Religious, cultural and national boundaries faded in the candlelight of St John’s Church in Johnsonville on Sunday night, as members of the community came to remember those who had lost their lives in the Easter Sunday bombings, and to awhi (care for) those Sri Lankan members of the parish whānau whose mother country was subject to the attacks.
The Vicar of Johnsonville, Rev Ben Johnson-Frow, encouraged attendees to turn faith into action through loving prayers of grace and forgiveness. He handed out paper love hearts and pens, before lighting a small candle from the Paschal candle, and sharing the light with everyone in the church.
Kavinda Dharmawadane, a young Sri Lankan member of the parish whānau, offered a reading from Romans chapter 12: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The Scripture reading set a perfect tone for the night, which was overflowing with the peace and presence of God.
One such sincere action of love was described by Kavinda’s sister, Shanuki. She told us of how a young member of the church whānau, Bella George, had given her a drawing to show her support and grief in the wake of the attacks on Shanuki’s native land. As the parishioners and guests sat in silence, with candles aglow, Shanuki offered prayers of intercession. “As we forgive in words today, allow your Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we are filled with Your peace, and that any anger or negativity that we harbour is driven out by Your love,” she prayed.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the service was the participation of newfound friends from the Muslim community. As with many of our parish communities, the Christchurch tragedy sparked acts of love which sought to overcome to evil of the shootings – and new bonds of friendship were formed as a result. On this occasion, Rev Ben tells us that it was our Muslim friends who proactively reached out to us to tautoko (support) us in an act of kotahitanga (solidarity). It was they who asked if they could come and pray with us this time, Ben said.
Following the reading and the prayers of intercession, each of the attendees, whether parishioner or guest, wrote their prayers on paper hearts. One by one, young and old approached the altar and laid their prayers down.
As the lights came back on, the serenity of the service was perfectly matched by laughs and conversation over supper, consisting of delicious delights from the cultures represented in the congregation – not least of which were the fish bites made by Sudarshini, Kavinda and Shanuki’s mother. Each of those in attendance felt the warmth of friendship in the room. The Vicar’s Warden, Angie Curtis, exclaimed to her new Muslim friend that we should do this all over again – but next time, may it not be because of tragedy that we gather together.