‘Broken but still Beating’ – Rev. Geoff King

A letter from the Rev. Geoff King of Knox Church Christchurch, reflecting on Friday the 18th of March, and the Memorial Service.

Dear friends

 It is 6.30 on Friday morning, and in an hour’s time I’ll be at what remains of our church on the corner of Victoria St and Bealey Ave, affixing a couple of banners to the fencing that’s been erected to protect the thousands of people expected to walk past on their way to the memorial service in Hagley Park from possible injury from falling bricks and glass.  Reprising the banner we put up after the September quake (Cracked, not broken:  the heart of Canterbury) this one will say ‘Broken, but still beating:  the heart of Christchurch is people like us.’ 

 The accompanying image will be of a heart superimposed over the broken Celtic cross which formerly sat on the apex of our Victoria St gable, and had formed since September 2010 a focal point in our new worship space in the Knox Centre Hall.  Alongside there will be another banner proclaiming ‘We’re still open – just not here’ – and advising that we now meet for worship at the Elmwood School Auditorium a few blocks away.  (Our hall and centre are still ‘red stickered’ because of bricks on the roof and danger from a neighbouring building). 

 Both banners have been printed by a member of our congregation whose home has been largely destroyed by liquefaction and whose printing business has only just got up and running again.  Although life is far from easy for him and his family at the moment, he has also offered to print our orders of service in the meantime and refuses to accept any payment for any of this work…

 By 9 am today Hagley Park will be filling for a ceremony about which there are decidedly mixed feelings here.  I am one of those who believes that public rituals are very important, but I believe that it is too soon for what appears to have been planned.  I say ‘appears’ because in spite of some excellent ecumenical work being done here at present, to my knowledge the memorial service has been put together with no consultation with any of my Presbyterian colleagues  – not that any of us are wanting to push ourselves or our own congregations forward, but rather that some of us may have had ideas to offer had we been asked.  So I’m not clear whether the purpose of the event is to grieve for and say goodbye to the city (which seems to me to be premature, given that there are still some missing people who’ve not been located in the rubble) or to provide a uniting and aesthetically uplifting event for the masses (which aim is not unworthy but possibly incompatible with the previous one), or to enable a member of the royal family and visiting dignitaries to see and be seen by the masses… I suppose all will be revealed sometime after 9 am. 

 Despite being phoned after mid-day yesterday and being asked to be present all day as one of 11 volunteer counsellors/chaplains, I’ve decided I will not be attending the memorial service.  Although part of me would like to be there to demonstrate my solidarity with and care for Anglican colleagues who will probably be conducting and involved in the service, and another part of me wants to support members of the wider community who may need a sympathetic listening ear…

 After putting up the banners I’ll head back home and start working on Sunday’s sermon, as well as editing Saturday’s wedding ceremony for the son of our organist and his Japanese bride, whose family will be arriving in Christchurch today from Tokyo having lived through their own horrifying earthquake.  Their decision to proceed with their celebration is in itself a statement of hope and a heart-warming reminder, as recent posts have stated, that ‘love always wins’ – something we need to hear and enact repeatedly in these difficult times.

 I’m not sure about others, but for me the almost unrelenting succession of so-called natural disasters in recent months has led me to approach the Lenten season somewhat differently this year.  I was impressed and encouraged by the workshop on trauma recovery I attended on Tuesday, which featured the reflections of members of an Anglican team who went to Samoa following the earthquake and tsunami there in 2009.  Alongside their practical work, enabling people to re-connect and affirming their resilience in the face of this disaster, the team also articulated a theology which enabled people to come to terms with what they had experienced in life-affirming ways.  The quake and tsunami were not interpreted as acts of divine retribution or judgement, but as forces of nature which have their own patterns, and which sometimes conflict with the patterns and needs of the human beings who inhabit the earth.  God was not seen as a supernatural ‘mover and shaker’, but rather as an incarnational wounded healer (to borrow a term from Henri Nouwen) – thus reaffirming the Christ at the heart of Christian faith. 

 I make no claim to be a systematic theologian, but I do believe that this is a time for those of us who claim to be Christian (and especially those entrusted with leading worship and preaching) to be thinking – and living – theologically. And for me, the only theology that works at the moment is incarnational – because all around me I see embodied the compassion Jesus lived among us – and the reason for the wording of the banner is my belief that this compassion, this love comes from a heart that includes but is also much bigger than the Christian Church…

 Yesterday a huge stack of baking arrived at the manse from the congregation of Knox Dunedin;  I am greatly looking forward to sharing that out with people who need and will appreciate it over the next few days.  I could go on, but I need to get the bike out of the garage and get down to Bealey Avenue …

 With gratitude, and in the unfolding mystery of love that somehow sustains us

Geoff King.

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