Sunday, September 05, 2010

being church in an earthquake zone

Given that only a few months ago, I was pastoring in Christchurch, my thoughts in the last 24 hours have revolved around wondered what I’d do if I was pastoring, being church in the midst of such destruction.

My current thoughts (and I’m at distance, so might be way of beam) revolve around creating some sort of communal drop-in point for at least the next 7 days. Open the foyer from 9 am-3 pm. Provide hot soup. Set up some breadmakers and get a lovely warm, home smell into the place. Since schools are being closed, set up an area for kids to play, with a range of games. My hunch is that people will want ways to be together, to share, laugh, cry. So tables with food allow that to happen naturally.

Some people might want a more focused listening ear, so I’d set up some “sharing couches” and have some designated “listeners” who would simply be there to listen. I’d tell them to keep an ear out for those who might need more focused help, 50+ after shocks and counting might led to trauma for some.

I’d set up a range of prayer stations, that would allow people to engage with God. Words are hard to find in the midst of shock, so I’d focus on simple, tactile ways to pray.

“Oh help” station – with candles and sand trays to lit in memory of things that are lost, broken, damaged, missing. Simply helping people name the grief and the shock.

“Whew, that was close” station – post-it notes or clothes line prayers (string and some pegs), in which people could give thanks for what they still have – life, food, neighbours, friends, a professional Civil Defence … and so on. Simply helping people pay attention to moments of grace.

“Seeking beauty” station – a sort of craft table, in which people could make something of beauty. For some this would be facile. For others, it’s a part of being human and it can be a way of helping people focus beyond themselves. I’d make it communal and expect that lots of healing chat would happen.

“Where is God” station – a thinking station. Often at times like this God’s name get’s used in some pretty naive ways. Quietly ignored for years while the good times roll, yet suddenly named in the midst of devastation. In all sorts of ways – judgement for sin or suddenly micro-manager of the world. At this station, I’d probably put up some prayers prayed by those who throughout history have experienced tragedy. Perhaps blow them up big ie A2 size, with pens, and expect people to engage in response. Some examples might be Psalms of lament of which there is a huge range. Without checking them all for suitability:

  • some Community Psalms of lament include 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129; while
  • some Individual Psalms of lament include 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52*, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142. Yes, heaps, because unexpected tragedy and pain is part of being human.
  • here is a sermon I preached, using one particular Psalm (69), after the Mangatepopo River tragedy plus some words and liturgical ideas we used at the time
  • a pile of other prayers in disaster are here (,

I’m not sure whether I’d have a station in relation to giving aid – whether practical or financial. My hunch is that at least for the first few days, the most important thing is simply space to pray and most of all, ways to naturally be together, eat together, laugh together.  But again, I’m miles away, so might be really out of touch.

Posted by steve at 02:46 PM


  1. Steve, thanks for sharing your plans. Your comments are helpful for me, giving focus for my prayers. Being far away limits the practicality of our response – we can’t set up the gathering places or provide the praying places that you envisage. Our prayers this morning remembered you and your people, and our praying group will uphold the people of Christchurch. We can ensure that the followers of Jesus there will know that we support them in their need. Please let us know what ways we at Brighton can help.

    Comment by Graham Vawser — September 5, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

  2. As always Steve an inspiration where ever you are!! Beky (8yrs) got lots of comfort from writing and drawing in her journal today – maybe that sort of material for kids too

    Comment by Jo Wall — September 5, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

  3. Steve, I love these ideas. Having lived through the Northridge earthquake (mag 6.8) in So. Calif. a number of years ago, I think your insight about people wanting to be together and needing various ways to process the event are right on. I appreciate your thoughts on stretching our ideas of how to pray and even what to pray in times of crisis.

    Comment by Maria — September 6, 2010 @ 2:06 am

  4. appreciate the feedback folk. it’s so weird to be in a world that is both so small and so big. I can get instant earthquake updates, yet be powerless to do anything but pray and grieve,


    Comment by steve — September 6, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

  5. Steve, I look forward to a conversation with you one day about the paradox of powerless prayer – not doing, but being; not functioning but feeling; not acting but loving – in the name of our omnipotent and powerless God who heals us by grieving with us.

    Comment by Graham Vawser — September 6, 2010 @ 8:29 pm

  6. Steve,
    I can only imagine how hard this is for you not being there to help. You have provided a very good resource for those there and to be used in future situations. Well done.

    You & yours in Oz and the folk in NZ are in our thoughts and prayers.

    Comment by Bill Kinnon — September 7, 2010 @ 3:54 am

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