Cathedrals on the Ground, Cathedrals in the Heart

The rebuilding of Cathedrals seems to be making the conversational rounds in Anglican Land these days.  The Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, in Christ Church New Zealand, were destroyed by earthquakes and the one in Washington, D.C. badly wounded. 

So the question comes, "What next?" In Washington repair seems in order, so the National Cathedral  is going about trying to raise money to do those repairs, including some sort of contest/ lottery for funds.  Christ Church, NZ, has plowed under the old cathedral and decided for a new and more modern structure. It too is about raising funds and has hit a snag in funding the temporary structure, the "cardboard" cathedral.  Holy Trinity, in Port-au-Prince, already has a new "temporary" cathedral which is being well used. The development of plans and the search for monies for the new cathedral in Port-au-Prince goes slowly.

There is a concept going around these days about project funding that has some application here. The notion is that every project needs to be evaluated on the basis of a "assets and liabilities" study so that the implications of the project are understood more fully.

For example, if a group wants to work with a parish in Smallville, in a rural part of the state, to establish a nursery school and is willing to provide materials and labor, the parish might consider this a great gift, a real asset. And indeed it is. But if the parish has not considered the resultant commitments it must take on regarding upkeep, payment of teachers, insurance, supervision of the project and so forth, the parish might well find that it is spending all its available resources and much of the priest's time keeping the project afloat. Suddenly this great asset shows its liabilities. 

The idea is to begin with an assessment rather than live with the unintended consequences.

So the issue about Cathedrals is this:  In rebuilding, what are the assets and liabilities that derive from the project? In the case of the Washington Cathedral, that amazing place has a life of its own now. It seems somehow too big to fail. Somewhere big money will come to make it right.  The notion that 20 million dollars is needed to repair doesn't seem to strike anyone as outrageous or obscene. Of course this "national monument" will be repaired.

But what of cathedrals in other places, cathedrals which are destroyed by earthquake, fire or flood, or, as happened in Delaware, discontinued because of a decline in congregational membership?  Should they be replaced? And if so, how?  Are the long range implications (liabilities) being brought into the equation, along with the assets that come with such buildings?

We will see.

Meanwhile, over in Anglicans Down Under the question is raised, what of the endowment funds that grow from some assets... Trinity Church, Manhattan, for example?  Much of the investment profits go to maintain the property, programs and music of Trinity itself. But how does the church justify the way in which assets are distributed? And more, how does the church justify its property holdings as essentially endowment rather than assets available for use in mission?  

Trinity alone could underwrite the repairs to the Washington Cathedral, or a new cathedral in New Zealand or Haiti. But perhaps it is better it does not do so. Remember the assets and liabilities issue.  And yet...the money is a resource, if not for the cathedral rebuilding, perhaps for some cathedral of the heart - say funding for a national Sunday School teaching series, or a project for micro-investment in non-profit agencies.

I am not sure we need cathedrals. They can be beautiful and awe-inspiring, but beauty can come in other ways and awe is a product of engagement with God where ever we find ourselves. Cathedrals evoke grandeur, but for what end?

Better the cathedral of the heart, the place where the seat is reserved for Christ, not the bishop, and the nave is for the people of the world, not the people of a sect.

Just thinking.       


  1. A thought-provoking post, Mark.

    "Better the cathedral of the heart, the place where the seat is reserved for Christ, not the bishop, and the nave is for the people of the world, not the people of a sect."

    Lovely, lovely, lovely. Surely an idea worth pondering.

  2. As the quote attributed to St. Irenaeus says, "The glory of God is the human being fully alive." Beautiful, open worship spaces are wonderful, but helping people grow into the people they are called to be in the love of God is a wee bit more important.

  3. By the way, our cathedral in Christchurch NZ is not 'plowed' under, nor has a formal and final decision been made about what to do re three options (restore old, build a rough mimic of the old, build a new cathedral).

    You are right, Mark, all such options represent future liabilities!


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