In the same way that the ground and walls are ‘steeped with prayer’, we must acknowledge the work of those who went before us, but we must not put their efforts before the current or future community. We must not put it before sincere, loving worship of the God it was built for. And we absolutely cannot afford to risk our future by trying to save our past. In this light, I urge so many to reconsider their views on the decisions made regarding the Cathedral.

    Further to this, in Christchurch, I think that if we truly want to address the issues of community participation then we need to start with The Emergency Act, something which has only served to undermine democracy. Under The Emergency Act, the City Council has nearly nothing to do, and so it has fallen into polemic debate over trivial issues. It strikes me as superbly concerning that we have so willingly handed over our democratic voice, and the restrengthening of this is the most crucial step to the building of community, and the community’s building of a city.

    There are so many other aspects that could be brought into this discussions, and the framing of this discussion! But I will stop here (for the moment!)

    Again, thank you for your post.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Desk-chair enthusiast (like the pseudonym!),

      I think the decision was ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ just because of the way it happened. I have no expertise on building construction or safety but I have a reasonable sense (as you do) of the need to involve people in decisions that affect them.

      It was ‘bad’ for the Anglican Church because it removes the obvious ‘stone’ manifestation of its role in Christchurch’s history. In a sense, the presence of that building ensured that the Anglican Church would be acknowledged as an integral part of Christchurch. Absent either that building or a new building also built with the support and backing of the community at large, there is no particular reason why that community should reserve a special place for the Church.

      But, you’re right. My main concern is the involvement of people in what is happening in Christchurch as part of the ‘recovery’. The CERA legislation (Emergency Act) has taken away our ability to be involved in our destiny to the extent that we need to be. Strengthening that voice is exactly what is needed, as you say.

      I just thought – hoped – that maybe the Anglican Church could lead the way, be example, in that direction.

      Thanks for commenting – much appreciated.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi again!

      I just thought I’d add that I agree with your distinction between ‘tradition’ and ‘traditionalism’. Traditions are (should be) ‘guides’ to how to orient oneself – and one’s community – in life. All successful traditions develop and, over time, transform as the world does. ‘Traditions’, in that sense, are like the skillful modes of living (or working – as in the ways that an apprentice is tutored in) passed along within cultures. Their form often changes (almost imperceptibly) from generation to generation even in the most benign of conditions, and it does so in what is often an adaptive sense (i.e., keeps the ‘fit’ between a tradition and the conditions in the world it is meant to deal with).

      But ‘in the now’ the distinction can be a blurry one – ‘Institutional knowledge’, for example, can be lost in an organisational restructure – but how much of that is important tradition that still guides us effectively and how much is encrusted, hollow and no-longer useful habit?

      To be specific, is the desire (at the community rather than individual level) to restore or, at least preserve as much as possible, the physical structure of the ‘old’ Cathedral a case of ‘traditionalism’ or protection of a tradition that still is needed (because of its various roles and functions – practical and abstract/symbolic)?

      Good talking!

  5. Puawananga says:

    I am writing from the grounds of the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral in Darwin. At the front is a small remnant of the old stone church which was demolished in the devastation of Cyclone Tracey. At the time the same debates raged about replacing the old stone Church or building something different. A very conscious decision was made to look forward and to create something new and hopeful and relevant, something which would serve well the communities of the future. And so behind the stone facade which is a poignant reminder of what was lost, there is a soaring beautiful building of glass and open verandahs, a building which nestles in gardens and which welcomes all comers. Remote people come in to camp in the grounds and shower and rest, refugees find comfort and friendship, state funerals are held with great ceremony , marriage and baptisms, art festivals, and exhibitions and a constant stream of worshippers and tourists move in and out of the light filled wide open spaces. It is a place for all – a place gifted by visionary Anglican Christians to enrich the lives of the people who live here.

    When I first sent the article I felt deeply sorry for the ArmChair blogger because underneath the words and questions and criticisms, I sensed great grief and loss and a desire for something to be put back to how it was before. It is a very human emotion to want to hold onto what was loved and iconic, even when that something is broken. I suspect that many people feel that way – just like many people felt that way after Cyclone Tracey, except no matter what is built, it is not going to be the same but whatever it is can be safe and beautiful and hopeful and better.

    Can I also say that dissing and scapegoating the bishop doesn’t help anyone. Having lost the Cathedral,her offices and her home and she could have said ‘ too hard’ and and left but she didn’t because she clearly feels called by God to your place which is now her place as well. So be kind to someone who has chosen to suffer with you – Bishop Matthews is simply the voice of a group of people who like the Blogger, love Christchurch and its people, love the cathedral (and I suspect have spent a lot more time in it) and are prayfully and thoughtfully trying to make the best decision in a really difficult situation. You wrote of the care and concern he does not deserve this.se your gifts to become part of the future dreaming and maybe one day like me you will sit and see that something can come from ashes.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Puawananga,

      Thank you for your very thoughtful and affecting comment.

