CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (RNS/ENInews) Worshippers gathered outdoors on Sunday (Feb. 27) after an earthquake ravaged New Zealand’s second-largest city, meeting in unfamiliar churches and next to damaged buildings to reflect, pray, mourn and give thanks.
The death toll from the Feb. 22 quake reached 147 on Sunday, and is expected to double as dozens were trapped in wreckage. The entire central city was cordoned off as hundreds of rescuers continue to find bodies in the rubble.
“It’s going to be a very poignant day for a lot of our people today, as they reflect … on our values,” Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker wrote in the New Zealand Herald. “It’s a day of everybody reaching out. We need to keep our spirits up.”
Church leaders scrambled to contact members to advise them of Sunday service locations; even churches that appeared undamaged could not be accessed until inspected by authorities.
“Some of our churches were run in the open air outside the damaged buildings,” said the Rev. Dugald Wilson of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church on the outskirts of the city, which suffered minor damage.
“We played Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘Rise Up’, and one of my colleagues got a PowerPoint together. It was a very powerful moment. We also got our choir to sing a beautiful blessing at the end, to remind us of God’s presence,” Wilson said.
Anglican clergy throughout the country read out a joint statement from Christchurch Bishop Victoria Matthews, Maori Anglican Bishop John Gray and Archbishop David Moxon: “Although debris and wreckage are in evidence on every street and both the army and emergency services are a constant presence, courtesy and consideration prevail.”
Parishioners set up rows of chairs under the trees on the lawn of St. Barnabas, an 86-year-old Anglican church where the quake cracked stone walls, shattered some stained glass windows and left the tower sinking.
The Rev. Philip Robinson tried to rally the congregation: “This is not called Christchurch for nothing. We will rise again,” he said, drawing a few smiles.
Parishioners at the almost-destroyed Knox Presbyterian Church attended various services across the city. “Our congregation was all over the place,” the Rev. Geoff King said.
At Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the Rev. John Fitzmaurice gave a homily of hope and spoke of the goodness of God. The congregation gathered to talk afterwards — minus coffee or tea as there was no water or toilet facilities due to earthquake damage.
– David Crampton, Religion News Service