The Very Reverend Dean Peter Beck is deeply passionate about leading the charge to restore Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary’s.
His dream is to see the completed $15m project, named The Cathedral Project – A Taranaki Taonga, open its doors to all.
“The cathedral will be a place of welcome for all faiths and none,” predicts Dean Peter, pictured above on the left with Archbishop Philip Richardson. “This building will have its way with you. I do sense the spirit of God is behind this and we will get there.
“What’s so exciting about it is, here we can acknowledge the past and seek to work together for peace and reconciliation. I can see it becoming the spiritual heart of Taranaki.
“It’s truly an amazing icon for the people of this region,” he says.
Dean Peter was enjoying his retirement in his beloved Christchurch with wife Gay, when he was shoulder-tapped by Archbishop Philip Richardson last year. The archbishop asked him to take on the vital New Plymouth role. “He rang me for a chat and the next thing I know, here I am!” Dean Peter says. “I said I would help out for two years.”
He sees the Taranaki Cathedral as having a magnificent history which deserves restoring for the future and sharing with all-comers.
“It has been a lovely, extraordinary parish church since 1846 and since 2010 the cathedral for Taranaki.”
In the past it was a garrison church during the Land Wars. “It carries our story ‘good, bad and ugly’ as Peter Tennent says.”
Dean Peter was Dean of the iconic Christchurch Cathedral from 2002-2012 when much of Christchurch, including its cathedral, was devastated by massive earthquakes. He resigned as Dean when he realised he had different views from his Bishop Victoria Matthews about the cathedral’s future. Those disagreements would remain between him and the bishop. “I’m sorry it didn’t work between us. But a lot of what I’m doing here is bringing my experience of Christchurch. It’s got that same sense about it.”
Conversely, he is heartened by the extraordinary will locally to restore Taranaki Cathedral and hugely impressed with the passionate people who have willingly committed themselves to the mammoth task ahead in raising the $15m required to complete the work. There is former mayor Peter Tennent chairing the executive fundraising committee, along with architect and dedicated parishioner Jenny Goddard, whom the Dean sees as a “gift from God”.
He recalls when he arrived in New Plymouth he was met with a parish and city in shock at the cathedral’s closure because of its assessed earthquake risk.
“Part of the experience was working with the congregation. But it was nothing like what had happened in Christchurch – it was not a ruin. People had to settle themselves down and move on,” he says pragmatically.
Dean Peter comes well experienced for the task ahead. Fundraising is nothing new for him. English-born and as the vicar of the Anglican church in Lincoln, he headed the restoration of the Saxon tower which pre-dated the Norman conquest. It was Sir Paul Reeves, whom Dean Peter sees as his mentor, who invited him to come to New Zealand. He would later become a pall bearer at Sir Paul’s funeral.
“Sir Paul had so many connections in Taranaki so to be here is also a privilege for me”.
He went on to head St Matthew’s in central Auckland during the time Sky City was being built. He was keen to see it built right next door to keep an eye on it and ensure that the casino was “never to do anything that might demean God’s work”. Sky City was indeed built next door and went on to support the restoration of St Matthew-in-the-City.
The roots in his new country were well and truly grounded when he was to meet and marry Gay, a Kiwi. The couple has three adult children, a son and twin daughters. Fortuitously, their daughter Liz Beck works for the New Plymouth District Council and is soon to have a baby. “So it’s really good for us to be here at this time”.
In 2000 he decided to have “a bit of a break and I hung up my dog collar”. During his work in the ministry, he had been a corporate priest and mentor and found himself headhunted by a Wellington management consultant to utilise his skills in conflict resolution and confidential support. “They asked me to join the company to do just that. It was a fascinating couple of years.”
Then in 2002 the Bishop of Christchurch asked him to take up the Christchurch Cathedral job.
The vision to built an atrium at the back of Taranaki Cathedral, on an existing outdoor courtyard, and move all the services to the one side of the road will provide an asset for the community and strengthen the cathedral’s next 170 years.
“People will want to come here,” he says. There will be the opportunity to have an experience, to be educated on the history while seeking to make it a place of peace, justice and reconciliation. Through the cathedral’s new atrium there will be the ability to generate an income and greatly improve facilities for the church.
Unfortunately the Dean is only on loan until Easter 2018. And he is keen to get back to Christchurch, to retirement and to have more time for the grandkids.
Meanwhile, he remains involved in the community and with advocacy groups in his home town. He continues to keep in touch with various groups through Skype. “I feel completely committed to Christchurch. But while I am looking forward to going home, a whole lot of me is committed to this project. I pray that it will get sorted in a way that everyone can live with and enjoy.”