Friday, March 18, 2011

A Day in the Sun

Sneaking a post in before my friends and colleagues at Anglican Taonga get theirs online (ok, so their budget hasn't provided them with a satellite phone internet gizmo) ... an amazing day in the sun at Hagley Park for the National Memorial Service following the Christchurch 22 February quake (with plenty of cross-referencing to Japan's quake, tsunami, and radiation).

I went along at 9am as one of some clergy volunteered to be available as part of the Welfare Support Team. For only the second time in my life I worked (albeit without pay) for the "NZ Government", as emblazoned on my blue vest. Talk about blurring the lines between State and church, including some ways in which the service clearly owed more to the leadership of Bishop Victoria Matthews and Dean Peter Beck than to the Prime Minister's Department.

For some, including journalists, the highlight of the service was the presence and speech of Prince William.

But for me personally there were two highlights amidst a series of very well done speeches, prayers, readings, and songs. One was Hayley Westenra singing Amazing Grace with her Amazing Voice.

At 9 am when I arrived there was one interesting experience. North Hagley Park (which for those not familiar with it, is a very large park full of greenfields, large trees, a golf course, tennis courts, a lake, all bounded by the river Avon. A sort of Hyde Park. This morning it could have been Hyde Park because it was shrouded in the loveliest of English mists!

Back to the service. Overall the whole day, blessed by warm sunshine once the mist evaporated, was a lovely day, just right for a large gathering of (perhaps) 100,000 people.

But it was noticeable to me (who ended up sitting in the middle of the crowd) that where responses of a religious kind were involved, the crowd's contribution was barely audible, whether singing Wkakaria Mai (How Great Thou Art) or joining in the Lord's Prayer. How religious are we as a city? Religious enough to involve the leadership of Dean Peter Beck, prayers from church leaders and leaders from other faiths, a reflection and prayers from Bishop Victoria, readings from the Bible (and also Seneca!), along with musical contributions from the Cathedral Choir and a beautiful duet of Malvina Major (well known opera singer) and Patrick Manning (unknown local treble) singing Pie Jesu. But not religious enough to corporately engage in worshipful responses on an occasion such as this? The crowd clapped each of the prayers offered by church and other faith leaders: that struck me as a response of those with little understanding of what prayer in corporate worship means.

The second highlight for me was the action at the end of the service, just before the singing of the national anthem. To the music of Conquest of Paradise (the theme song of our Crusaders rugby team), a short film was shown which ran through a whole lot of scenes of people helping people since the quake. The music is spinetingling stuff and the sequence was awesome. People really have stepped up to the mark in generous, sometimes heroic service of fellow human beings.

[Photos from NZ Herald]


Father Ron Smith said...

As one of those watching the entire ceremony on TV (being aware of the possible traffic and pedestrian jams around the restricted venue); I, too, was aware of the crowd 'clapping' some of the religious input. That should be no surprise. This was not only a 'religious' gathering. As Dean Peter Beck reminded us all, "We are here for people of different faiths and of no faith"; so that clapping did not seem out of the way. That's the way secular people (of whom there were plenty involved in the aftermath of the Quake, and there in the crowd) do show apprecation. What would Peter have thought if, instead of clapping, the crowd were to Boo?

As someone once said, "The Church is one of the few organisations that exists, not for its own sake, but for the sake of others". That seems pretty Gospel-like to me. I thought we Anglicans got a pretty good bite at the cherry, after all.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Anglicans did get a good bite of the cherry. Our Anglican Settlement forbears would be proud of us!

Agreed, better the prayers were cheered than jeered.

I guess my point is that assessing how religious Christchurch/Canterbury is becomes a matter of difficulty because the 'evidence' is hard to read/understand.

Steve Brorens said...

The service was good - because of the weather, the people, the inclusion of the Buddhist etc sections in recognition of the foreign students, because of good speeches by Bob Parker, John Key and The GovGen - and an adequate one by Prince William.

Amazing Grace and the "Conquest of Paradise" segment were the highlights as you say.

You say "...Religious enough to involve the leadership ..." - but who decided this? Certainly not the crowd. In particular who decided on the inclusion of that second long piece by Bishop Victoria? The reaction of the crowd was polite (noo booing), but as you say, inapproprete. Why? because what they were being given was itself inappropriate.

The Dean's piece was fine, but Bishop Victoria struck an "off" note in her first short piece with her (to me) objectionable "..and those of no faith" comment. However there was no excuse for her long "alter-call" thing after all the other faiths had had their time.

Father Ron's "...a pretty good bite of the cheery..." comment hints at the same. Yes, Christchurch was intended to be a High Church Anglican Settlement - but that was long ago...

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