Approximately 400 people attended five services of lament across the diocese on Sunday, bringing their cries for housing justice to God. “Jesus became homeless in order to make space in God’s kingdom for others,” says Bishop Justin and Bishop Eleanor. For the bishops, these lament services were about the need to “step into this space. We are thankful for all those who, in attending, embodied this challenge.”
The challenge of standing in this space for those in desperate need was a deeply moving one, expressed in unique ways in each location. Worshippers in Lower Hutt met in faith to remind God of His mercy and compassion, before blessing the land with grass seed. Palmerston North parishes also gathered to distribute seeds, this time of the wildflower variety, as a symbol of hope that God would regenerate and bring new life to the land. In Wellington’s Lyall Bay, a 24 hour prayer vigil was held, at which people could express their prayers in various creative ways, and in nearby Strathmore, people from across southern Wellington gathered for a service followed by a shared afternoon tea.
Porirua’s St Anne’s Parish put a stake in the ground – literally – by hammering messages of action into the soil, assisted by the MP for Mana, Kris Faafoi. Local children took to the footpaths with chalk to convey their message, and a bit of fun was had as people built cardboard houses in solidarity with those in need. At the Cathedral, worshippers were joined by 42 wooden tāngata, each representing 1,000 New Zealanders who are homeless – part of this week’s Tūrangawaewae art installation. The installation’s launch was followed by a lament service at which Bishop Justin preached from Isaiah 58, in which God calls his people to “loose the chains of injustice, to untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke… to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter….”
These strong words of the prophet Isaiah remind us that our cries of lament towards God are to be accompanied by equally passionate deeds. In media coverage of the services, we made strong calls for government action. “This vacant land is a symbol of the fact we can – and must – do more,” said Bishop Justin in a press release. “We call on the government to urgently build more social housing. And we call on New Zealanders to consider housing when they vote,” he said. Rev Martin Robinson of St David’s Naenae told Newstalk ZB of a Syrian family of former refugees in his parish. “Housing New Zealand has no housing for them, so they’re trying to hunt for a private landlord. Their house rentals continue to go up and up and yet the WINZ subsidy will not cover that.” All the while the equivalent of 64 rugby fields of former social housing land sits empty around the country. Martin cuts straight to the point: “regardless of whatever party this particular Government is, this Government has dropped the ball on this big time.”
The service in Palmerston North, led by Rev Tim Duxfield, attracted onlookers from the local neighbourhood, and along with the other services, incorporated both a cry to God and a call for action. Tim told the Manawatu Standard that the church was not condemning Housing NZ, but wanted to see something done. “We are saying this needs to be an election issue. We want Government policy enacted that solves the housing crisis in New Zealand,” he said. The Taranaki Daily News spoke to Housing NZ who claimed that that there were plans in place for developing a number of the sites on which our services were held, however this came as a surprise to the Diocesan Advocacy Enabler, Kate Day. “After asking them three times about [the Castor Cres, Porirua] site, as recently as last week, this is the first I’ve heard of it!” she said.
These lament services come at the end of a month of prayer and action around the nation, in both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, which has been part of a strong yearning to see justice done. Bishop Justin and Bishop Eleanor reflect: “taking part in the opportunity to lament has given both of us a deeper connection to this land and the reality of our human struggles to flourish together; and to give thanks to God who yearns for that fullness of life for us all.
We connect to this yearning in different ways: in advocacy, in prayer, but also in the way we practice our own households of hospitality. Those challenges are life-long. May this month remind us all of this life-long challenge.”