Martin Stewart serves as the Moderator of the Christchurch Presbytery, and as one of the ministers at St. Stephen’s Church and Community Centre. He is a highly-respected leader of the Presbyterian family here in New Zealand and in the midst of all that is pressing upon his time, emotions and energy, he is managing to keep the wider church informed about what is happening on the ground in Christchurch. Here is his latest reflection, and a pastoral letter penned in his capacity as Moderator:
‘I ventured across town today to the sea-side suburb of Redcliffs to help a woman load up stuff on a trailer – she is moving with her children to Queenstown – I had conducted her husband’s funeral late last year – the load for her is horrendous. We have been told to avoid travelling unnecessarily and we have heeded that. But heading over there was a real eye-opener. The scenes of devastation across the city are one thing on TV and quite another thing seeing it with my own eyes. What a mess and what dust! The piles of sand/dirt on the streets become normal, as does damage to every second or third building. I am surprised to find myself seeing these things and not reacting – it is as if this is has become normal. It is all abnormal, but the all-consuming nature of it numbs me.. Someone sent me the attached photo of the dust at the point of the earthquake – it is frightful.
The trip over was at 9am and I got there much faster than I anticipated in 20 minutes. Heading home at 11.30am was a different story, it took an hour and a half! The main arterial routes are all damaged.
Rev Dugald Wilson and I have been working for the last five months on earthquake matters for the Presbytery. We met with the assessors manager working for the Presbyterians on Friday. He was quite cut up by what he has seen and heard – he is a fine guy and because of this earthquake he will be bumped up the chain and not as available to us as he has been. He along with the insurers manager and engineer firm manager that we have been working with are all church-goers – it has really helped – we feel that the peculiarities of our ways of working are understood. Our assessor friend told us that this event along with September is the largest insurance event in the history of world insurance (recognising also that we are a high-level insured society). It is also the worst earthquake to hit an urban area in the world – not in magnitude but in the nature of the forces caused by the shallowness of the quake and its proximity to a city. With that knowledge, it is remarkable that there weren’t more fatalities. Every day or two the police reduce the projected number of fatalities, and the news today about there being no bodies in the Anglican Cathedral reminds us again that we have escaped the kinds of horror that many other cities and regions in the world have suffered.
The 600 food boxes from the Wellington Presbyterian churches have been delivered and the team have made their way back home’.
Here’s a wee video that tells something of that story:
A Pastoral Letter from the Moderator
What a troubled season we are in. The unfolding tragedy as bodies are pulled from the rubble in our city is simply horrible – we rejoiced that we had escaped fatalities in September, but now we lament the loss of many – the task ahead will be carried out with heavy hearts and take an extraordinary amount of energy. Our hearts go out to the many families and friends who are grieving the loss of loved ones. We are also mindful of the many hundreds of people who are working tirelessly for the welfare of our city – thank God for them all. Many are working in places of extreme danger – what a blessing they are.
We are having to juggle a multitude of tensions in these times – tragedy and triumph, loss and gain, death and life, despair and hope. So often news of human tragedies of great magnitude come to us from far-off places across the waters, but this time it is our city, our families and neighbours, and our houses, businesses and churches that are affected. I hope and pray that you are finding solace in your faith and support in your church families – draw deep from the well of God’s grace, and I also pray that you are discovering new opportunities to love and serve your neighbours and find the face of God in the faces of those who are around us.
The Presbytery has mobilised on a range of fronts – I list just some of them here:
1. Parish Twinning – linking west wide churches with the east side harder hit ones. Rev Hamish Galloway has written the following: “Heard of twin cities – what about twin parishes! Some of our parishes have been badly hit by the earthquake, others have come through with buildings and homes largely intact. This is a time to support each other and we are all looking for ways to do that. In the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes 4, two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken! The invitation is for those who are stronger in the present situation and those who have been hit badly to talk about forming a supportive relationship around things like facilities, personnel, services, etc … What parish can your parish begin this conversation with? What would the relationships look like? We would love to see these conversations initiated and then grow into genuine twin relationships. We would love to hear about it too as it unfolds so that where it is working we can share this as an inspiration to others.
2. A Mobile Minister – we are exploring the possibility of having one of our ministers circulating among the east-side churches – offering support and being a conduit between need and help. What this looks like and what form it takes will unfold in the next while, but in the meantime I have asked Rev Darryl Tempero to work in my name as a liaison person with the east-side churches in our care. He is also the point person helping arrange time out in North Auckland for people.
3. Emergency and relief accommodation – we are receiving many offers of accommodation for people in need from all over the country. Liz Whitehead is coordinating this. It can be for respite as well as emergency. To enquire about this please contact Liz via email or phone 027 257 7112 or (03) 314 8110.
4. Linking with all churches – the Revs Darryl Tempero and Phil King are establishing our linking with the inter-church group who have significant people and skill resources able to be directed to where there is need.
5. Building damage – we are attending to the processes of having buildings inspected by structural engineers, making buildings safe, restoration, and in some cases demolition, with assessors and insurers. We had made significant progress on this prior to 22 February. We anticipate that the problems in outlying areas will still progress swiftly, but given the needs in the CBD and in residences, the restoration process (assessment, costings, etc.) will be a longer process this time. Rev Dugald Wilson and I continue to be the ones to talk to about any issues you have. We work closely with all of the parish liaison people appointed last year. Sadly, St George’s in Linwood has already been demolished. We anticipate that the St Paul’s Trinity Pacific, Berwick Street, and St John’s in Lyttleton churches will also be demolished, and there are serious issues with the Knox, Mt Pleasant and North Avon churches. This is not an easy time.
6. Caring for the carers – I am concerned for the well-being of those who have responsibility for pastoral care, especially the ministers. Finding our way ahead is going to take a very long time and I encourage Sessions and Parish Councils to encourage their ministers to attend supervision, take appropriate time off each week, a weekend a term, and also to have at least a week of leave on the near horizon. I ask you to please be generous in helping your ministers look after themselves.
7. PCANZ appeal – the Presbyterian Church has launched an appeal to support our churches. Congregations and individuals can make an offering by direct bank credit to the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, account number 02 0500 0086963 00 with the reference: CHQUAKE, or mail their offering to, Financial Services, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, PO Box 9049, Wellington 6141. There is information about this on the PCANZ webpage. As a Presbytery we have asked the Assembly office to handle all donations and letters of support so that we are freed from that administrative load. Congregations have been invited to seek financial relief. It would help if I could be informed of any plans you have to access this.
8. Messages of Support – the PCANZ website has also listed many of the letters of support from around the world. They are very encouraging – the prayers of millions are with us.
9. Stories – the Archives Department of our church has also been offering informative material about what is happening here along with things of a historical nature. Yvonne’s blog is well-worth a regular visit.
I encourage folk to approach the Presbytery with any concerns you have or information you need. The Presbytery is here to resource you in your partnership in God’s mission in your communities. Our resources are stretched and we are tired, but we are not alone – we have one another and God’s enabling Spirit is our strength. Our Lord calls to those who are weak and heavy-laden to come to him and find rest and their burdens eased.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
If you are of the praying kind, please keep Mart and the people of New Zealand in your prayers.