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‘For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be ,yes!'
Some years ago I was at a lecture given by Marc Pachter, the then Director of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. It was most interesting and entertaining. The site of the NPG is at the centre of the grid which is Washington. The site was designated by Pierre Charles L'enfant who designed the city of Washington. What is interesting is that L'enfant saw that at the heart of his city ought to be a great inter denominational cathedral, a building which expressed the soul, the very heart of the city, it's spirit and aspirations.
Of course one of the fundamentals of the American Constitution is the very distinction between church and state, the freedom of religious belief is paramount. So a Cathedral didn't fit. What did was a temple to the industrial arts. The great American spirit of invention - a building in the classical Greek style which honoured the inventiveness of this new country. And so it became the National Patent Office. Interesting. In the 1950s it simply did not have the sort of spaces needed for such a bureaucracy, and the patent office moved on.
The battle ensued. Pull down the building and turn it into a parking lot. Almost happened! To cut a long story short the great Greek pantheon like edifice was saved and in 1962 President Kennedy signed the act which created the National Portrait Gallery. When asked what his job entailed, Marc said 'my job is to choose who lives and dies in the memory of the Republic'.
In very real sense the NPG holds the story, the memories and the aspirations of the United States. It expresses its soul, and is rather like a secular cathedral. In the heart of the Capital.
Which brings me of course to our Cathedral where today, this being the closest Sunday to the feast of St Michael and All Angels Day [September 29th] we celebrate the 170th anniversary of the first service held here.
For all these years what is now the Cathedral of Taranaki has been a symbol of the on-going story of this province and city. The history of this province is our story. It is a place both of challenge and promise. The walls are soaked in the laughter and the tears, the pain and grief, the search for truth and justice, the prayers and aspirations of thousands of people over the years. The daily rhythm of prayer and worship, praying for and on behalf of the city, diocese and world. Music and drama have celebrated our human creativity. Matters of social concern, of justice and peace have increasingly been discussed and debated and commitments made. And above all else the Eucharist has been celebrated, the very essence of our resurrection faith.
But it is simply a building. It is the people over these years, the living stones that have been inspired and grasped a vision of God’s love and purpose which has made the building into what it is. Not without flaw, not with out sin, not without getting it wrong and getting in the way of God, people have sought to express the good news of Jesus Christ. And today we stand at the edge of a renewed and refreshed dynamic life and witness as in the this time of pause as we remediate our building and our overall plant, to make it more effective in the mission and ministry of Christ. We seek a vision where we will be an inclusive and open community, welcoming within our doors, people of all faiths and none – a living house of prayer in our Anglican tradition, a place of healing and reconciliation, a centre for peace and justice. Of course our history of 170 years will lead us into a dialogue between Māori and Pākehā. In time, with forgiveness and healing, this Cathedral will be a place for all the people of Taranaki, a sacred place for Māori and Pākehā. As our kaumatua, The Venerable Tiki Raumati has said it will be a place for our people – every one who enter these doors and for all who walk by, those who feel it is their home and those who do not feel worthy. This will be the place where the city comes to celebrate and grieve, the heart and soul of the city for it has been here from the beginning.
We don’t know exactly what the future will be as we dream our dreams and build our visions, but we know it won’t be the same as what has been. It will take courage, and patience, and this community has those qualities by the bucketload. WE can lament the closure of the Cathedral, or we can be belssed by this pause, giving us time to reflect and look forward. We could look back and ask bitterly, “why did we have to do this?” but a better question might be, “How is this changing us?’ and “Where is God calling us to next?”
We look back over the past, and give thanks for the lives of faith of so many people who were associated with this church over the last 170 years. But we also look to the future, to new hopes and dreams and possibilities. We look back over what has been, all that is good and not so good, and all the memories we have and everything that it means to us, and say “Thanks.” And we look toward all that is to come, the possibilities and the promises, and say, very simply, "Yes".