I've had quite a hectic December, what with one thing and another, and one of the another things was a trip to Christchurch last weekend to preach at the installation of Lynda Patterson as Dean of the Transitional Cathedral. I flew up, booked into my accommodation, had a meal and drove to the Cathedral through once familiar streets. Suburban Christchurch, though battle-scarred, still looks much as it did when I lived there and knew it. Once inside the four avenues however it's a different story. All of the familiar way-points are gone and in their place are broken walls, piles of rubble and, here and there, the foundations of the  way-points which are not yet. The layout of the streets is unchanged of course, but many of them are closed or are obstructed by containers and chain-link fences. I picked my way through  in the general direction of where I thought St. John's Latimer Square used to stand, hoping I was heading the right way and then I saw it: a blazing triangle of light jutting with defiant optimism up towards the early summer sky.

I hadn't seen it before and walking into the filling nave I was struck by two things: the extraordinary quality of light inside the building and the sense that it was what it proclaimed itself to be: transitional. The huge tan tubes out of which it is constructed are covered by translucent corrugated plastic sheeting. Diffuse, soft light flows down around the tubes and, mixing with that from the huge multicoloured rear window, swamps the place. Across the front are wide glass panels, allowing anyone passing to see anything and everything that is going on inside. It also allows those inside to look back and out at the ruins of the beloved city. It feels airy and spacious though it is not actually all that big. Behind quite temporary looking curtains and forming the lower parts of the walls are shipping containers turned into offices, vestries and a kitchen. They work fine but they are quite cramped and do look very transitional indeed. There is a smallish stage at the front on which were chairs  and choir stalls and a pulpit, made ingeniously from cardboard tubes, sitting a little incongruously with one or two pieces from the old cathedral. It is beautiful. It is temporary.

I can see why the building has already become something of an icon in Christchurch. It does exactly capture the current state of the city, where ingenuity and tradition and aesthetic sense are beginning to build a stylish new metropolis out of the ruins of the old. It is a sign of what can be done, and a pointer to what shall be.

The choice of Lynda as dean of this place is inspired. With her intelligence and her deeply grounded spirituality, with her humour and music and street savvy she is someone that others can respect and listen to. As this building is becoming a sign around which the city can build its hopes, so Lynda is the leader around whom  the Cathedral congregation can build their mission to show Jesus to the city.

It was a great service and I was humbled and honoured to be part of it. The liturgy managed that delicate balance between dignity and relaxed warmth, the Cathedral choir sang well, I preached to an attentive congregation, and there was a pervading sense of optimism and energy and joy which this transitional space held and contributed to. The old Cathedral which I knew and loved so well perfectly embodied the hopes of the Canterbury settlers and the city they founded. This cathedral perfectly captures the present heart of Christchurch and gives me hope that the cathedral which will follow it will do the same - spectacularly - for the phoenix city now in the early stages of rising.


Alden said…
It certainly looks a beautiful building. Is the base of the triangular front wider than the triangle at the rear or is that an optical camera illusion? As for temporary, the Eiffel Tower was considered temporary - perhaps such a humble building is more in keeping with the gospel than some flash Harry that may be built.
Merv said…
Well, the NY Times agrees with you --
Kelvin Wright said…
Yes, Alden, there has been some very clever work done with the angles of the roof. Essentially it's a very simple building - a big rectangle with an A-Frame roof. But by slightly tweaking the angles the architect has enhanced the sense of space and lightness.

And I'm pleased to see, Merv, the NYT falling into line behind me.