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.