Late on the afternoon of November 17, with blessings, acknowledgements, applause, singing, ringing bells, smart phones held high to record the moment – and champagne – Christ Church Cathedral (the Anglican cathedral of the Diocese of New Westminster) celebrated the completion of 20 years of renovation, restoration, innovation and renewal of the Vancouver landmark. (The church at the corner of Burrard and Georgia in the downtown core is now more than 130 years old.)
Ring Out! celebrated the completion of the most recent phase, but it is safe to say that many of the people in the gathering had been around since the arrival of the dean and rector, the Very Reverend Dr. Peter Elliott who, within a year of beginning his ministry in 1994 had a vision for the church.
$20 million, 20 years, five projects
Within the 20 years (and $20 million raised for the work) there have been five projects:
- The Exterior: plaza, kiosks, exterior lighting, stained glass window fortification and repair of the stone building cladding;
- Restoration and Renewal: a dramatic rejuvenation of the entire interior, including a good portion of the seismic upgrading, the building of an organ gallery, the installation of a new tracker action organ, the west chancel prayer alcove now home to the Prayers of the Church liturgical textile display, and a place of honour in the east chancel alcove to preserve the battle flags of Vancouver’s regiments;
- Accessibility for All People: an adjunct of phase two saw the construction of an elevator, wheelchair ramps to the chancel entrance and upper level washroom;
- The Tree of Life: a stained glass window created by Susan Point, thanks to a generous gift from the late Jean MacMillan Southam, installed in the south-facing narthex wall;
- Raise the Roof, Ring the Bells, Feed the Hungry: the most recent project, which saw the cathedral building hidden under scaffolding for 18 months while the shingle roof was replaced by a zinc covering, completion of the seismic upgrade begun in 2003, the tiny kitchen in the lower level enlarged and updated in order to facilitate the cathedral’s growing food ministry and the new construction of a stained glass-clad bell spire containing four bells custom forged in Annecy, France. (A nine-minute video illustrates how the Raise The Roof, Ring the Bells, Feed the Hungry project was carried out.)
The most recent phase saw the congregation worshipping in a conference room in a downtown hotel for much of 2015.
It takes a city to raise a cathedral
The formal welcome by Audrey Siegl of Musqueam First Nation was followed by a brief address from Peter Elliott. He said he had been obliged to alter the first few lines of his opening remarks due to the outcome of the US presidential election the week before, saying, “In the words of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton it takes a village to raise a child . . . it takes a city to raise a cathedral.”
This theme of the City of Vancouver’s contribution and involvement in the completion of the work on the building was present throughout the 50 minute service.
Next was a new hymn, ’Ring Out Vancouver Bells,’ written by the cathedral’s vicar, the Reverend Dr. Ellen Clark-King:
Ring out Vancouver bells! Let all the city hear God’s love song, filled with peace and hope, in music deep and clear. Ring out, ring out, bright bells! Calling our minds to rise away from thoughts of selfish gain, to hear our neighbours’ cries
Ring out, ring out sweet bells! To tell our holy tale of God’s close presence with us now, and love that does not fail. Ring out cathedral bells! In joy and faith and love; remind us that our home is God, both here and then above.
High profile guests
The service continued with a reading from Isaiah by Bard on the Beach founder, Christopher Gaze, and an acknowledgment by CBC Radio’s Early Edition host Rick Cluff of all those involved in the project (among them Darlene Poole, representing the Jack Poole Foundation, whose $2.5 million gift launched the most recent campaign).
Carol Taylor, OC [former SFU Chancellor, Vancouver city councillor and BC MLA] noted that Christ Church was almost demolished and a new church and office tower built in its place in the mid-1970s.
She reminded the gathering that the perseverance of many Vancouverites outside of the membership of cathedral helped ensure that “Christ Church Cathedral is here for the community.”
Bishop sought God’s blessing
Bishop Melissa Skelton offered a prayer of blessing:
God of strength and beauty, we ask your blessing on the work of our hands. May light, music and solace flow freely from this cathedral church into our beloved city.
May your mercy ring out and your truth shine forth that all who see this place and hear its bells may know that your heart cradles all creation and that you are present in our midst. In the name of the one who showed us that love and presence most clearly, Jesus Christ our friend and brother.
Viewing the bell spire
Following directions from Peter Elliott, the 800-plus audience emptied out onto Burrard Street, producing a happy gasp when the bell spire lit up. That was followed by the ‘Westminster Chime,’ the individual ring of each bell in sequence. A period of silence prompted folks to yell out “more! more!” and then the bells rang for approximately three minutes, delighting the crowd.
When the bells stopped swaying and the joyful ringing was replaced by the sounds of rush hour in the city it was time to go back into the building where both levels were venues for a champagne reception.
Bells to ring twice each day
Responding to a CBC reporter about the intended use of the bells, Elliott said:
The bells are set to ring each day at 8 am and 6 pm and before church services. . . . We’re also talking to our interfaith neighbours. For example, they could ring out at the beginning of Ramadan, Diwali, Rosh Hashana or other religious celebrations to show we’re a peaceful city and we respect each other.
Asked about the impact of the bells on the downtown Vancouver neighbourhood, he added, “Its going to be interesting, there hasn’t been a bell spire at the corner of Burrard and Georgia in downtown Vancouver until just Thursday night, so we’ll see how people respond.”
This article is re-posted by permission; for the full version go here.
To see a video of the entire service go here; the liturgy begins at 37:40 and the reflection begins at 55:10. For detailed stories about each element of the Raise the Roof, Ring the Bells, Feed the Hungry project go here.