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Exhaustion of the Spirit

In the wake of yet more big jolts in Christchurch, Bishop Victoria Matthews says she fears her clergy are facing “exhaustion of spirit”.

Lloyd Ashton   |  14 Jun 2011

In the wake of yet more big jolts in Christchurch, Bishop Victoria Matthews says she fears her clergy are facing “exhaustion of spirit”.

“People are tired. They have been more than magnificent. Let me say that clearly.

“But I am hearing of a deep weariness of the soul, and I'm having to ask people to reach deep into their resources to meet yet another crisis.

“The churches that have stepped up to the plate, and been magnificent so many times before, will have to do it all over again. Because we have got to keep looking after the people of God.

“I'm watching people's eyes, and hearing their words very carefully, and I've been saying to some: ‘You know, you've got to get out and away for a month.’

“And they say: ‘Yes. You're right. I do.’ But after yesterday, getting them to do that is going to be more difficult. Because they are going to want to be with their people.

“That's the story that is front page for me.

“I was talking to an elderly man the other day who’d lived through war, and been evacuated six times in his life. He knows the drills, so to speak.

“But the people who are actually at the front line now… we don't.

“We are a generation who have never been through a war, never lived through a sustained, critical period like this. That makes it really difficult.”

As a young woman, Bishop Victoria twice served three-month stints in Haiti – and while she was there, she lived through a military coup.

While the politics couldn’t be more different, she says the turmoil in Haiti she experienced then was the best preparation she’s had for leading the Diocese of Christchurch through the crises it faces now.

She also says that the destruction of the cathedral’s rose window has significant implications.

“It raises the question yet again about whether we need to deconsecrate (the cathedral), and take it right down – but that question has not been answered yet.

“The rose window was, in a sense, the icon of the icon.

“It was the trademark. The logo. Call it whatever you will, it was the one piece, the people of the cathedral said, that they would move to whatever a new Cathedral looked like. That would go with them.

“But it won't now.”

For some other churches, yesterday’s quakes were the coup de grace.

“Holy Trinity Lyttelton is right down,” she says. “The roof is now on the ground. We knew that we were probably looking at demolition there, but that's now been done.

“St Luke's, which has been deconsecrated, is now very precarious. I think we will have to move to demolition there as soon as possible.”

While the historic stone church at St John's Latimer Square, which had already been deconsecrated, has suffered more damage.

Bishop Victoria says she dropped into a number of church schools yesterday, and found them in good heart.

“The spirit of young people is wonderful. I was checking at St Michael’s church school, and a young man from Christ’s College came up to me there and said: ‘Good afternoon Bishop. I just need to tell you that Christ's College is all right.’ Isn’t that good?”

“Then I went on to Bishopspark – and the spirit of the sweethearts there is amazing. One 96-year old woman, who is a clergy widow, said to me: ‘Ohh… the staff were so lovely. They brought us all downstairs, and gave us the nicest cup of tea.’”

In the evening, Bishop Victoria emailed her clergy, urging them to be careful around their buildings.

“The operative word,” she wrote, “is safety. So please do not take chances.”

Today she identified two other pressing needs:

“We need prayer.

“We need prayer, because we are beyond running on our own strength.

“Before yesterday, I'd been going round the parishes saying: ‘We've got to pray our way through this.’

“Everybody agreed. Then yesterday happened, and now we really need the whole country and beyond this country praying for us for strength. Because there is no other way we are going to get through this.”

She also forecasts that “in a fairly short time, we’ll be needing very practical help again. “

“People who might be able to come and do relatively minor repairs, like helping waterproof homes, for example.”

“So: safety, prayer and practical help.”

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