Earlier this afternoon, the province of British Columbia announced it will give $1 million to Christ Church Cathedral’s building campaign, which is raising money to repair the cathedral’s roof, add a new bell tower and expand its community outreach kitchen.
“This generous grant recognizes the place that Christ Church Cathedral holds in Vancouver and British Columbia,” said Bishop Melissa Skelton of the diocese of New Westminster, “and will help ensure that the cathedral community continues to play a significant role in meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the people of Vancouver.”
The campaign, called “Raise the Roof, Ring the Bells, Feed the Hungry,” aims to raise $7.5 million for a “badly needed new roof” and an “all-new illuminated glass bell spire,” and to double the size of its kitchen, which feeds 100 people a day during the coldest months of the year. Construction preparation on the project began last week.
Standing at the corner of Burrard and Georgia streets in the heart of Vancouver’s downtown, the cathedral is the city’s oldest surviving church. It has played a prominent role in the life of the city for much of its 127-year existence.
“Christ Church Cathedral has been enriching downtown Vancouver for more than a century,” said Sam Sullivan, the local MLA for Vancouver-False Creek and former mayor of the city, upon announcing the donation. “This expansion project will honour the church’s unique heritage while ensuring it can continue to feed the hungry and enhance the vibrancy and livability of our city.”
Dean Peter Elliott, the cathedral’s rector, agreed, noting the many forms of outreach in which Christ Church is involved. “It’s well-known; it’s well loved in the city,” he said. “But really, the most important legacy is that it is an active and growing Anglican congregation, inclusive in outlook, a place where everyone is welcome, and from this place there is a regular daily feeding program for the poor and hungry of Vancouver’s downtown.”
With the province’s donation, the campaign-which was launched in June 2014-will have raised over $5.5 million. A donation of $2.5 million from the Jack and Darlene Poole Foundation gave the campaign an initial boost, and the congregation itself has donated $1.2 million. The final $2 million has yet to be raised.
The bulk of the money-$3.1 million-will go to a new zinc roof, projected to last up to 100 years. The spire and bells will cost $1.5 million, while $800,000 is earmarked for expansion of the kitchen. The remaining funds will go toward taxes, permits, administration, design, relocation costs and contingencies.
The bell tower is one of the most striking elements of the campaign: for 40 years, it has been a dream of the congregation, a dream that will now be embodied by Sarah Hall’s Welcoming Light, a series of glass-art panels that will cover a spire that holds four bells.
Hall “is drawing on the history of Christ Church from its early origins as being the tallest building in Vancouver,” Elliott said. “In the late 19th- to early 20th century…[Christ Church] was the tallest point. It was called the ‘light on the hill,’ because mariners [could] navigate using the cathedral as a point of reference. So she wanted to reference that, but even more importantly, make a statement about the inclusive, welcoming nature of this community.”
While a church’s decision to spend more than a million dollars on something purely aesthetic might raise some eyebrows, Elliott sees the new spire as being a vital form of outreach.
“I think the Anglican tradition has a long history of being a champion of performing and visual artists,” he said. “There is, to the spiritual life, a strong link with the arts, with beauty. It’s one of the ways that we’re drawn to the divine.”
Elliott said that plans for the tower have already been met with excitement from the surrounding community. When meeting with neighbouring businesses and hotels about the project, he said he was “actually quite surprised by their enthusiasm for having a sound downtown that would bring people together, that would mark important things happening in the world, that would signal the beginning and end of the workday.”
Indeed, he went on to note that not one complaint was lodged about the building project in the weeks that the development permit was displayed in front of the cathedral. “It was completely supported by the city,” he said. “That says something.”
Elliott said that the bells will ring daily in the morning and evening, on Sundays and Christian feast days like Easter and Christmas, and to celebrate the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faith holidays, as well as civic celebrations.
But, as Elliott sees it, the purpose of the bells is best summed up by Joe Segal, a philanthropist and friend of the cathedral: “the bells will ring to let people know that God is alive in the city.”