I’ve just returned from the Christchurch Hospital via Victoria Street, Bealey Ave, St Albans, Papanui and Merivale on a beautifully mild spring day. Everywhere there is activity as people continue removing bricks from driveways, try to make roofs and walls waterproof with sheets of ply and tarpaulins, and wait for the insurance assessors to come. Elsewhere in the city people are still living in welfare centres set up to accommodate those made homeless by the quake, and in the midst of all this businesses are re-opening, people are drinking coffee in some of the cafes still functioning and going for walks and bike rides with their kids. Last night the largest aftershock of the evening fortunately came early, so some of us got more sleep than we’ve had for the last several days.
Yesterday the moderator of the PCANZ Graham Redding made a visit to Christchurch, and his concern for ministers and congregations affected by the quake was and is much appreciated, as is Martin Stewart’s initiative as presbyter moderator in facilitating this visit and getting us together for some collegial support. Whilst for some congregations the usual run of services continues this weekend, several are joining with others, and others are forced by damaged church buildings to meet in their halls. We all continue to be grateful for your emails, thoughts and prayers at a time of sadness and disruption for many of our people; I’m sorry that I cannot say the same for the announcement that General Assembly is still to be held in Christchurch at the end of September, which members of my congregation who live in the area in which Assembly is to be held, several other presbytery colleagues, and members of other community organisations that have cancelled conferences here out of concern for our infrastructure and local residents have received with a sense of disbelief. I don’t want to get into an email discussion about this issue; the last thing I think any of us needs right now is to waste time and energy needed to care for people on an internal church debate. I simply need to record the fact that this decision is not supported by a number of us down here for a variety of reasons, including what we believe our priorities in ministry should be at this time and the signal that bringing a business-oriented meeting into a fragile region at a time of crisis sends to our wider community about the priorities of our national church.
Yesterday I also met with local colleagues to plan a combined service of worship for members of the St Andrew’s at Rangi Ruru, St Paul’s Trinity Pacific and Knox congregations for tomorrow morning. It has been wonderful to be made welcome by the people of St Andrew’s, and to know that our congregation has somewhere to meet for however long it takes for us to regain the use of our hall. The Knox church building has been made as safe as it can be, and I am hopeful that come Christmas time we may be able to throw a party of some sort for the demolition crews who have worked so hard and taken such care to preserve what they could, as well as other groups and individuals who have actively supported local people throughout this time. I am also in awe of people in my congregation who’ve been putting in huge hours at the Civil Defence Welfare Centres, checking up on and taking food to neighbours and people in their elders’ districts, and managing relief efforts on a wider scale; please continue to remember the mayors and councillors of Chch and the Waimakariri, their teams and all the people working to support others, and those ministering to people in the most affected areas such as Kaiapoi in your prayers.
It’s just gone 3 pm and time to stop for lunch! Then I need to start thinking about what to do during the family time in tomorrow’s service, which may well involve children from my own congregation and children I’ve never met before, each of whom will have had different experiences and be bringing different needs. Mindful of the dangers of re-traumatising and pathologising recent experience, I think I’m going to take the advice of Yvonne Smith, chaplain at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, who will be talking with students on Monday about how well they have managed and asking questions about the best thing they noticed or experienced in the past week, rather than doing what too many TV reporters seem to do by asking the ludicrous, totally redundant question ‘were you scared?’ I think I want to do something to affirm the quality of compassion and caring I’ve witnessed in all sorts of people over these last seven days, and to proclaim the good news that love like this is stronger than even the biggest earthquake, and certainly stronger than fear.
It is humbling and also inspiring to be a small part of a very big circle of caring at the moment. Thank you for taking the time to read these updates, and thanks to all who’ve made contact, some with offers of support, others simply with emails saying you’re thinking of and praying us. It does make a difference.
Yours in the great love – a phrase I learned from my beloved friend and neighbour John Hunt, whose congregation is also meeting in their hall this week –