      I also would like to think that whatever replaces the Christ Church Cathedral in Christchurch would be a place that is as beautiful, inclusive and visionary as the Cathedral you describe in Darwin.

      My concern is less for the particular building that may be lost here, but more for the way in which the decision appears to have been made. I do not know the historical details of how the decision about the Cathedral in Darwin was made. You say ‘debates raged’ but it’s unclear just how the final decision was made.

      Personally, if decisions get made through a debate raging then I think that’s healthy for a community – people, that is, have their say and are involved. If a decision is made in a way that sidesteps or neuters that raging debate then I think the decision making process is an unwise one.

      I do not know Bishop Matthews personally but assume that she is a good person. My concern is not about her – and I wouldn’t defend personal criticisms of her – but about the decision she fronted and the way that she articulated the justification for that decision.

      Her role is a significant and public one, for the Church and I think she should (and probably does) expect that her decisions will be put under scrutiny. That is not an attack on her. It is criticism about the decision – or, in my case, the decision making process and how that was communicated to non-Anglicans in Christchurch.

      I note that some remnants of the old Cathedral in Darwin have been incorporated into the design (and site) of the new Cathedral. I think many people here who were shocked about the demolition announcement and the wording around it (and the defence of the decision since) got the sense that the old Cathedral would be entirely swept aside, with no ‘concrete’ acknowledgment of its previous existence and importance to the city.

      In Darwin, it appears from your vivid description, that the Anglican Church has seen the wisdom in preserving continuity with what was lost through preservation of part of the old Cathedral.

  6. howard.sutton says:

    I too am sorry (and disappointed) at the decision. And fears about the implications are pertinent. But, I wonder, was much the same said when Mr Wren rebuilt St Paul’s Cathedral ?

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Howard,

      That’s a fair point. Architecturally, it may well be that a new Cathedral will come to be admired and aesthetically treasured.

      But I think there’s two points I’d make about the comparison. First, from the Anglican Church’s point of view, I would have thought the issue was less about whether a new Cathedral would evoke the admiration of architectural enthusiasts and become ‘iconic’ as a building and more about whether the Anglican Church maintained its association with the founding of Christchurch, absent the building (or some part of it) that was built by the early settlers.

      Sky Tower(?) in Auckland is ‘iconic’ but I don’t think it is embraced by Auckland citizenry as being a symbolic and enduring ‘heart’ of the city (made concrete). Having a new, architecturally iconic building is surely something different from having an ‘historically’ iconic building?

      Second, my central concern is not whether a building that is just (or as little) as beautiful as the old Cathedral is built. It is the fact that so many non-Anglican citizens in Canterbury have had no ability to have a say or be involved in the process of deciding what happens with this building (and site). That lack cannot be made up for by pointing to how a new building might be viewed some time in the future.

      Despite the Cathedral trading on its reputation as the quintessential, historic expression of Christchurch’s founding – and therefore a building that represented us all – the decision over its future was made solely on the narrow and, frankly, rather temporal value of ‘ownership’ with, so far as I can see, no opportunity for input from the ordinary, non-Anglican people of Canterbury to be incorporated into the decision.

      I had hoped that the Anglican Church would have approached this process with far more sensitivity than what we might have expected from any private property-owner who was primarily concerned about the financials. Maybe they haven’t communicated the decision making process well, but if the Anglican Church wish to make decisions on the basis of private ownership then I would certainly oppose any public donation or funding for the rebuild of a new cathedral. If there is no sense in which such a building would be ‘ours’ then I see no justification for any public support for it – financial, institutional or, even, sentimental.

      Would I have any more reason to support such a building than, for example, the proposed building to replace the BNZ building in the Square? Both would be built by private interests to serve private ends. Which is fine and perfectly legal, but not what I think the Anglican Church may hope for the reception of its new cathedral.

      I guess that’s another way in which the example of the building of Wren’s St Pauls differs from the present situation. We live in a much more secular world. One in which formal public support for – and acceptance of – the Church does not go unchallenged.

      The presence of the old Cathedral, in a way, insulated the local Anglican Church from that modern reality. While it was there, most of us were happy to go along with helping out in maintaining the Cathedral, holding significant public events and services there, etc..

      And, who knows, most people in Canterbury may still go along with that and transfer their allegiance to a new building. I may be the one out of step in the end. But that’s how it seems to me.

      Thank you very much for taking the time to comment – really appreciated.

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