The outgoing Bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, has said goodbye to her diocese with an attack on civic authorities over their handling of the future of Christchurch Cathedral. The cathedral was all-but destroyed in a 2011 earthquake. The diocese’s property trust wanted to replace the building with a modern purpose-built construction; but faced a series of unsuccessful legal challenges from campaigners who wanted the old building reinstated. Last year, after a lengthy consultation and a promise of funds from campaigners and local and national government, the diocesan synod voted to go ahead with re-instatement rather than replacement.
Bishop Victoria said that this decision as taken “because we want to reconcile the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch with the wider community,” according to the Stuff news website. “‘I will work with the church’, said the Christchurch mayor with tears in her eyes. Now, seven months later, the city council declares that their money is being withheld to the last moment and perhaps won’t be needed,” she said.
And she was also critical of the Great Christchurch Building Trust, the group behind the legal challenges, which had promised significant funding towards re-instatement. “And we have $1 million [NZD, approximately £514,000 GBP] being given over seven years by one person and not the $13.7 million promised by the GCBT.
“It’s business as usual, folks, with the wealthy and the powerful telling you, the people of the province of Canterbury, that they know best. Good luck with that.”
GCBT co-founder Philip Burdon described the bishop’s claim as “totally inaccurate.” And a council spokesman told Stuff that its $10 million funding was due to be confirmed at its 10-year budget meeting at the end of June. In December, it said that the funding would only be made available once other sources had been exhausted. “If the fundraising for the cathedral exceeds the amount required for the cathedral’s reinstatement, the council's contribution will be adjusted accordingly,” they said in a statement.
The comments were made during a special Choral Eucharist in Christchurch’s Transitional Cathedral last nigh (Sunday). Following the service, Archbishop Philip Richardson presented her with a pounamu Taonga – a Maori stone, as a gift from the province; and an embroidered stole, as a gift from the diocese. In a humorous nod to the earthquake damage that has dominated her ministry in Christchurch, staff at the Transitional Cathedral presented her with an “emergency kit” containing a hard hat, hi-vis vest and first aid kit.
“Looking back on her 10 years' service, most people will remember the earthquakes and the cathedral debate,” Christchurch diocesan spokesperson Jo Bean told Anglican Taonga. “Perhaps fewer realise that she was bearing the burdens of hundreds of Cantabrians whose parishes, vicarages, churches and halls were left stricken by the quakes. And fewer still will know that the Bishop lived for much of her time in Christchurch in a sleep-out, because her own home had to be demolished.
“She freely confesses that some of her favourite times were the ones she spent with young people – and she said that she cherishes her memories of presiding at midnight mass in tents at Easter Camps. She will be missed next Easter.
“Her keen concern for social justice issues and for providing excellence in theological education will also be part of her legacy. Our prayers go with Bishop Victoria as she goes back to Canada to visit family and friends, and seeks to discern where God is calling her next.”
Last month, Bishop Victoria announced that she would step down from 1 May, saying: “I have discerned in my prayers that I am called by God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, to lay down this particular position of leadership. I’m not retiring and I’m not in ill health, I am merely following where my Saviour is leading me, wherever that may be.”