City in Ruins

Six years on from the devastating earthquake in my home city of Christchurch it was so very special to spend the evening prior to the anniversary in the care of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band who performed in Christchurch.
I enjoyed the whole three hour experience – the energy, the big-heartedness, the brokenness and the joyfulness of all that was offered.

20170221_205907But in particular I (along with the other 30,000 people it seemed) was moved to the core by his rendition of My City In Ruins.  The opportunity for collective lament in a sensitive ten-minute long rendition of the song was hugely helpful.  To be carefully lifted from lament to hope with the words ‘Come on, rise up, rise up’ was healing in the sense of being able to recognise from this distance that a rising had indeed taken place.  Slowly but surely a foothold in the future has emerged, for the city, for the majority of its people, and for me in my work and my other modes of life.  We have been held.

It was great to be invited into the kind of space where I could traverse the journey.  I hadn’t expected to be moved so deeply.  Thanks Bruce!  Thanks for the genuineness of your empathy and care.

Decommissioning Prayer

I have been asked several times lately if I have a liturgy for the closure of a church building.  In many traditions the prayer of closing a building is described as reconsecrating – in the Presbyterian tradition we only commission a building for a purpose and decommission it when the time comes for it to be moved on.

This does seem to be a season of moving on.  The decline of many traditional expressions of church life has led to the letting go of church buildings.   Continue reading

Site Blessing


An opportunity to gather a small circle of people (only as many as we could find flouro vests for) to offer a site blessing for the new church building at Bryndwr… a long way down the line from the earthquakes that begun in 2010!

God, in many different ways you call us into partnership in your creativity and we sense your delight in what comes of it.

We pray for a joyful spirit in all that happens here, that all of those involved will have sense of what kind of community they are building for and in whose name it will be commissioned.



Christchurch City Tour

Yesterday I accompanied my mother on an open-top double-decker bus tour of the central city in Christchurch.  It was an excellent trip – hands-free for the photographer(!) and a helpful perspective of the many changes this city is undergoing.  The largeness of the vacant lots stands out, but also the progress.  The commentary on the bus was excellent – informative and at times quite funny.  They also began the tour by wishing my mother happy birthday – she was 80 yesterday!  We completed a splendid morning with a yummy lunch at Christchurch’s Cafe of the Year, Hello Sunday.

Christchurch New Zealand 30 May 2015

Recently I found some archival versions of emails I sent out into the wild blue yonder of cyberspace 4 years ago in the aftermath of the major Christchurch earthquake sequence.  Here it is:

Sometimes it seems like a long time ago – even another lifetime.  The aftershocks are very rare now, at least the ones we can feel.  I am a 3.3 man – anything under 3.3 doesn’t register with me.  There have been 14 tremors in the last week…weak and light apparently… I have missed them all.  I am glad of it!

Sometimes it is like it never happened.  The house works, the animals are relaxed, the phone rings and the person contacting me doesn’t talk about their earthquake issues.

But then, like at lunchtime today, there is a rumble outside and the noise of it makes me wonder if an aftershock is coming…I pause…waiting for the escalation and revelation.  It is a truck.  I move on barely registering that this is an odd way to behave.  In the past I could never have imagined that this would be the staging of a significant part of my life.  My new normal.

But it is not normal.

In the city the roads are still all over the place, especially off the main routes.  There are cranes everywhere flashing their aircraft warning lights all night.  A good sign of moving on, I guess, but the gaps between these building sites are enormous.  There is a long way to go.

One of my sons has moved into a flat out east.  He is a block away from the ‘red zone’ – the buffer zone on both sides of the Avon River now devoid of houses and eerily silent when you risk the pot holes and drive along the once proud neighbourhood roadways.

I did an early morning photo-shoot out at New Brighton at Easter and it seemed as if there had been absolutely no attention given to the primary access roads to this significant coastal suburb.  It felt like I was entering a third world country.  I live out west, I am pampered.  I feel guilty.  How come, four years on, it feels as if the earthquakes have just happened out there?!

I received a phone call on Friday – a woman thanking Anne and I for arranging some emergency food for her daughter.  I heard that another daughter is living in a house where she is paying $430 a week in rent and the house exterior is plugged with goo because the damage from the earthquakes has rendered it beyond repair, but some landlord is still making money from renting it to people too poor to be able to afford to move somewhere else to a house in better condition.

Christchurch is no picnic.

