[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The congregation of St Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington will return to their building for Christmas services after a safety cordon around it was lifted. Much of the cathedral building was within the cordon, which was imposed after last month’s earthquake amid fears that a neighbouring nine-storey building might collapse on top of it. Demolition experts have reduced the height of that building to a safe level and last night the city’s engineers reduced the size of the cordon, opening up the cathedral for use once again.
Since then, services have taken place at the former St Mark’s Church, which is now used as a school chapel. This Sunday’s services, including the traditional Nine Lessons and Carols, will take place at St Mark’s as staff continue to prepare the cathedral for use again.
“Some things must be resolved before we can go back,” the Dean of Wellington, Digby Wilkinson, said. “Things such as lighting and electrical appliances that had faults after the earthquake that we haven’t been able to resolve while in the cordon. Also, much of our equipment is still at St Mark’s School, and rushing makes no sense.”
The cathedral itself suffered no structural damage from the earthquake, but parts of the organ was thrown from its housing. The chancel area remains closed off until the rest of the organ has been removed or made secure.
“What this does mean, however, is that we can use our building for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and worship services beyond, and for this we are truly grateful,” Dean Digby said. “Our time of dislocation is coming to an end.
“We will endeavour to make our Christmas worship a time of celebration and thanksgiving after all the city has been through. Please keep in your prayers the local business people who will be returning for the first time. Many of them will be assessing damage and losses while preparing to reopen. It will be a stressful time for many of them.”
The cathedral has secured “a good quality digital organ” to “serve us well in the short term” until a permanent replacement is installed.
Last week, before the cordon was lifted, Dean Digby walked through the area around the cathedral. He said that he had “gained a greater impression of the disruption that has occurred in recent times.”
He added: “It was helpful to see the damage that has uprooted thousands of people from their places of employment and, in some cases their homes. It was a timely reminder that despite being unable to enter our much-loved place of worship, we are fortunate that we will, in time, be able to return.
“Natural disasters or occurrences disrupt all our plans, and there is no easy response to it. We had many plans for the Advent season, and many of them have come unstuck. But in the midst of frustration, I feel sure there is gift. For example the welcome and support offered to our congregation by St Marks school, the hospitality the Cathedral staff has received from the diocesan office, the chance to bring our three Sunday congregations together in worship, and most importantly the reminder that our church family is held together by something and someone far greater than our physical building.”
God was “present in all things”, he said, and at a time when “the world is a bit topsy-turvy”, he stressed the importance of prayer, saying: “We pray for our city, for our leaders, for those in need, for our churches and our community of faith,” he said.
“Prayer changes things, most especially us, and through us all, the world. . . It’s in times of stress and crisis that we rediscover who we are in Christ and learn again to trust God more deeply.”
In this report for New Zealand television’s 1News programme, reporter Kaitlin Ruddock described the scene as demolition work got underway: “It’s raining concrete and glass”, she said.