This morning's Christchurch Press tells us that the repair bill for the Arts Centre in Christchurch is likely to be $100 million. This historic precinct of stone buildings (which once used to be our university site) is worth rebuilding in general terms, but I am not going to try to get my head around the dollar number which would mean we walked away from it! On that basis I imagine a rebuild of the cathedrals in Christchurch would be in the region of $10 million each. Would Jesus rebuild our cathedrals?
I imagine Jesus might answer that question with a question (as he often does in the gospels), 'What important priorities in Christchurch city need to be met ahead of restoring historic buildings?' Listening to people and reading letters to the editor I sense that the people of Christchurch would answer that question with a request that power, water, and sewerage be restored to our residential and business areas before we make decisions about restoring our heritage. (Also before we host Rugby World Cup games).
Suppose, however, that the infrastructure of the city is sorted, that good progress is being made on the myriad of decisions both at a personal and civic level about repairing and replacing damaged homes (in some cases planning for new suburbs to be developed), would Jesus rebuild our cathedrals?
In principle I suggest we can say that Jesus would encourage us to have architecturally significant large churches. He taught us to honour our Father in heaven, he encouraged people to meet together in his name (including in his own ministry some very large crowds), and he cared for people in times of significant events such as weddings and funerals, events which sometimes need large venues to accommodate those who wish to gather for them. With more than a little Anglican bias I suggest Jesus is in favour of bishops as successors to his apostles and understands the importance of bishops having a 'seat' from which to preside over their flock as teaching pastors. That seat or cathedra gives rise to the desire to have 'architecturally significant large churches' which we call 'cathedrals.'
But let us then tread carefully through the next steps to understanding the mind of Christ on rebuilding our cathedrals! Would Jesus have us rebuild two cathedrals or one? Would he wish us to maintain continuity with the past by rebuilding stone by stone (as our mayor has already said we will do, at least for the Anglican cathedral)? Or, always one to look ahead, would Jesus favour a new cathedral or cathedrals for a new dispensation?
If the past is important along with the future would Jesus favour the 'Coventry model' (the old as a memorial side by side with the new) or the 'Auckland model' (the old completed by a new addition, forming a hybrid)? Or could there be a fusion in which a brand new cathedral or cathedrals are partly constructed of present stone but in a completely new design? Then there is always the question whether a cathedral for the 21st century in the midst of a world with great poverty should be expensively designed and constructed or otherwise. Would Jesus be satisfied with a 'warehouse' box for a cathedral?
Finally - being only courageous enough to raise questions and not to answer them (smile) - should there be two cathedrals or one cathedral in our city?
I am not so blindly Anglican that I think Jesus would favour rebuilding the Anglican cathedral and not the Roman Catholic one. Nor as a good Anglican do I think Jesus would favour the converse (unless he wanted to have some teasing fun at Anglicans' expense)! Theologically I struggle with Jesus as the intercessor who prayed ut unim sint favouring two expensive rebuilds. So here is one bold thought:
What if we had an ecumenical cathedral in Christchurch, one and only one cathedral? It could be available for all the churches to use as required for large occasions of gathering (recalling that Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists and other denominations have lost their large inner city churches). It could have individual seats for individual bishops (at least three, Roman Catholic, Maori Anglican, and Pakeha Anglican). It would be available to the community for large funerals and weddings, to say nothing of concerts and performances which glorified God through the arts.
The obvious site for this ecumenical cathedral would be the centre of Christchurch (i.e. the site of the present Anglican cathedral) and to make it truly ecumenical we Anglicans would need to give up our ownership of that site to an ecumenical trust. (Easy words to write, I know, but something to ponder given our commitment to ecumenical relations).
Each denomination would then be free to build at a location of their choosing a 'fit for purpose' large church in keeping with the 21st century, at lowest reasonable cost, and built to the very highest earthquake standards. In the light of the devastation of the tsunami in Japan, somewhere in the west of Christchurch might be desirable. From an Anglican perspective I favour whatever we do being of flexible purpose so that we could hold both worship services and our synods and conferences in the same building.
Other bold thoughts should be considered. The full implications of the gospel as the manifesto of God's kingdom need reflecting on. What statements in keeping with the gospel will be made when we rebuild? What gospel priorities might constrain us from rebuilding? How do we provide for ourselves both a large meeting place for the diocesan family to meet as well as support parishes in their rebuild of smaller churches for local gatherings? When we have dreamed our dreams, what actual dollars will be available from insurance and fund-raising to do what we want to do?
What would Jesus do?