Building for mission

The Anglican Journal reports on the Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews, bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand and her decision to take down the collapsing Christchurch Cathedral, despite formidable opposition.

“I was painted as the selfish bishop who wanted to build a whole new cathedral to leave as my legacy,” says this Canadian who became bishop of Christchurch in August 2008. “But the majority in the diocese and the country have supported my decision to put human life ahead of buildings, no matter how historic,” says Matthews. In an interview, Matthews pointed out that 26 diocesan churches need rebuilding after the quakes, “so the last thing on my mind is building a new cathedral.”

Matthews says she was deeply impacted as she watched from a crane while powerful machines delicately moved the huge blocks of stone during the search for human remains after the February 2011 quake. It was the realization that restoration workers’ lives could be lost if they went into the unstable cathedral that lay behind her decision.

“Christchurch is involved in an ongoing seismic event, which means that at any time the earth may move and buildings can come down,” she says. “The cathedral is literally rocking itself to death.”

Her fear is that onsite workers could be killed or injured by another quake during the long process of rebuilding. “We said, ‘That’s not good enough, so we will bring it down,’ but we are trying to salvage as many heritage pieces as we can,” she says.

In thinking about a new Cathedral, Matthews and others have looked at other buildings that are designed around mission, some which have been rebuilt after a catastrophe.

On her recent study tour, Matthews visited about 15 modern or recently renovated churches to gather ideas about building, not just for safety and economy but for mission and outreach. Her stops included Barcelona’s famed Sagrada Familia Basilica, Rome’s Jubilee Church, Coventry Cathedral and Christ the Light Cathedral in San Francisco.

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