i loved this piece of street art of a quaking church in panic mode. further down the mural the trickster wiley coyote is spotted with some tnt!i am sure it was terrifying to experience the earthquake in christchurch when many buildings wobbled and indeed fell down. and surveying the landscape makes you realise it takes a long time for a city to rebuild. there are still buildings being repaired and many pieces of land where buildings once stood. one area is a whole zone that has been cleared of where house stood. the shapes of gardens and streetlights are there but no people. the land there has lowered so is prone to flooding so is now simply a red zone.
christchurch cathedral is a centrepiece of the city - the settlement was very much church of england centred so it's no surprise to see this central place. but the cathedral (and indeed the catholic cathedral too) were seriously damaged by the earthquake. you can see in the photo above. by any stretch of the imagination this is an interruption or provocation. whilst you wouldn't wish it on anyone, whenever you get provoked in this sort of way there is an opportunity for creative thinking. many writers on creativity suggest you should programme interruptions into your routine because it's how you come up with ideas. i read the book messy by tim harford recently and the first chapter in that is really good on exactly that point. you can listen to a podcast here cautionary tales which effectively rehearses that first chapter - it's the episode bowie, jazz and the unplayable piano.
well the church did get creative. realising it would take a long time to sort out, a japanese architect shigeru ban was commissioned and designed the cardboard cathedral. this is a light structure that might last 50 years i guess. it has been a big hit - i loved it. the interior structure looks like it's made of and held up by cardboard tubes though i am not sure exactly what the material is. but i noticed while i was there that work seemed to be starting to repair the old cathedral. perhaps this is inevitable but i also was disappointed. why?! i like the new one a lot better and it's a sign of travelling much lighter.
one of the church's biggest challenges certainly in england is its buildings. they are old, inflexible, often cold, and not really fit for purpose. sure some of them look beautiful and have been reworked well. usually that is the case where there is a large congregation. but most are a chain round the neck of a small community and would be better given away as heritage sites. in many villages in england there is a small community of older christians - maybe a dozen who put so much energy and effort into keeping the roof on, the lights on, the heating working. in my view it would be amazing to wake up one day and find that the buildings had wobbled and collapsed. what a relief - the people could get on with being the church as a community of people! i am honestly not just being flippant. i genuinely think that. somewhere along the way church easily forgots the why of its existence.
what i had not forseen when i was in new zealand was that when i got back church buildings would soon be shut albeit for a different reason - coronavirus. the church has literally left the building! so people are having to reimagine how to be church, how to connect to one another and encourage community, worship, discipleship, mission. they too have been provoked, interrupted from business as usual. what are the creative and imaginative opportunities for churches in this season? there have been a lot of social media comments about making more of the opportunity than simply broadcasting church services online. and i admit whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with that and it is probably comforting in its familiarity in a time of crisis, it does lack imagination. but my impression is that people are connecting in all sorts of more liquid ways connecting to christ and one another. but i wonder when the crisis is over will they be like christchurch cathedral and go back to the old, to business as usual or will they inhabit the new in an ongoing way?
i have been reading mark's story (gospel) of jesus life this lent - in fact i have been thinking about mark for a year or so. today i laughed out loud when i read the part where jesus' disciples are admiring the temple in jerusalem and saying something along the lines of 'look at these magnificent buildings' to which jesus replies saying they will be demolished and not one stone will be left on top of another! at that stage the disciples really don't seem to get what jesus is about. he is starting a new community of people following in the way of jesus. they largely met and gathered in small groups and communities in homes in the early days. there's no reason why that might not still be a brilliant idea...
when i was in new zealand one of the things i found really inspiring was the imaginative approaches to being church amongst young adults. i got to visit wellington for one day and hang out with some pioneers over breakfast and catch up with bishops eli and justin who are great. it was also good to meet scottie reeve, catch up with jethro who studied with us at cms for a term and others including one follower of my blog (small world and all that) and hear about a network of homes that are community houses for church in a different way. they share life, prayer, mission, food together. in the background seem to be a few decades of a deep rhythm of prayer and radical discipleship through urban vision. i apologise if my description is a bit clunky or not quite right but i was only there for a day - do leave a comment if you are part of it,
the anglican church in wellington have embarked on an experiment in one neighbourhood led by scottie and anna where they have bought a building which is on the high street which can house a residential community, have a small chapel, and run a community space and perhaps an enterprise or two. sadly i didn't take a photo of it as i got there late at night and left first thing (that's my excuse) so can't show you but i thought it is exactly the kind of imagination that is needed - so refreshing to see. the regular church building i assume is being sold or decommissioned. it is just in the throes of beginning so there is not much more to tell on that particular community yet.
i picked up a daily prayer book: he taro ma - tatou daily prayer, that those communities use which i have been using since. though i am on the other side of the world it feels good to unite in spirit and in prayer. i couldn't find where that is available online - let me know in a comment if it is. today's morning prayer was on peacemaking and non violence and references some of the maori prophets and cms missionaries. i'll get back that in the next post...