Cardboard Cathedral

In 2011, Christchurch, New Zealand suffered an earthquake that damaged many buildings, including the Anglican cathedral near Latimer Square. As the diocese contemplated how to rebuild the church, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban stepped forward to offer a unique design. He offered to donate his time to design a cathedral made out of cardboard that would seat 700 people. The offer was accepted and in August of this year, the church was opened for worship. Here is a picture of the structure that is 78 feet high, incorporating 86 cardboard tubes weighing 1,100 pounds each atop 20 feet long containers.

Cardboard Cathedral CardboardCathedral2

The project cost close to NZ$6 million and was built with a fair amount of opposition. It is intended to last 10 years while the permanent structure is readied.

I have mixed feelings about this so-called Cardboard Cathedral. On one hand, it seems like a positive stop-gap measure; on the other hand, it seems to be a huge amount of money to spend on something that has temporary value. It’s hard to say if it’s a good idea or a bad one. I was intrigued to read that as the viability was debated in the New Zealand courts, some of the cardboard got wet, was ruined and had to be replaced. Something about that reminded me of Jesus’ words as the Sermon on the Mount comes to a conclusion:

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash (Matthew 7:24-27).

Whatever we think of the Cardboard Cathedral, we are reminded of the many precarious ways in which we are tempted to build our lives and the church. We are tempted to build beautiful sandcastles to ourselves rather than churches that are focused on Christ. We are tempted to take the road of least resistance with God and others rather than the challenging path of Christ’s sacrifice. We are tempted to pin our dreams and desires on our ability to get things done rather than Christ’s ability to work in us and through us as we surrender ourselves to him.

I hope that this building stands tall and strong while the permanent structure is prepared. I hope that it is a beautiful place for people to worship God. I hope that it is a beacon of light for the people of Christchurch to come, hear the gospel and open their lives to Jesus. Only time will tell. Whether the Cardboard Cathedral is a success or a failure, we would be wise to make sure that our homes, our lives, our church are founded on Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer.