Time to take to the Christ Church Cathedral with a blunt edge

Bishop Victoria Matthews in 2012 blessing the site where the Cardboard Cathedral was to sit.

Bishop Victoria Matthews in 2012 blessing the site where the Cardboard Cathedral was to sit.

OPINION: Bluntness is not much valued in New Zealand.

But if any dilemma needs some of this under-appreciated quality it is the Christ Church Cathedral saga.

Skirting around the issue with polite circumlocution hasn't got us anywhere and it's high time we started talking brass tacks.

The first thing to say is that the city of Christchurch can't trust the Anglican Church, currently headed in Christchurch by the reclusive Bishop Victoria Matthews, to make the right decision.


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If any evidence of the church's unsuitability to make the decision is required, we need go no further than this week's epistle from Bishop Matthews as it appeared in The Press.

If she had said in blunt terms that the church owned the land, would make its own decision and everyone could take a running jump, then I would have said, "go girl" or something similar.

Instead the missive is full of passive-aggressive self justification, avoidance of the issue and sneaky blame pointing.

For instance Bishop Matthews says one of her favourite questions "to ponder is, What do people mean when they say our cathedral in the Square is an icon?"

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Well, let me lay this out for the bishop and forgive me, if you will, for mansplaining.

The cathedral is foremost a building which occupies a pivotal place in Christchurch's most important public space in the city. As a result, it's the building most frequently associated with the branding of the city and has connections with the past and present.

The cathedral's original function as a place of worship has dwindled because, let's face it, nobody goes to church anymore, and its alternative roles have taken up the slack as the city becomes denser and more people friendly. In a city where heritage takes on greater meaning, the cathedral is even more central to the city's architectural fabric.

The square would actually work much better without a cathedral in its eastern quarter. If the Anglicans want to build a new church, that's fine but it doesn't need to be in the square. The church could donate the land and ruins to the city, take the insurance money and carry on business somewhere else.

So it's the building, the history, the place in the landscape that far out weigh any function as a place of worship. The church might be the registered proprietor of the land but the city owns the building in everything but the documentation.

We already know the bishop prefers demolition and a new cathedral. We are therefore looking at a ludicrous situation where the Anglicans and the Catholics want to erect two new edifices for their minuscule surviving congregations.

Here's an idea. Why don't the churches pool their resources, build a nice church they can both use and use the rest of the money to build housing for the homeless and mentally ill. Or why don't the two churches lease the restored cathedral for their services, which aren't that different, in a spirit of religious harmony.

Carrying on with our blunt speak, we should also stop pretending there are a number of realistic options on the table.

The only intelligent and sensible way forward is to restore the cathedral to its former state. We need to arrest the fiction the church has any real say in the matter.

As I've mentioned, anything other than full restoration forfeits the right of the church to be in the city's most important public place. It's like the Parthenon in Athens. No longer of any real use but still deserving of its place as long as it's the original article. 

Too hard? A workforce with all the right skills is just down the road. It will soon finish most of the restoration and strengthening work on the Arts Centre and could simply pack up and move to the square.

Too expensive? Money for these things can always be found. As a ratepayer I don't mind stumping up some of the money even if an extra special cathedral levy has to be imposed. But we shouldn't forget the cathedral is a national asset and has a call on national taxpayer funds. It's not only a Christchurch icon but, like the  Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, a national one.

The good bishop talks in her sermon this week of a "hurting city" and "the pain of the people suffering". She calls for a return to the heroic period of just after the earthquake when "we actually ... wanted to help one another".

Dear oh dear. What planet is this woman on? This hand-wringing and diluting the issue with a whole lot of irrelevancies is just what is not needed to resolve the cathedral saga.

Here's what should happen. Bishop Matthews should do the heroic thing and resign. Restoration work should commence as soon as contractors are available. The Citizens' war memorial should be moved from the site to some where it is the focus rather than a sideshow.

I'm not in favour of any land confiscation as this will inevitably lead to years in the courts. In this case the church should bow to the will of intelligent people. If you will.



 - Stuff


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