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Conform Cooperate Confront?

St Patrick's
Church and World – St Patrick’s Cathedral taken from the Rockefeller Center, New York

Regulars here will pick up soon enough that this post is also an ongoing reflection in relation to the upcoming synod’s decision on the future of the Christchurch Cathedral.

The previous posts are
What is a Cathedral?
What is a Cathedral? Part 2

I am very grateful that people respected my request to take care with comments, and I WILL AGAIN BE RESTRICTING OF COMMENTS HERE.

The Christchurch Anglican Cathedral is a very controversial topic.

Please restrict your comments on this site to the liturgical and theological content of my posts. I will not allow comments advocating for or against certain actions (past, present, future), what should have happened in the Square, or what you think needs to be done now. If your comment stays with the generic ideas discussed here, rather than the specifics of the cathedral in the Square, that will be fine.

There has already been good discussion, on this site, about the pros and cons of accepting (or not) government and city council money towards reinstating the Cathedral. Does, for example, the church accepting such a significant gift from the world become an encumbrance to the church? (This is a general question – beyond the specifics of the Christchurch example. The question applies equally, as just another example, for church social agencies receiving government funding support, business sponsorship, and other gifts from the world). Does accepting gifts from the world, for example, endanger the prophetic witness of the church, its ability to challenge the world’s ethics and philosophies? There are wider, deeper theologies (spiritualities) at work – and it is those I’m seeking to underline in this post.

Words, in such a discussion, are used in different ways – including in the Bible. The word “world”, for example, can be seen as a blessed place, a place God sees as good, and on other occasions “world” is used negatively. (“Flesh”, similarly, is used in such a positive and in a negative sense.)

Confront, Convert, and Counter-Cultural

There is an end of the spectrum which sees the Gospel and the Church as being against the world. In this view, we, the faithful, should not conform to the spirit of the age. The world is bad. Total Depravity. We should have nothing to do with worldly ways. A Christian should not marry a nonChristian. Holiness is being set apart. If you are being harassed and persecuted, it is a sign that you are being faithful. The purpose of the Gospel is to save souls, to convert people. Sacred and secular cannot mix. Press this approach, and one edges towards being a sect. Press it further, and one is well on the way to being a cult.

Salt, Light, and Leaven

Towards the other end of the spectrum sees God at work in God’s good world. The faithful point to the good, enhance the good, and limit the bad. Sacraments are God using God’s good creation. The Incarnation is the union between God and the world. Blessing is thanking God for the goodness already there. But press this approach, and spirituality can tend to be little more than Therapeutic Moralistic Deism. Press this approach further, and one loses the imperative for evangelism.

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6 thoughts on “Conform Cooperate Confront?”

  1. I do not know the answer for the Christchurch Cathedral, I tend to think it should stay as…something.

    Coventry Cathedral in the UK during WW2 is now a monument.

  2. One reason I want to move back to England is the cathedrals, there is nothing like praying or singing in a church which is a thousand years old.

    One of my favourites was Chester Cathedral https://chestercathedral.com/ which now combines numerous functions as a business a support system and arts programme, I am thinking that’s where I will retire to, Chester.

    There are stone seats around the walls, where people in need of sanctuary or assistance would sit, for centuries. A very humbling concept, centuries of compassion! Yes we would probably see some of it as patronizing or unjust today, but isn’t that just the way the times evolve!

    And we have to let things be too, when Chester Cathedral was built most people in England could not read. The Dark Ages then the plagues, people were terrified and the cathedrals provided solace and food and shelter.

    Regarding the funding issue, I am American now and tend to believe in separation of church and state…except how would some of these historic buildings survive without grants etc. They do cost an enormous amount to maintain. In the UK all listed buildings now have to be maintained to a certain code, so that’s something else to consider, it’s not like they can just install modern glazing for example.

    This was on the BBC today http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41150792 ‘Last year 53% of people described themselves as having “no religion”, in a survey of 2,942 adults by the National Centre for Social Research.
    Among those aged between 18 and 25, the proportion was higher at 71%.’

    I am guessing though if British people were asked instead of ‘are you religious’, ‘do you want to retain the cathedrals and churches’, that most people would say yes. It’s so much a part of history, culture, tradition, and of course other religions have been part of that besides christianity in the UK for a long time.

    Interfaith is very important to a religion following Jesus I think, well I think I told you this before, I got in trouble at Sunday School when I was a little girl for saying ‘but Jesus was Jewish!’

    Who makes the final decision on the Christchurch Cathedral?

    I think about you all a lot, especially now our community is a mess with natural disaster.

    1. The vote on the Christchurch Cathedral happens this weekend at the diocesan synod, Tracy. What a fascinating idea, to retire in Chester. Our government superannuation is not portable. Blessings.

  3. I am fast coming to the end of my life health wise, I cannot think of a better final resting place then Chester! I could indulge myself in art, history, religion, even people!

    I hope the synod helps Christchurch move forward, because that’s what I think is important, it’s not about a building, it’s about a community and a community identity.

    I will be praying for Bishop Matthews.

    But whatever happens- the faith of christian kindness will endure. Of that I have no doubt.

    Today my meditation is ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’, Dame Julian and the first book published by a woman in England. The catholic church has not yet recognised her, which shows to me the flaws in the established church, but she wrote ‘wrath is nothing else but a perversity and an opposition to peace and to love’ and many other beautiful things.

    You would love Chester Bosco, but maybe you are more needed in Christchurch. And from NZ you provide spiritual nourishment to people thousands of miles away, like myself.

    You know that phrase in the Old Testament about going through the refiner’s fire, that’s what the religions need, sadly, not that I wish anyone to suffer. But there is a lack of empathy which is making people be judgmental and cruel, over trivial issues which aren’t even Jesus’ teachings.

    All your names there which remind me of England- River Avon, Christchurch, Canterbury, Ferrymead.

    All those communities went through troubled times centuries ago and survived.

  4. I think this is, or perhaps was, an opportunity to reimagine not just the Cathdral but the Anglican Church in Christchurch. I remember imagining what a rebuilt Cathedral may be that would or could resource many parts of Christchurch City. What if such a Cathedral was contributed to by the other parishes that were destroyed, and had funds for rebuilding, and formed a Cathedral Chapter – having, for example, a St. Luke’s Canon, a St. John’s Latimer Square Canon, etc, on staff that could continue Pastoral Ministry within those parish boundaries but be part of a dynamic and imaginative Chapter, rather than isolated in parishes walking distance from one another? What if the Cathedral sought to engage Public Theology where it saw itself as accountable to the Gospel, to the Diocese, but also to the people of the City? What if their was a commitment to rebuilding the externals but reimagining the configuration of the space? What if it funded an annual benefit that recognized ‘The Spirit of the City’ as an award for those doing transformative work in places outside the church? What if we rebuilt in a way that allowed the scarred body of the Cathedral to be apparent as a symbol of resurrection rather than replacement? Having been around some great Cathedrals, I can see that Christchurch has so much potential and pray that the Spirit moves throughout Synod in ways we have yet to anticipate.

    1. Thanks, Storm. Your comment was on the edge of debating options, and, as we were meeting to make this decision, I left putting this through moderation. That decision has now been announced: the synod has voted to reinstate the Cathedral in the Square. Blessings.

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