01 May 2013

The Bangladesh Building Collapse

by Dr Mark Keown

The horror of the Bangladesh building collapse has caused me not only to pray for those who are suffering so greatly as we all should, but to be thankful for NZ building codes. Not that these codes are always applied as they should be, as seen in the Christchurch earthquake when many died in one below-par building in particular. With this in mind, isn’t it great to live in a land where buildings are on the whole checked and maintained. While this is onerous and costly, it is a good thing when disaster strikes.

Of course and quite rightly, in light of the Christchurch earthquakes, the whole nation is now setting about strengthening buildings across the board. This will have massive implications for many organisations including churches, and especially those denominations which have a lot of old buildings which are very vulnerable. This is causing a lot of angst for individual churches and denominations as they face the terrible costs of bringing their buildings up to standard. There are huge questions of cost, who will pay? These are genuine questions which will no doubt bring great debate over the years.

However, when I think of the Christchurch earthquake and the Bangladesh situation, I believe we should see this challenge positively rather than negatively. Our nation should pride itself on the safety of its people. If there is one organisation that should have buildings that are safe and secure, it is the church. Of course, one can argue that we should ditch church buildings completely, after all, the early church met in homes. While this has some merit, the truth is that the early church met in homes because they had no choice, and as soon as the heat came off the church, they inhabited and built buildings in which they gathered to worship. While God does not dwell in temples made by human hands, buildings are very useful for the life of communities of faith.

So, we should be delighted and take up the challenge of ensuring our churches and buildings are fully compliant. It is a great opportunity to sell off some buildings, to rationalise, and to bring up to standard our church buildings. And as a nation we should be rapt that we live in a country where there are building codes, and we should ensure that we keep to them and ensure that our people are safe. Those of us who have responsibility for buildings have to ensure we do not cut corners as did the owners of the Bangladesh building.

In the meantime, let us pray for nations such as Bangladesh where people are so vulnerable because of poverty and failures in such areas as building safety. The dream is that the whole world has buildings that are safe and secure.

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