New Plymouth cathedral

New Plymouth cathedral

I am not wanting to be churlish or dampen enthusiasm or be controversial for controversy’s sake. But: how many cathedrals can a diocese have? How many diocesan bishops can a diocese have? And even: how many primates can a province have?

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentanu, on Saturday March 6, was part of consecrating St Mary’s in New Plymouth as a cathedral. Much has been made of the fact that this is the newest cathedral in the Anglican world for about 80 years. That, read by itself, can give an impression of growth and vibrancy. But there’s a catch: the diocese in which St Mary’s is a cathedral (Waikato, also called the Anglican Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki) already has a cathedral, the Cathedral Church of St Peter in Hamilton (approximately 3 ½ hours drive away). Having two cathedrals in one diocese is unique in Anglicanism, and I would be interested: I suspect it is unique in episcopally-led Christian history? Waikato diocese is unique in having two equal diocesan bishops – not a diocesan bishop and assistant or suffragan. Again: I suspect it is unique in episcopally-led Christian history? Peter Carrell on his blog goes so far as to say, “In due course we look forward to the fulfilment of all requirements of Niceaean righteousness through Taranaki being promulgated a separate diocese.”

These are not the only structural innovations that NZ Anglicans have brought to ecclesiology. The first ever motion of the Anglican Primates’ Meeting (pro-Anglican Covenant, pro-Tikanga Kiwis take note) was their attempt to prevent NZ Anglicanism from implementing its three-tikanga structure in which three cultural streams (Maori, Pakeha, Polynesia) have oversight over the same geographic area, with each Tikanga’s episcopal units with its own bishop and governance. That led to having three primates (Maori, Pakeha, Polynesia) of what is still understood to be one province.

It is true that Selwyn’s hope had been for a cathedral in New Plymouth. It is true that atrocities centre around the New Plymouth site that are worth remembering and addressing. It is also worth wondering IMO why “upgrading” St Mary’s to the “status” of a cathedral is regarded as a contribution towards reconciliation in this story. Is that part of continuing a model in which a bishop is seen to be “above” a priest who is “above” a lay person (and a cathedral is “above” a parish church …). Personally I want to work towards a model in which a bishop is seen as equal-and-different to a priest who is equal-and-different to a lay person…

Hokitika cathedral?

Hokitika cathedral?

I serve in a diocese with large distances between places. Many of New Zealand’s cathedrals are incomplete (or certainly nothing like their original plan) but St Mary’s in Timaru would make an excellent cathedral, 2 ½ hours drive away from Christchurch’s cathedral. Hokitika (3 ½ hours drive away), on the West Coast is isolated from the Canterbury plains and All Saints’ Hokitika could make an excellent third cathedral in this diocese. Hokitika might not be able to afford a stipended bishop, but we could have a non-stipended bishop, or a “Total Ministry/Locally Shared Ministry” bishop. Why do Tikanga Maori episcopal units not have cathedrals? I am not wanting to be churlish or dampen enthusiasm or be controversial for controversy’s sake but it is discussions like this, theological, historical, practical that I hope we won’t discourage when looking at St Mary’s, New Plymouth, as the newest Anglican cathedral in 80 years and the only one I can think of that forms a second cathedral in a single diocese in Christian history.

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