A highly commendable account

This review first appeared in the February 2015 issue of the NZ Christian Writer magazine

Rubble to Resurrection is an excellent over-view of how churches throughout greater Christchurch pitched in to help with the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and the aftershocks that followed. Of particular note is the excellent research that has gone into compiling the stories told in each chapter. This involved personally interviewing 56 priests, ministers, pastors, secretaries and administrators representing over 95 churches of various denominations, demographics and ethnicities. Also noteworthy is Melissa's attention to detail in acknowledging her sources of information in footnotes and appendices. She has also provided additional information at the end of several chapters.

While Melissa does not claim to have provided an exhaustive summary of every-thing each church did, she has achieved her primary goal which is to 'tell our stories to each other...' As many of the churches responded in similar ways or worked together to meet the needs of people, she has focused on a theme in each chapter, rather than on individual denominations. Some of the themes include: Responding to the Emergency; Walking with the Wounded; Caring for the Kids; Supporting the Seniors; Encouraging the Weary; Restoring the Soul.

Well written and interesting, Rubble to Resurrection is a highly commendable book every New Zealander should read.
Reviewer: Debbie McDermott, Editor for New Zealand Christian Writers

Churches rebuild with hope

This review first appeared on page 15 of the February edition of Touchstone, the NZ Methodist magazine.

The evocative title speaks of hope. Melissa Parsons’ aim is to tell the stories of how people in Canterbury churches experienced the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. The book is based on interviews with 56 people from 95 churches. The stories recognise that the earthquakes were devastating in their effects but there is no hint of preoccupation with trouble or self-pity. Melissa gathers the stories under three headings: The Church Responds; The Church Grieves; The Church Rebuilds.

Whether referring to the initial earthquake of 4 September 2010 or the more damaging earthquake of 22 February 2011, those involved felt a sense of helplessness in being caught up in events over which they had no control. New Zealand is officially well-prepared for civil emergency, but in a massive natural disaster official emergency services cannot cope without spontaneous and freely-offered help from other individuals and organisations. In this situation the churches were among those stepping in to help. Boundaries between church and state became of secondary importance in a huge cooperative venture.

The immediate response by churches included distributing essential supplies such as food and water. This was generally well organised and not limited to helping only church members. The churches were well-equipped to provide pastoral care for people bereaved and stressed by the loss of homes and neighbourhoods. This included care for people from the international community many of whom were students in Christchurch. Drop-in centres and a “ministry of coffee” filled an important role.  Pastoral care was also offered to tow truck drivers and contractors demolishing buildings who were under considerable stress.

Churches were grieving because of the loss of much-loved members and the loss of buildings that were either damaged beyond repair or rendered immediately unusable. The churches of Canterbury have all determined that their identity would not be undermined by the loss of their worship spaces and undamaged churches have extended hospitality to community groups that  lost their usual venues

For some, earthquakes raise questions about God’s nature. Melissa mentions a range of theological perspectives including that, in the midst of disaster, God is present in people who love and care.

The churches have contributed in various ways to rebuilding the spirit of the people of Canterbury. The book ends with a summary of some of the things churches believe that have learned through responding to earthquake, Ten Top Tips for Disaster Preparedness and Disaster Response and a call to prayer for those involved in rebuilding.

This book is undoubtedly worth reading. It tells an encouraging story and Melissa is to be commended for telling the stories and capturing historical detail that might otherwise never be recorded.  Appendices include a list of the 185 people killed, out-of-town churches that helped through prayer and practical support and community agencies that helped often beyond what could be expressed. The text is also available as an e-book. - Reviewer: Rev John Meredith

Christian Quake Care

This review first appeared in the October issue of Southern Cross, the official magazine of the Sydney Anglican Diocese.
"ON SEPTEMBER 4, 2010, PEOPLE IN THE CITY OF CHRISTCHURCH, NEW Zealand had the terrifying experience of being woken in the pre-dawn dark to find their houses rocking violently from a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. Although considerable damage occurred to buildings in the city, no lives were lost as most people were in bed at that time.
     Five months later, in a city still reeling from ongoing and frequent aftershocks, another much more deadly earthquake struck at 12.51pm on February 22, in the middle of a working day. Although smaller (6.4), its epicentre was closer to the city and shallower. Tragically, there were 185 fatalities, most from two commercial buildings that collapsed in the CBD or people who were struck by various falling objects in the city, in their homes and in the outdoors. Over the coming days the media reported extensively through word and image about the rescue of the injured, and then stories of people living in neighbourhoods where power, water and sewerage services were cut (sometimes for months). For shorter times, supermarkets and petrol stations were closed and ATMs did not work, so many people went hungry.
     As Melissa Parsons – a Christchurch resident and mother of two – followed this coverage she recognised the stories of a very significant group were missing. Going under the radar was the magnificent response of church members, both lay and clergy, who stepped up to fill gaps left by hard-pressed territorial authorities struggling to cope with the magnitude of the disaster. Initially sure someone else would be writing this important story, Parsons realised eventually that this “someone” needed to be her. Using responses from questionnaires sent to all churches in the city and surrounding area, interviews with people and information from denominational and other publications, she has written a powerful and dramatic true story about the selfless actions of Christchurch Christians – from Anglicans to Plymouth Brethren to Catholics and more.
     The book is divided into three sections: The Church Responds, The Church Grieves and The Church Rebuilds, with topics such as distributing essential supplies, grieving lost worship spaces, walking with the wounded, enduring insurance woes, restoring the soul and assisting with the rebuild. Each chapter starts with a personal story, many poignant, and ends with a list of resources. The book begins with a list of the 13 congregational members who died in the earthquakes while, at the end, appendices list all who died, the people interviewed and the names of the 95 churches whose stories are told in the book. Also named are out-of-town churches and non-church agencies that helped the community, whose “acts of generosity and courage were much appreciated by the church folk”. In the final chapter Parsons includes two “top 10” lists for churches in disaster preparedness and disaster response, which should be essential reading for all congregations keen to be ready for whatever may come – which, in Australian terms, could be anything from a local accident to regional floods and bushfires.
     This well-written book tells a moving story of the incredible and varied responses from the churches across Christchurch. Parsons writes of church people who helped in many practical and pastoral ways to restore bodies and souls. Other churches with undamaged facilities willingly opened them to groups in the community who had lost their buildings – and these relationships continue today, as rebuilding is slow. I was particularly touched by reading about army chaplains who ensured the bodies of the dead were never left alone in the mortuary at Burnham Military Camp, where the bodies were identified – a great comfort to the grieving relatives, and a gift of God’s grace." - Janette Busch
Janette is a free-lance writer and editor from Christchurch.
She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.