After the Earthquakes


After quake congregations look to rebuild lives, buildings

By Paul Titus

The earthquake that ripped Cantabrians from their sleep on September 4th was a turning point in many lives.  To varying degrees it damaged  buildings and belongings, disrupted daily routines, and shook people’s sense of well-being.

Churches – again both property and people – were among those that took the brunt of the violent event.  During the edgy days of aftershocks and the following weeks of subsidence, Touchstone  contributors gathered the stories of the congregations who were affected.

Methodist Church of NZ  general secretary Rev David Bush says a large percentage of the worst damaged public buildings in Christchurch were churches.  All denominations – Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian – had seriously damaged buildings.

“It is not surprising since a lot of churches date back to the founding of the city and many were built in stone and brick as statements of the prominent position churches believed they had in the community,” David says.

He observes wooden church buildings generally fared better than masonry.  For example, the 132-year old wooden church in the suburb of Richmond was unscathed while the younger 114-year old brick hall next to it was seriously damaged.

Immediately after the quake it was obvious that four Methodist Churches were badly affected.  These were the Woodend Methodist Church and in Christchurch the Durham Street, St John’s Bryndwyr (home to the Moraia Fijian Congregation), and Richmond Methodist Churches.  Later it was evident that damages to the church building and the hall at Christchurch North Methodist and the hall at Beckenham Methodist were more serious than originally thought.

Some landmark former Methodist church buildings also took serious knocks.  Notably, the Rugby Street Church formerly in St Albans Parish and now home to a Chinese Methodist congregation, and the Edgeware Road Church, now home to a Coptic Orthodox congregation.

After the quake, congregations made new arrangements to worship, often with the help of others.  In some cases these are temporary and the long-term future is uncertain.

By the third week in September detailed engineers’ reports on the damaged buildings had not been done.  Therefore it was not known how extensive the damage was or what the costs of restoration or replacement will be.

Methodist Connexional Property Committee executive officer Greg Wright says the Methodist Church will manage all earthquake damaged buildings as a single claim.

“The earthquake was one measurable event, so we will make one claim and pay one excess.  Handling the claim in a combined fashion, gives us a number of advantages.  We will get maximum flexibility in our insurance, we will be able to prioritise the work that has to be done, and we should be able to contract engineers and builders on a long term basis rather than for one off jobs.

“We have appointed the professional project management company Arrow International to look after the claim and the restoration work.  They will prioritise the work that has to be done with input from the insurance company and the synod.”

David and Greg say the assessment of damaged properties will vary in complexity.  Some will be simple to sort out and others will require a lot of conversation involving affected parishes, the synod and insurers.

“The complex cases will be those in which the cost of restoring the old building and the cost of replacing it with a new building are nearly the same,” David says.

There is a tension between the value and memories embodied in heritage buildings, and the benefits inherent in new buildings made with modern materials and configured for contemporary worship.

Rev Mary Caygill articulates the heritage value of Durham Street Church.  “Some people say it is just a building and it should be bowled but that is not a decision to be taken lightly.  Buildings hold people’s histories .  Generations of families have grown up in these churches.

“My ancestors help build Durham Street.  It is a monument to the vision and energy of New Zealand’s early Methodists.  It was the first major stone church in Christchurch.  The service to celebrate its opening was held the day the foundation stone of the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral was laid.”

On the other side of the argument, David cites the aftermath of Napier earthquake as an example of the rejuvenation that can take place in the wake of a disaster.  “Napier was rebuilt with character but it is not the character that was there before the earthquake of 1931.  Napier was rebuilt using the best designs, methods and technologies of the day.”

The Methodist Connexion does not have a building fund that would pay to restore churches if this would cost more than replacing them.  The parish would bear the additional cost of restoration.  Mary says the Durham Street parish council is fully aware of this and is prepared to consider its implications as it decides its future.

David says while capital funds are held by individual parishes, the earthquake does provide the opportunity for the Christchurch parishes to have a discussion about how the Methodist Church rebuilds its presence in the city and how the cost of that rebuilding is shared.

From Touchstone, October 2010, p. 1, 7.


Durham Street congregation shaken but strong

By Cory Miller

A wonky golden cross, a red Christ candle, and a silver chalice were among the few familiar symbols salvaged from the 150-year-old buildings of Durham Street Methodist Church.

The magnitude 7.1 earthquake that rocked Christchurch made the church unsafe for use but nevertheless the congregation came together in worship a week later.

In the unfamiliar setting of the Falkingham Centre at WesleyCare rest home, the Durham Street congregation gathered for its first Sunday service since the quake.

A large flax mat sat on the floor in front of the congregation, a woven symbol of their connectedness.

