Christchurch synod votes for modern cathedral, new diocesan map

April 17, 2013

[Anglican Taonga] The Diocese of Christchurch, meeting in a special synod April 12-13, has given overwhelming endorsement to the most modern of the three concepts for a new Cathedral in the Square.

The synod heard a presentation from the Cathedral Project Group and Warren & Mahoney about the three cathedral options – restored, traditional or contemporary.

Bishop Victoria Matthews asked some 220 synod members and observers for a show of hands to indicate which option they favored. No hands raised in support of the stone-for-stone restoration and about 10 were raised in favor of the traditional option. But when Matthews asked for an indication of support where the contemporary version is concerned, there was a forest of raised hands.

The cathedral was badly damaged during the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake and several aftershocks and was soon declared unsafe. In March 2012, work began to demolish the building.

The diocese also voted to take the next step towards a dramatic redrawing of its map, choosing to proceed on a path which could see the 46 parishes in and around Christchurch being significantly reduced, even halved in number, as a result of parish mergers.

The draft proposal, which had been prepared by a Structural Review Group, was received by the synod, and it will now be sent to the Diocesan Standing Committee for review.

That body now has the task of bringing proposals for adoption at later sessions of the synod.

In her charge to the special synod, Matthews described the challenge facing the diocese. “How will we as a diocese respond to the devastation of property, and the re-arrangement of the population of our region following the earthquakes in Canterbury? “Will we be set free? Or will we become even more imprisoned by our possessions and structures?”

Extraordinary challenges
The diocese’s Church Property Trustees have advised that there are around 200 earthquake-damaged buildings across the diocese – including 38 which have either been destroyed, demolished or require repairs that will cost more than NZ$50,000 (US$42,277) each.

According to the CPT, the shortfall between the loss and the insurance cover could be as high as NZ$30 million (US$25.37 million), excluding the inevitable shortfall between the insurance payout for the ruined cathedral and the cost of building whatever takes its place.

Furthermore, the cost of assessing then strengthening the surviving buildings, so they comply with the new earthquake building code, could be a further NZ$11 million (US$9.3 million).

The ground has shifted under the diocese in other ways, as well.

Christchurch itself is being drastically reconfigured, with major new subdivisions being planned – almost 15,000 sections in the west alone – while the city’s Red Zone (some 8000 homes) is being evacuated.

In the light of these changed realities, last September the regular Diocesan Synod resolved to set up a Structural Review Group. Its task was to come up with a proposal for a future map of the diocese – for discussion at the weekend’s specially convened synod.

The demands on the six-person SRG were formidable. During February, for example, the SRG members went two-by-two to 46 parishes, and engaged in weighty and emotional discussions with clergy, vestry and staff in each case.

Their work culminated in 29 hours spent hammering out their proposal over one weekend in March.

Archdeacon John Day, who chaired the SRG, illustrated to the recent synod some of the realities driving that proposal.

In the North-East of the city, he says, the suburb of Burwood has seen 40% of its residential area disappear into the Red Zone.

All Saints Burwood now finds itself on the very edge of the Red Zone – with its access on New Brighton Rd, which may become a river pathway, and the community it once served now relocated to its north.

St. Mark’s Marshland, which is located in the north will within five years be surrounded by 2500 new homes. Day says that one issues is that St. Mark’s was built in the early 1900s, when Marshland was a rural area. To this day it has no running water, and can seat only about 60 people.

Meanwhile, St. Stephen’s Shirley is a big, bustling and lively church which lost all its buildings – church, vicarage and hall – in the quakes.

The SRG proposal suggests short-, medium- and long-term developments in the North-East, which would involve the four parishes of Belfast-Redwood, North New Brighton, Burwood and Shirley working together for 10 years. This would allow those partnered parishes time to sell St. Mark’s Marshland, the St. Stephen’s church and vicarage site, and the complete site of St Andrew’s North New Brighton.

These sales would finance the buying of bigger parcels of land in more strategic sites to build new churches.

The 10 years would also allow time to develop new ministries and, after that period has elapsed, to become separate parishes once again, with the possibility of a new parish emerging in the Marshlands sub-division.

Other significant proposals include the merging of St. Barnabas Fendalton with the adjacent parishes of St. Mary’s Merivale and St. James Riccarton.

St. Mary’s Merivale is one of the best-known parishes in Christchurch, and pre-quake it was one of the icons of that leafy suburb.

But St. Mary’s church and vicarage have already been demolished, and the SRG says it’s too early to say how that Merivale site would be developed.

The proposal in the central city is that St. Michael and All Angels, St. Mary’s Addington and St. Luke’s-in-the-City should merge into one ministry unit.

The congregation at St. Luke’s-in-the-City feels they’ve drawn the short straw.

Their gothic masonry church has already been demolished – and the proposition is that the parish territory be redistributed between St. John’s Latimer Square and St. Michael-and-All Angels.

The majority in favor of receiving the SRG report was decisive, but the support wasn’t unanimous.

Some at the synod – particularly those who feel their identity is threatened – complained about lost autonomy, pressure, speed of the process and loss of diversity.

Day was eager to stress that the SRG proposal is not about creating mega-churches.

Rather, he said, the idea is to have “multi-congregation parishes where ministry units bring their different styles and strengths to the task of mission.”

The SRG says in its report that it is “very conscious of the uncertainty and sheer weariness of Cantabrians, and aware that it is difficult to make changes in such circumstances. Nonetheless, it is important that as a diocese we make these hard decisions.”

Matthews spoke of the need to make decisions. She referred to the workers who will flood into the city to work on its rebuild, and asked whether the parishes would be ready to reach out to them. “Remember, not to decide is to decide, and the longer we take to decide questions about a diocesan map, the less energy we will put into helping our neighbors,” she said. “It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Will we fight over parish boundaries – or reach out to the newcomer in our midst who is wondering what sort of community this place called Christchurch really is?”

Part of the challenge, says Day, “is that we are being invited to think beyond the confines of our parish boundaries, and to begin to minister as the Diocese of Christchurch gathered around our bishop.”

And in that regard, the SRG process appears to have been significantly successful. The motion to receive the SRG proposals was put by Lyndon Rogers, and seconded by Moka Ritchie.

“I suspect,” she said, “that we have talked more to each other in the last six months, than we have done in the last 50 years.”