Thursday, 21 August 2008
Back in the days when Dunedin was the wealthiest city in the country we built ourselves a Railway station in a style befitting a city of our importance. This grand, heavily ornamented, expensive building in bluestone with limestone accents
was similar in construction and style to many other buildings of the time: the law courts, the banks and commercial buildings. The exterior boasted a tall clock tower,
and the interior was resplendent with mosaic floors and stained glass windows.
As a small boy in Dunedin, I often queued with my family to purchase passage on steam trains to Christchurch or Timaru at the ticket booths that looked like shrines.
For about a hundred years the Railway Station was a temple to progress as it was expressed in the greatest and most powerful technologies known: steam, and then oil. Today technologies have moved elsewhere: out to the airport and into people's garages and onto people's desktops. The trains have stopped running, but the station remains. The ornate building, recently restored, is now home to only one working train: the Taieri Gorge railway, a tourist operation making a daily run up through the Maniatoto. The station has become a photo opportunity, a home for a sports hall of fame and for a good restaurant, and the place where our Saturday morning farmer's market is held. The station has outlived the hopes and the convictions of grandeur that were expressed in it but remains as a beautiful reminder of a bygone age and it's values.
Three of the station's contemporaries in terms of era and values also remain in downtown Dunedin: St. Paul's Cathedral, St. Matthews Church and All Saints Church.
All are within a mile of each other and each is about to begin fundraising to raise the million plus dollars necessary to perform essential maintenance long neglected over the years. As the membership of our diocese dwindles, we, the remnant, are left to restore the spiritual self assertions of our forbears. As someone who has recently helped raise a horse chokingly large wad of cash to restore an antique ecclesiastical building, I wish the respective congregations every blessing on the long but interesting struggle ahead of them. As trustees of these prayers in stone we can't neglect the duty of maintaining them, but even as we follow our unavoidable duty, we need to ask ourselves whether or not the trains have stopped running? Has the spirit moved on, to find expression in places other than these beautiful old buildings?