It was standing-room-only for some at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, as a celebration of the end of major building work November 17 drew nearly three times the number of people organizers expected.
“It went very, very, well-beyond our expectations, in terms of the number of people who came, the excitement,” said Dean Peter Elliott. “We’re thrilled.”
Organizers had planned for 300 people to attend the event, marking the end of the latest phase of a 20-year repair and renovation project, Elliott said, but 850 showed up.
The event was to begin at 4:30 p.m., but the church’s nave, which can hold 500-550 people, was already almost full by 4 p.m., reported Topic, the newspaper of the diocese of New Westminster. By the time the ceremony began, many were standing wherever they could find space.
Audrey Siegl, a young woman from the Musqueam First Nation, began the event by formally welcoming participants to traditional Musqueam territory. Siegl, Elliott said, told the gathering that it felt like Christmas morning in the church because of the sense of excitement and anticipation.
With a cost of $9 million, the latest 18-month phase is one of the most important elements of the decades-long project, which has a total budget of $20 million.
One of the main goals of the project, a “seismic upgrade” meant to make the building more resistant to earthquake damage, is now complete. But there were many other important elements of the work on the cathedral, a Vancouver landmark since 1894. The old shingle roof has now been replaced with a zinc one, and the kitchen was more than doubled in size, to allow the church to better serve about 100 homeless people it feeds every day, Elliott said.
The most recent phase also saw the construction of a new bell spire of stained glass, containing four bronze bells custom-cast in France-to the knowledge of church officials, the only stained-glass bell spire in the world, Elliott said.
Asked by a CBC reporter about what the bells would be used for, Elliott said, they will ring each day at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. before church services. But, he said, the cathedral will seek out its “interfaith neighbours” about the possibility of ringing them out at the beginning of Ramadan, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah and other religious celebrations “to show we’re a peaceful city and we respect each other.”
The event began with a one-hour service featuring reflections by, among others, former cathedral dean Canon Herbert O’Driscoll and former B.C. minister of finance Carol Taylor, who reminded guests that the cathedral narrowly escaped being demolished and replaced by a new church and office tower in the 1970s. Taylor reminded people that “the perseverance of many Vancouverites outside of the membership of Christ Church Cathedral” helped to ensure that “[the church] is here for the community.”
There was choral music and Bible readings, followed by a blessing and dedication by Melissa Skelton, bishop of the diocese of New Westminster.
Attendees then stepped outside to view the new bell spire, lit from within by 200 lights, Elliott said. They cheered as each new bell was rung in turn, then returned inside for a champagne reception.