I love my work and the community of people I interact with – I really love what I do and who I do it with – but living here continues to test me.

And then Japan and Nepal, and the devastating earthquakes there and I know that comparably we have nothing to complain about.

Meanwhile, in our church community we are anticipating that we will build on out two sites this year.  The St Stephen’s Church building in Bryndwr was demolished a few years ago.  The St Giles Church building in Papanui was demolished earlier.  We have combined to form The Village Church.  It seems to be thriving enough despite this precarious season of struggling churches.  The building process is another challenge again – we are building community-facing buildings rather than buildings with pointy roofs that are disused most of the week – there seem to be plenty of them about so we don’t feel the need to add two more.  We see this as an opportunity to re-engage and re-connect with the community if they will let us.  It is very experimental and kind of fun.  I worry that we will not have enough money to build these spaces – the building costs have risen dramatically and the demands for structurally sound buildings are, quite rightly, high, but also expensive. The politics of working between peoples hopes, aspirations, frustrations and expectations is challenging.  But that is what it takes to live and work here…handling the politics.

Christchurch has become a city of energy, frustration, anger, hope, wonder, divides, despair, desperation, progress, regress, opportunity, exploitation, possibility, imagination, and degeneration.  We have a long way to go.

Changes in Christchurch – the ‘Red Zone’


The photo is the area where three of our churches walked out around $85,000 of supermarket vouchers to severely affected people in Christchurch. It is stunning to see what has happened. Hopefully all the affected people have found a new and better space in which to live. I know one family for whom the relocation has been successful albeit slow and at times massively disruptive.

3 years on

It is interesting to ponder life and all its joys and challenges as the third anniversary of the catastrophic February 22 earthquake in Christchurch comes by.  The ‘earthquake natives’ tell their stories of where they were – they are remembered vividly.  Our family stories offer four contrasting experiences.
Anne at home with dog barking, fish tank breaking, floor flooded with flapping fish, kitchen cupboards evacuating, and crockery breaking.
Sam at work at Misceo cafe with wine bottles breaking, staff panicking and next door the sound of hundreds of wine bottles toppling and breaking – he got called to help pull a collapsed chimney off a woman… she lost her legs.  After we caught up with him he biked into the city against the flow of people, looking for Josh.
Josh over the road from his central city school in a skateboard shop (it was lunchtime) grabbing a panicked young woman and heading out of the building only to witness many of the verandahs above the footpath collapsing against the shop windows – luckily the one where he was held.  Many people died in the precinct around him because of collapsing shop canopies.  He then made his way in the dust and rubble to Latimer Square – having to run for his life during the first aftershock as brick buildings beside him began to collapse.  He walked past the CTV building where 115 people died.  Later, after having met up with Sam, they walked out of the city – past the PGG building where 18 people died.  We didn’t have telephone contact with the boys for several hours.
Me at Canterbury University in the dining room of Rochester & Rutherford Hall where I do some chaplaincy.  Stupidly I dived under a grand piano – there were plenty of sturdy tables around but I am an idiot… After calming students and witnessing a van nearly tip over in the first aftershock I made my way home to the fish carnage, news of substantial damage in the central city, no power, and the very real and prolonged fear for Josh.  It was very destabilising – especially as there was little we could do for anyone.
My ongoing involvement was with our immediate church community and the leadership with others in the regional Presbyterian community.  I remember a moment one day a week or so later when I was handling two urgent emails on different computers while answering the telephone, when I also received a mobile phone call and the front door bell sounded as someone was dropping off food for the east-side of the city.  I learned to step out of my masculine limitations over those months – I learned to multi-task!
The thing that remains with me is the amazing post-quake influx of skilled and risk-taking people, untold resources, and encouragement and prayerfulness of people from all corners of the globe.  It was and remains quite overwhelming.  We are very thankful!
The city and its people are still recovering… some things are as they always were, but many things are changed – some forever.  It is not an easy city to live in, yet.  The city is still broken and many people are having considerable problems negotiating the ongoing disruption to their lives and especially to their homes.  But humans are wonderful at adapting to the world they find themselves in.
The photographs are from the city centre on 22 February taken by Sam as he biked in looking for Josh.  A wee sign of hope is in the last photographs are of a new cafe in Sydenham where Sam and Josh are working.  It is called Hello Sunday and it formally opens this weekend.  Hello Sunday – hello resurrection day!  New things spring forth and this little cafe (and the people around it) is very special indeed.  We live on.
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