NEW ZEALAND: ChristChurch Cathedral’s 130-year ministry celebrated at deconsecration ceremony

By Brian Thomas
Posted Nov 9, 2011

ChristChurch Cathedral Dean Peter Beck gives a mihi (welcome) during the Nov. 9 service of deconsecration, as Bishop Victoria Matthews looks on. Anglican Taonga Photo/Lloyd Ashton

[Anglican Taonga] The 130-year-old spiritual centerpiece of Christchurch on Nov. 9 was reduced to an ordinary ruin. And all in the space of half an hour.

Up to 350 people gathered in Cathedral Square for the service of deconsecration, the culmination of several months of safety assessments after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in February reduced the cathedral’s spire to rubble and a June 13 jolt caused further damage.

The deconsecration service, led by Diocese of ChristChurch Bishop Victoria Matthews, was attended primarily by members of the cathedral congregation, but a scattering of civic representatives included earthquake minister Gerry Brownlee.

Facing the broken entrance – albeit at a safe distance – the congregation gave thanks for the extraordinary life and ministry of the place since the original consecration by Bishop Henry Harper in November 1881.

“We did not treat this space as we would ordinary space, but as we would treat the very presence of God,” they intoned in the litany. “Today we return this space to the common, and return this place to the earth.”

In his mihi of welcome, Cathedral Dean Peter Beck noted that “this is a sad day, and yet another step in the recovery and rebuilding of our city.”

He paid tribute to the many “living stones” which had held the spirit of Christchurch for so many years, and concluded with a prayer from former U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes!”

In her homily, Matthews acknowledged the prevailing sorrow but focused on the hope of resurrection.

“In homelessness, God’s love is still with us,” she said. “This is not a time to lose hope. We need to move on, knowing that what God has in store for us is more magnificent … We are a work in progress…

“Even as we deconsecrate, as we shed our tears, let us be full of hope because we go forward in the mission of Christ. It is the mission that matters … Let us be a pilgrim people – people of the resurrection.”

Moving to the formal deconsecration, Matthews said: “I do remit this building, and all objects remaining in it, for any lawful and reputable use, according to the laws of this land.

“This building, having now been deconsecrated and secularized, I declare to be no longer subject to my canonical jurisdiction.”

The next step in the cathedral saga is to make safe what remains of the building and to assess what may give rise to a new centerpiece.

Meanwhile, the search continues for land on which to erect a transitional cathedral.