On our darkest day, Christians throughout our movement have turned to prayer, compassion and aroha to shine God’s light into a society in a state of shock. The whole world watched as the horrors of Friday’s terrorist attack at two mosques in Christchurch unfolded, but also as the heroes of the day came to the fore, the stories of the victims became known, and as people from all walks of life searched for ways to respond.
Bishop Justin and Bishop Eleanor sent a Pastoral Letter to us on Saturday morning, and they encouraged us to act in three ways: to engage in friendships and partnerships in our communities, in particular with Muslim brothers and sisters; to engage in intentional and generous hospitality in our neighbourbhoods, and thirdly, to pray. You can read the full Pastoral Letter here.
Gathering in prayer has been something that we have engaged in across the movement. Churches have opened their doors for reflection and quiet prayer, and also for organised vigils. St Stephen’s in Marton was open for quiet reflection, providing resources to assist in people’s prayer and reflection, St Michael and All Angels in Wellington was open throughout Saturday morning and into the afternoon as a steady stream of people came. St Peter’s in Paekākāriki was open for an hour on Sunday evening whilst quiet organ music was played, and St John’s Feilding held a vigil service on Saturday, and contributed to a civic event hosted by the Manwatū District Council on Monday. St John’s Johnsonville held prayers for the Muslim community after their Sunday service, and the Cathedral offered visitors a chance to sign a book of condolence. On Friday night, hours after the shootings, St Peter’s on Willis in central Wellington held an impromptu prayer vigil that saw the church packed with young people, and camera crews from the main news networks in attendance; whilst a large gathering assembled at St Christopher’s in Tawa for a vigil there.
In Palmerston North, local churches organised a prayer event, and the community centre at our All Saints’ church on The Square was packed to standing room only. Over 300 people from around the city gathered, including 25 Muslim neighbours and their children. Attendees included the President of the Manawatū Muslim Association, Zulfiqar Butt, and via Skype from Christchurch, Hazim Arafeh who is a former president of the Islamic Federation. Also attending were the Mayor of Palmerston North, Grant Smith, the Catholic Emeritus Co-adjutor Bishop of Palmerston North, Owen Dolan; city councillors, and Massey University Students’ Association representatives.
At the service, an offering was taken up at the service to bless the Palmerston North mosque, which is channelling its resources to support the victims’ families, and those who are still fighting for their lives. Mr Butt gave an emotional address, thanking the churches in the city for “all the hugs, all the flowers, all the cards, all the tears.” Many people had asked him is he was frightened. He told the gathering: “How can I be frightened when every New Zealander is standing with me shoulder to shoulder? When you go by our mosque on Cook Street you see how much love we have received from you all.”
The loss is not something that has just been felt by Christchurch, or by Muslims, but by every New Zealander, and in fact around the world. Mr Butt told the gathering in Palmerston North: “Initially I thought it was just my loss. Then I started receiving people’s messages and then I realised it was everyone’s loss.” At the civic vigil in Wellington held on the same day, 12,000 people of all creeds and races gathered with the Mayor Justin Lester, the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and members of her cabinet, and representatives of Muslim, interfaith and multi-cultural community groups to say “kia kaha, Christchurch.”
Bishop Eleanor was in attendance, and sat with the High Commissioner from Pakistan, and the Imam of the Kilbirnie mosque. Visible on many of the faces and in the tremolo of many of the speakers’ voices was the gut-wrenching grief that had overcome all. It may be too early to fully understand why, but it seems that a huge tear has occurred in the fabric of our society, the full ramifications of such may not be known for some time.
In such a time, we are called to “roll back the powers of darkness” as Bishop Justin and Bishop Eleanor have written. In their Pastoral Letter to us, we are reminded to “never underestimate the testimony of such humble action of friendship and love.” As per their letter, we encourage you to share any stories of such humble love with the rest of our diocesan family, by emailing Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are holding further vigils or other events relating to the tragedy, we encourage you to advertise them on Facebook, Neighbourly, and to your neighbouring parishes and local ecumenical partners, whilst also letting us know so that we may assist to get the word out.
Featured photo: 12,000 people crowded into Wellington’s Basin Reserve for a civic vigil on Sunday the 17th of March. Photo: Alex Efimoff.