National Memorial Service, Hagley Park, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Hagley Park is located in the centre of Christchurch's central
business district and is often host to mass events. The staging
was set up differently this time, however, because of the
preparations that had earlier been made for the Ellerslie
Flower Show, which had been cancelled. The congregation faced
east, toward the cordoned off central business district, with
staging for the officials and video screens and speakers peppered
throughout the people.
The community of Christchurch had suffered through a devastating
six months of earthquakes, culminating in a 6.3 magnitude
aftershock at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011. At least 182 people
perished, and there are still others missing and bodies yet
to be recovered. Unsurprisingly, the city rallied and people
helped each other thousands of ways. The service was to recognise
both of these things.
Worshippers, in the main, trekked over the majority of Hagley
park to get to the staging. They walked across a golf course
covered in new dips, cracks and mounds, the latter made from
liquefaction that has yet to be cleaned up. People were requested
to walk or bike and every tree was surrounded by bikes, due
to the lack of bike stands. Finally the eastern side of the
park was inaccessible, still deemed too unsafe as it backs
onto the CBD and is cordoned off.
His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales KG, representing
Her Majesty the Queen; His Excellency the Rt Hon. Sir Anand
Satyanand GNZM QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand; the Rt
Hon. John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand; the Hon. Phil
Goff MP, leader of the opposition; His Worship the Hon. Bob
Parker, Mayor of Christchurch; Henare Rakiihia Tau, the Upoko
Ru Nanga (head of council) of Nga i Tu a Huriri (the local
Maori subtribe of the region); the Rt Revd Victoria Matthews,
Bishop of Christchurch; the Very Revd Peter Beck, Dean of
Christchurch; plus other officials and representatives of
various groups. Jeremy Borland, better known as "Jeremy
the Sign Language Guy" and something of a celebrity in
these parts, and "Evelyn the Sign Language Lady"
provided renderings of the proceedings into New Zealand Sign
Language, which is one of the official languages of New Zealand.
The date & time:
Friday 18 March 2011, 12.30pm.
What was the name of
National Christchurch Memorial Service.
How full was the building?
The northeast corner of the park was full. Estimates are saying
that 100,000 people attended.
Did anyone welcome you
Due to the masses of people, there were no personal greetings
although there were some very friendly police officers, Salvation
Army representatives, and welfare staff milling about.
Was your pew comfortable?
Instructions to the people of Christchurch were to bring something
to sit on that would not block the view of the people behind.
I brought a trusty picnic blanket but noted that around one-fifth
of the people had brought some form of chairs, much to the
annoyance of those sitting behind them.
How would you
describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Patriotic, calm, resigned. People were drawn to the area in
a resigned manner, and were greeted by a brass band, followed
by a lament on bagpipes. The congregation were then played
a 14 minute video of the destruction in the centre city, an
area we have not been able to access.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
Henare Rakiihia Tau opened the proceedings by reciting the
mihi whakatau, a formal welcoming speech used by
the Maori in their tribal ceremonies. I only speak basic Maori
and cannot reproduce the opening words. But he then went on
to say in English: "Firstly, I give thanks to God the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and their holy and faithful angels,
as we submit our prayers of hope and belief..." Following
this we sang God Save the Queen.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
The words in both Maori and English were projected onto big
What musical instruments
The Woolston Brass Band played before the service, along with
an unknown piper. The pu-tatara (traditional Maori trumpet
made from a conch shell) was used to open the service. All
songs were accompanied and various celebrity musicians made
appearances, along with the choir of Christchurch Cathedral.
Singer and songwriter Dave Dobbyn, who is regarded as a national
treasure for his songs that have over the years become a part
of New Zealand life, sang and played the guitar. Also contributing
were the soprano Hayley Westenra, known for her recordings
of light classics as well as for her work with UNICEF; and
opera singer Dame Malvina Major, who numbers Hayley Westenra
among her pupils.
Did anything distract
At intervals throughout the service, lone red or black balloons
(the colours of the Canterbury region in which Christchurch
is situated) were released into the sky and drifted away.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The worship was traditional, with lots of readings and inspirational
musical numbers, lighting of braziers, etc., whilst the congregation
sat and listened. One lone man waved his hands during Hayley
Westenra's rendition of Amazing Grace. Prince William
conveyed Her Majesty's condolences and sympathy, and said
how moved he was by what he had seen. We grieve, he said,
but we also love. "Be strong," he concluded, speaking
in Maori. Prayers were offered by representatives of the Buddhist,
Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Baha'i faiths, along with readings
from the Bible and prayers by the various Christian dignitaries
present. Dame Malvina Major sang Pie Jesu from the
Requiem mass, accompanied on the piano, but the setting was
unfamiliar. A kite floated about the sky pulling a banner
reading "Rise Up Chch" [sic].
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
10 Bishop Matthews has a strong accent. I assume it
is Canadian as she was born there but it is quite unusual.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
The bishop preached on the strength of God's love, drawing
on Psalm 23 and making allusions that we, as a people, have
come "through the valley of the shadow of death" and have
emerged stronger. She urged non-believers to question the
motivation behind the generous responses of the majority of
the city, whether pulling people out of rubble or shoveling
the silt out of a stranger's garden. She argued that they
were moved by the Holy Spirit and we have seen God's work
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The rendition of Pie Jesu; the solidarity I felt
in being surrounded by fellow Cantabrians; the recognition
of all the people, paid and volunteer, who have been working
hard toward the recovery and cleanup effort; the inclusion
of the deaf by having Jeremy and Evelyn translating the entire
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
His Royal Highness' terrible Maori pronunciation, although
the thought was there, which is what matters really.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I moved along with the masses, otherwise I might have been
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
None was available, although mid-service water carriers were
distributing water as it was a gloriously sunny day and quite
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
5 While it is in a handy, central location, I fear
this may be a bit cold to attend during winter.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Sort of. Whilst this service was billed as interfaith, it
was decidedly Christian. We sang Christian hymns, had readings
from both the Old and New Testaments, and prayed the Lord's
Prayer. The clergy present were predominantly Anglican. There
was the token gesture of letting members of five other faiths
read out a prayer, but only at a designated time. It made
me feel as if we weren't respectful to other religions.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The floating banner "Rise Up Chch."