Quakers in Earthquakes

Christchurch Meeting, New Zealand

This has been an extraordinary year that has been dominated by frequent tremors: over 40 that exceeded magnitude five and altogether, 10,000 since September 4, 2010. The first quake was technically the biggest (magnitude 7.1), but the 6.3 quake on February 22, 2011, was the most disastrous, as it was shallow and centered near the city of Christchurch. It left the central business district in ruins, some suburbs destroyed, and a sickening toll of casualties. For many, there was no power, water, or phones for days and no working sewage system for days or months. One hundred eighty-five people were killed.

Big quakes in June and December did more damage, particularly to our emotional state. As one Friend put it, “Quakers are not used to quaking. Don’t underestimate the psychological attrition caused by months of uncertainty—about housing, services, and employment—in a city where thousands of buildings are being demolished and where it will take years to regain anything resembling stability.” Some people have had massive damage to their houses or land, some having to move out of homes where they had lived for many years.

Our task as a meeting has been to survive; support each other; and discern the way forward, both spiritually and practically. We are in good heart, however, with many working together in love, understanding, and practical ways. We are very grateful to all those people—both nearby and far overseas—who are holding us in the Light.

The February 2011 quake caused our meetinghouse to fill with silt and water (for a second time); sewage pipes were broken; cracks appeared on walls; etc. This time the premises and adjacent cottage were judged unusable. Our Resident Friends gave tremendous moral and practical support at that time. Then in June, the authorities told us that our property was in the “red zone,” meaning that the land itself was too damaged to be occupied. Negotiations with insurers and authorities that were begun in June are still not concluded.

Required to vacate our property, we first rented shared premises at a Catholic center, so that we could hold meetings for worship. Since January 2012, we have met in a Presbyterian building, which has better space for our children. Several meetings have been held to begin seeking a way forward, notably a threshing meeting last November, which discerned that we should plan for owning a new property. The Property Committee and other Friends have been investigating practical options.

Overseers have been busy trying to support the Friends most affected. To keep everyone in touch, an e-mail newsletter was started, called The Earthquaker. The Quaker group on Facebook has also been helpful. Many financial gifts of midwinter cheer were needed. It has been heart-warming to see the empathic assistance provided by those able to offer it. There seems to be a renewed closeness in the meeting as we continue with our daily lives amidst the loss of activities and things we hold dear.

At some monthly meeting sessions, we have used the first few minutes to check out, in pairs, how we were managing the stress. All this will take time. We are trying to listen to all concerns and include everyone in discerning the way forward. We continue to look to the future and to determine our next steps.

Based on 2011 annual report of Christchurch Monthly Meeting

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