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Cathedral Christchurch Option 3

Christchurch synod favours contemporary cathedral

Cathedral Christchurch Option 3
Option 3 – Contemporary

On Friday and Saturday we had a meeting of synod, the governing body of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch.

The primary agenda was the report of The Structural Review Group responding to earthquake damage and population movements. It has analysis and draft proposals. We received the report, grateful for all the hard work done, and will use this report, discussions at synod, and further consultation, to work towards making decisions at a future session of synod.

In my address to synod on this, I urged us to think of other ways of having mission and ministry alongside the focus on parishes.

[Update: Taonga article here off this site]

There was also a presentation on the three options for the cathedral in the Square. In question time, I presented my concerns (already conveyed privately). I focused on my interest in the interior arrangement, where, for example, seating is given as being in parallel rows, and community is experienced in viewing the backs of heads.

We had been told these were concept drawings. My questions were: where do the concept drawings stop and the designs begin? There was mention of “placeholders”. How much actual tweaking is possible? Is it possible, for example, to add quarter circles onto the west of the transepts so that we can sit in flexible arrangements, including gathering, as a congregation, in a semi-circle – and other more contemporary worship options?

Obviously many in synod were aware of my issue, and they clearly shared my interest. There was strong applause as I returned to my seat.

The answer from the architect was heartening. Option 1 – obviously no. Option 2 – probably not. But for Option 3 it was certainly possible.

Cathedral Option 3B
“Option 3B” click for detail

Rev. Andrew Allan-Johns, who commented on this site on my first sketch, prepared a plan as a variant of the architects’ Option 3, entitling it 3B, based on some of my and some of his concerns. (Andrew’s image is on the left here, and can be clicked to enlarge). He also spoke, urging that we build a plant that would serve a thriving Christian community better.

Rev. Peter Carrell has commented on this site and blogged about the cathedral (here, here, here, and here). He urged a 21st century cathedral for the 21st century. Both Andrew and Peter received applause. Others spoke and asked questions as well.

The external ancillary buildings, we were told, are also placeholders.

In response to Peter there was a theological explanation of Option 3, describing it as presenting a journey as visitors entered, starting at the font. My desire to place the font central rather than in the north-west (as given in the plans for all 3 Options) actually enhances that perspective.

The bishop spoke about the wow factor of entering into a lower space before moving through into a soaring canopy, almost seeming to quote directly from my blog post where I had suggested a lower gathering space.

Some want at least an echo of the previous building, some homage to the previous building, in any future building. The cruciform format can be seen as part of that. But I am convinced that architects are able enough to have that cruciform echo and homage even in my more contemporary layout, and without it being imposed so heavily that it cramps the very purpose for which the building is being constructed.

There was mention of good, experienced leadership imaginatively overcoming the handicaps of the previous space. I wonder if we are too quickly forgetting the difficulties of such regular events such as simply distributing communion there, the re-ordering and re-reordering of the interior physical arrangements to try and make them work, the period with the altar effectively on stilts,… Yes, creative leadership can trump inherited architectural shortcomings – but that’s not a good reason to replicate them, or create new ones.

There was a fascinating moment. We were asked for a straw poll on which Option we preferred. You understand synod governs the diocese but neither owns the cathedral nor is the deciding body for what will go in the Square. If there were hands that went up for Option 1, I missed them. There were a handful of hands that went up for Option 2. Nearly every hand went up for Option 3. Another handful for “none of the above”. There was a question of a straw vote on Option 3B, but that was not proceeded with. [cf. the online Press vote 33%; 23%; 38%; 6%; cf. the Cathedral conversations website vote 21%; 18%; 55%; 6%]

It is clear to me that, if Option 3 is chosen, we must not miss the opportunity to make the internal layout and resourcing as usable as possible.

[Update: Taonga article on the cathedral here off this site]

I now feel ready to add my comments to the Cathedral conversations website. If you want to give your opinion, go to Cathedral conversations.


I reflected a lot on one priest’s speech. Putting his ideas into my words: the paradigm of “build the building and they will come” for church has gone. Selling church buildings, and land, and buying new land, and building new buildings… will not substitute for mission and ministry. They may help – let us pray they do. The real telling of the good news will not be done primarily by whatever is finally put up in the Square. The real telling and living of God’s good news will be by you and by me.


I was specifically asked by the diocesan architects to produce a series on architectural principles. This post is clearly connected to that series. If you wish to read other posts in that series, they are:

The community
The cross
The altar
The font
The ambo/lectern/pulpit
The presider’s chair and the cathedra
The transitional cathedral
Achitectural Design Guidelines 1
Achitectural Design Guidelines 2
Achitectural Design Guidelines 3
Achitectural Design Guidelines 4
eating in church
planning inside out

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3 thoughts on “Christchurch synod favours contemporary cathedral”

  1. I’m a believer in seating that allows people to worship and listen without others’ looking at their faces. Sometimes it’s important to be face to face. Sometimes it’s important to be able to worship in a contemplative manner. The option of flexible seating is the way to go.

  2. Maggie Swinson

    Really interesting write up and a design my OH (an architect) and I find exciting. I hope you can move to a more relational way of seating (ie not all looking at the back of heads)

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