A project to make a difference for two Peters

May 31, 2017

Two of the campaign fundraising leaders share not only Peter as their first names but are united in their passion to have the restored Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary’s open its doors to one and all.

The Very Reverend Dean Peter Beck has come out of retirement in Christchurch to see the church return to its rightful place in the Taranaki community, to be earthquake strengthened and future-proofed. He and campaign executive chairman Peter Tennent are united in their belief that not only parishioners, but every student, the general public and tourists alike, should have full access to the historic site.

“It’s luck we have one of the oldest stone churches in New Zealand and luck that we have one of the 50 most historic sites in the country, right here in Taranaki," Peter Tennent says. “As such we have an obligation to get it right. We need a finished product that this region and country will be proud of. And, it’s got to last for the next 170 years plus.

“If I think of a project and place that can truly make a difference, this is it,” says Peter, pictured above (back row, second from left) with members of the Campaign Executive Committee.

He points out that he is not an Anglican but was raised a Presbyterian and married wife Rosemary in the Catholic Church in Manaia, but nevertheless sees the cathedral as an historic icon which is that important - A Taranaki Taonga.

He first learned of its historic significance when tagging along on tours with his parents. “In those days we used to jump on many of the tourist buses staying with us at The Devon Hotel, and guide them through the city and region.

“As a youngster I recall Dad taking the bus microphone, and waxing lyrical about St Mary’s. I was captured wide-eyed by his stories, as were all those tourists.”

Peter can still recall the bullet holes pointed out on the tour, that date back to the bloody days of the Taranaki Wars in the 1860s. “There were the stories of great battles and brave vicars of the day; the historic graves, and their connection to the country’s leaders of present times. Much of what Dad said, I’m sure, included poetic licence, but we were left in no doubt as to the significance of the church and site.

“Some of the history is pretty cool, some of it is truly awful and some is just downright ugly. But they are stories that should be told, and will be, with the completion of the cathedral project.”

He has been to many community functions at the church. He was honoured to be the Mayor of New Plymouth when the church was conscrecated as a Cathedral by the Archbishop of York.

The closure of the church last year as a result of it being deemed an earthquake risk, upset many including himself. But he now believes the closure has had a positive effect as it awakened people to what we have, right here in Taranaki.

"Yes," he says, " the Taranaki Cathedral needs to be earthquake strengthened, but the entire site needs to be appropriately developed.

The plan is specifically focussed on ensuring the cathedral and associated modifications are welcoming to all – to all faiths and none.

Every student in Taranaki (and from wider afield) needs to visit and to learn more about our very unique history – warts and all, he says.

“I love the idea that future generations will be truly advantaged by the development.

“I love the idea that all locals will wish to take their visitors there to see the place. I’m convinced that it will be a must-see. Visitors and tourists will learn the stories, some of the conflicts we are not so proud about, and get to experience where it all happened.

“Dad may not be here to recount his stories, but we already have volunteers wishing to guide visitors once the project is complete. And if we reach projected visitors of 2,000 to 3,000 per week, that would be fantastic!

The $15m project is officially named The Cathedral Project – A Taranaki Taonga and will progress through three stages.

Stage one involves the $9m remediation of the cathedral, stage two is the addition of the glass atrium, while stage three will focus on making the site better able to cater students from near and far, as well as locals and visitors, and community services such as the Foodbank.

"But, we need the entire $15m before the project can be green lit," he says.

“I think the number of people who come through will be phenomenal. It’s an exciting project. I am passionate about it and the positive difference it will make. That’s why I am putting in my time, energy, and resource (such as we can afford) into it. It’s living museum really.”

Peter sees the fundraising as having not just local community involvement, but focussed nationally and internationally. 

“What is pleasing is that everyone I have spoken to (bar none) is pretty enthusiastic about what we can do. But, they are also adamant we need to get it right!”

The executive committee, of which Peter Tennent is chairperson, includes a range of people who are equally fervent about the project. Currently, they meet each week. “The committee are all good people, all from different backgrounds and are all passionate about the project. A couple of the team are St Mary’s parishioners, but most of us are there because we know the positive difference the remediated cathedral and development will make to this place – particularly our young people.

“If you’d like to help, we’d love to hear from you!”

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