Christmas services go outdoors as quakes again hit New Zealand city

Christmas services go outdoors as quakes again hit New Zealand city

Many Christmas church services in Christchurch, New Zealand will be held outdoors this weekend after four strong earthquakes struck within three hours on December 23, injuring 60, and causing further damage to the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said the quakes, which included 5.8 and 6.0 magnitude temblors, were distressing at a time when the council is slowly making the city safe after a February 6.1 magnitude quake that killed 181 people. This time, he said, “there has been no loss of life or serious injury. This is not a miracle, we have been right to be cautious.”

The Anglican ChristChurch cathedral has apparently sustained further significant damage, after suffering the loss of its bell tower and famed rose window in February, according to Anglican Taonga, a publication of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The building was deconsecrated on November 9, preparatory to partial demolition.

Anglican bishop Victoria Matthews instructed all Anglican Christmas services to be held in the “cathedral of the great outdoors”, under canvas and in community halls. She said the Christmas Day evensong normally held in the Cathedral will be located in the city’s Botanic Gardens, and suggested parishioners bring torches.

“I am hoping that people who are walking in the park will stop by … It will be very relaxed, with beautiful music,” she said.

One suburban church has erected a marquee that can hold 240 people, bought with insurance money. “The marquee works very well and it looks lovely. It is a large space and we don’t feel cramped,” Vicar Mike Chamberlain told Fairfax Media.

The initial quake also caused major power outages, collapsed already-damaged houses and cliff faces and closed malls packed with Christmas shoppers. “It was very frightening … my husband was outside the Catholic Cathedral; there were bits of rubble coming down off that,” Newstalk ZB’s Jo Scott said.

Catholic congregations will also gather in makeshift places of worship on Christmas Day. Mike Stopforth, bishop’s deputy for parish planning for the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, said extra services would make up for the loss of 16 churches in previous earthquakes.

Last year, Christchurch was rocked by a series of earthquakes on Boxing Day, after a major September quake. New Zealand sits on the so-called “Ring of Fire” boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates and experiences up to 15,000 tremors a year.

By David Crampton, Ecumenical News International

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