Christchurch earthquake: Faithful flock to church services

By Paul Harper, NZPA

An open air church service at the Christchurch South library in Beckenham. Photo / NZPA
An open air church service at the Christchurch South library in Beckenham. Photo / NZPA

Thousands of people in Christchurch as well as the rest of the country today paid their respects to those killed in Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

Many church services in Christchurch were held in the open air because of the large number of churches damaged or destroyed in the 6.3 magnitude quake.

On the lawn of Christchurch South Library on Colombo St, hundreds arrived on bicycles and on foot to reflect on the tragic event.

The trees surrounding the lawn provided a buffer to the busy street bustling with emergency services and people walking back and forwards with water containers.

"Quite a few churches around the city do not have clearance and people are nervous about being in an enclosed space anyway so we have decided to meet outside," the Reverend Alan Webster, who conducted the Christchurch South Library service, told NZPA.

"This is an open space where people can relax together."

Most of the cross-denomination congregation sat on deck chairs. Many brought their pet dogs and picnic rugs and scones and cups of tea were handed out as hymns are sung.

Local resident Murray Amtman said his family did not usually attend church but felt the need to be with people this week.

"We just wanted to pay our respects and be with other people as well."

Members of the congregation told each other stories of survival and there were tears, hugs and smiles of support.

"We wouldn't go to church normally but we needed to come and share our story today. It is better than sitting alone crying and togetherness is good for the spirit," Hoon Hay resident Kendra Street said.

She, her husband and their two-year-old son had not been allowed back in to their house since Tuesday but she considered her family lucky as they had access to water and power when many did not.

Jennifer Hamilton's usual church, the Holy Cross Chapel in the Square is lying in a heap of rubble inside the cordon zone.

She said she had been driving past when she saw the group of worshippers gathering and decided to join in.

"I felt the need to get together with people and worship," she said.

Lyndsay Freer, Auckland Catholic Diocese spokesperson said despite the destruction, mass was celebrated across Christchurch this weekend.

"In the Christchurch diocese there are 49 parishes, in the greater Christchurch city there are 20 and 14 are declared safe and will be celebrating masses this weekend."

People from damaged parishes will be attending neighbouring parishes, she said.

"Of the ones damaged, the main one is our cathedral - a lot has been said about the Anglican cathedral in the square - our own cathedral was opened in 1905. It's regarded as one of the most remarkable in the country and it's severely damaged."

The building suffered minor damage in the September 4 quake, but following the massive damage suffered this week it may be demolished.

"It's horrible for Catholics across New Zealand," Ms Freer said. "It's a horrible sight."

She said each parish will have its own sermon, but all will share the words of the Christchurch Catholic Diocese Bishop Barry Jones.

"It's a time where you open your heart to God," Ms Freer said. "It's about coming together to pray for those affected by the earthquake."

She said most Catholics would not blame God for the death and destruction in the city.

"God didn't cause the earthquake to happen," she said. "For some it might be a test of their faith, but for most it will make us more steadfast in our faith."

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