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Christchurch Cathedral hosts dawn prayers

A new day dawned for Christchurch Cathedral in the Square last week, as Dean Lawrence Kimberley, Bishop Peter Carrell and Bishop Richard Wallace led the first worship service to be held in the building since the 2011 earthquakes.

Julanne Clarke-Morris | Photos: Mere Wallace, Jo Bean, CCRL.  |  28 Mar 2023  |

Worshippers have returned to Christchurch Cathedral on Tuesday 21 March for the first official service to be held in the iconic building, exactly 12 years and one month since the Cathedral fell in the 21 February 2011 earthquake.

Bishop of Christchurch Peter Carrell and Pihopa o Te Waipounamu Richard Wallace joined the Dean of Christchurch Lawrence Kimberley to lead the dawn service that celebrated the completion of the Cathedral’s newly stabilised nave where they stood.

It was a special occasion for Bishop Peter Carrell, who was ordained deacon in Christchurch Cathedral in 1986, and preached there for an ordination held between the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

This week he entered the Christ Church Cathedral as its Bishop for the first time, 

“I felt a sense of relief and quiet joy to be inside the Cathedral again.”

“It was moving to hear scripture being read, prayers said and hymns sung inside the Cathedral again— it’s been twelve long years since we heard that sound and worshipped in that space.” 

The small group of around 30 worshippers included twenty Anglicans from the Diocese of Christchurch and Pihopatanga o Te Waipounamu who gathered along with Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Ltd staff to offer prayer and thanksgiving for the progress made thus far, and look forward to completion of work scheduled for late 2027.

Vicar General of Te Waipounamu Susan Wallace led people into the service with a karanga calling on God to wrap his arms around the building and his people inside it. This was the first in a day of events celebrating the completion of the stabilisation phase of reinstatement and the Cathedral’s new status as a “safe-to-enter” building site. 

Later in the day an event was held to welcome in media and civic leaders including: Hon Dr Megan Woods, Minister of Housing and Construction and Deputy Mayor Pauline Cotter, as well as further Christian, Buddhist and Jewish faith leaders.

Bishop Richard Wallace and Archdeacon Mere Wallace were saddened by the extent of damage they could see close up in the Cathedral, but were pleased to be there to bless the ongoing work.

Bishop Richard recalled vividly his own milestones at the Cathedral where he was ordained both deacon and priest by Bishop Allan Pyatt on Pihopa Whakahuihui Vercoe's behalf back in 1987.

“The dawn service was a wonderful occasion and it was so good to be there returning for the first time together in prayer.” 

Susan Wallace admitted she was nervous at the prospect of coming to karanga people into the Cathedral on Tuesday. For one, she had initially thought a brand new Cathedral would be a better choice. But over time she had experienced a change of heart. 

“At first, I wasn’t a supporter of the restoration and reinstatement of the cathedral. The idea of spending so much money on one building when there was so much need in our communities didn’t sit well with me.” 

“But as I’ve seen more and more of our historic reference points lost and witnessed how Ngāi Tūāhuriri have been able to articulate and integrate their identity, culture and narratives across our rebuilt city, I think there’s room for, and real value in retaining some of those places that we have known as part of our city.” 

Susan also turned her mind to this summer’s Cyclone and storm-damaged regions,

“I came away thinking about what’s happening in other natural disaster areas around our country and reflecting on our journey. Over time the focus can shift away to other kaupapa, even though the needs remain. We need to stay with people, because it’s not a quick fix.”

While Lawrence Kimberley has been Dean at the Transitional Cathedral for eight years, last Tuesday for the first time he entered the Cathedral which he sees as the spiritual home of the diocese. 

“It was quite an emotional moment for a lot of people there, you could see wet eyes around the room…For me there was a real sense of coming home.”

Fr Lawrence said that he still felt the grief at the Cathedral’s loss quite sharply. 

“But at the same time I felt really hopeful and excited that we are on the journey now to get it back up and running.” 

Also present at the dawn service was Rev Peter Beck who was Dean of Christchurch at the time of the 21 February 2011 earthquake. He hadn’t been back inside the Cathedral since being there immediately after the big quake to make sure everyone was out. 

Thankfully, of the 185 people who tragically lost their lives in the 21 February earthquake, none died in the Cathedral – and the controls preventing anyone outside technical teams entering the building have kept it that way.

“At the time [of the 2011 earthquake], I said, ‘The heart of our city is broken and we will rebuild it.’ 

“I’m glad to see that’s on the way to happening. The Cathedral holds so many memories for so many people – it really is an icon of Christchurch City.” 

City Missioner Corinne Haynes attended Tuesday’s service, and was surprised to see the Cathedral in a different light.

“I hadn’t realised how beautiful the art and craft inside the building was: I don’t think I’d ever noticed the mosaics on the walls, or the tiles on the floor. In the past you would have been there for an event and only noticed the people and the occasion, but the building details themselves are a thing of beauty.”

Corinne said being in the Cathedral evoked memories of momentous occasions she had attended over her seventy years, from huge St John Ambulance services, to taking friends to see the city from the bell tower, to peeking out from behind a pillar, even to the photograph of her toddler self in a pram in front of the Cathedral accompanied by her mother and grandmother. 

“It was a privilege to be invited to mark this milestone. I hope I can stay alive to be a part of the celebration for its completion.”

Bishop Peter Carrell affirmed that there’s still a good way to go on the project, including the $50 million yet to raise for its completion. 

“Looking up and seeing the work done to date, you can see it’s a massive project.” 

“But the sense of energy and determination to get it finished is here too, so we are very grateful to the project team, CCRL, who are managing this gargantuan reinstatement on behalf of the Diocese of Christchurch.” 

Dean Lawrence was keen to laud the skill, energy and innovation that’s going into the Cathedral reinstatement from Project Director Keith Paterson, Chair Mark Stewart and the whole CCRL staff team. 

“We had some beautiful prayers last Tuesday and for me it was good to be there with all the CCRL workers.

“I believe that whether they are aware of it or not, all the people involved in this project are co-workers with God, because it’s a spiritual building and in the end it will be for the glory of God.” 

The project now moves into the second phase - strengthening and reinstatement of the main Cathedral and Tower.  Next will come phase three, which is construction of the new Cathedral Centre and Visitors Centre commencing in 2025. 

The reinstated Cathedral will look the same as it did prior to the earthquakes, but will have many modern enhancements and comforts such as heating, lighting and acoustic improvements.  

The reinstated Cathedral has been designed to meet the latest structural standards for a new public building, and once completed, the Cathedral, tower, Cathedral Centre and Visitors Centre have been designed to seamlessly integrate with Cathedral Square. 

For more info go to the Christchurch Cathedral Reinstatement website.