Rev Mary Caygill called the congregation to come forth and share their stories on the mat.

“Let us remember Christchurch as it was and our lives before the earthquake,” she says.  “We place these symbols here in loving memory of the world as it was last week.”

Rev Jill Van de Geer is a member of the congregation.  She placed pieces of a gift she had been given to mark the end of her term as general secretary of the Methodist Church.

Jill’s nine-year-old granddaughter, Aleisha, placed her great-grandmother’s broken china on the mat.

But the earthquake didn’t just break things, it also seemed to have the ability to repair items.

Philip Seddon had an antique clock that hadn’t worked for almost a decade.

“In the aftermath of the earthquake I was looking around, checking for damage when we heard the chiming,” he says.  “It was the clock, it had started working again and since the quake it hasn’t stopped!”

Another member of the congregation, Sue Spindler, spoke of a broken dream.  The day the earthquake hit was her daughter, Raukura’s wedding day.

“A dream was broken of a wedding in an important place [Durham Street Church], for my family.  But thanks to everyone, despite part of the dream being shattered the day turned out to be an unforgettable.”

Mary said in the past week she had seen the community incarnated through acts of kindness, generosity and love.

“When the earth heaves our first thought goes to the planetary forces that dwarf us,” she says.  “They may flatten cities but it is love that will rebuild.

“It is this love, central to church, parish and mission that will hold us together through the next weeks as we continue to connect with one another as we rebuild our lives.”

Methodist Church president Rev Alan Upson and vice president Lana Lazarus, were also present at the service.

They were a symbolic reminder that this congregation is part of a larger Methodist Connexion.

“We are here as a living reminder that you are not alone.  We are with you as much as we can be.  We can’t stand in your footsteps, but we can walk along side you,” said Alan.

From Touchstone, October 2010, p. 9.


Christchurch Methodist Mission responds in the crunch

The Christchurch Methodist Mission and its staff were resilient in the face of the Canterbury quake.

The Mission and its WesleyCare complex of rest home, hospital and residential accommodation have provided aged care services for more than 60 years.  Never before has it had to cope with events like this.

Mission executive director Mary Richardson says all WesleyCare staff have been remarkable.

“The Mission could not have asked for more, especially when you realise some staff suffered major damage themselves and were still ready to be back helping others.

“Early Saturday morning, unrostered staff accompanied by husbands, partners, sons and daughters spontaneously arrived.  They joined rostered staff, rolled up their sleeves and got on with cleaning up and helping residents cope.”

With no power or elevators on Saturday and still of only limited use throughout the week, meals had to be carried around the buildings.  It meant cooking on BBQs and ferrying food trays up four flights of stairs.  For five days the complex had to use bottled water and staff had to cope with nights of aftershocks.

“Residents’ lives too, were disrupted.  Some lost possessions that carry many memories of past years.  But they have been resilient and understanding,” Mary says.

The Methodist Mission’s Community Services staff reconfigured their whole service to respond to this crisis.  They have been operating at emergency centres, out of cars, at the mayor’s relief offices and in family homes.

Mary says the imagination of it social workers enabled the Mission to respond to these complex circumstances.

The Christchurch Methodist Mission is one of the South Island’s largest social services with almost 200 staff.  In addition to aged care, it provides child and family services, emergency support and early childhood education.

Staff kept administration and management going despite the disaster.  Mary says the Mission thanks its IT support team for salvaging servers and getting them running elsewhere, the finance team for getting payroll out, and property team for tirelessly inspecting and repairing damage and contacting contractors and assessors.

“The Methodist Mission’s Durham Street offices and facilities have been damaged and not functioning at present.  Being part of a network of social service agencies has been so important,” Mary says.

“The Anglican City Mission has offered space to continue some services. Christchurch North Parish has offered office and meeting space.  Presbyterian Support and many others have all provided practical support.  Methodist Missions and local parishes through out the country have offered moral and practical support.

“The kind of dedication we’ve had from our staff and the support we’ve had from churches and missions around New Zealand, has demonstrated a very practical commitment to not just words but action.

From Touchstone, October 2010, p. 8.


Musician chimes in to rebuild church

By Cory Miller

Choirmaster and organist at Durham Street Methodist Church for the past 43 years, Wallace Woodley is using music to fundraise for the 150-year-old church which was severely damaged in the Christchurch quake.

In his CD, Life with the Piano, Wallace has compiled a recollection of works he and his pupils have enjoyed studying and performing over the past 60 years.

Fortunately Wallace had recorded the CD of himself playing a range of classical pieces on the Kawai Grand Piano in Durham Street Church just before the earthquake.

When the earthquake struck on September 4th, Wallace was moved to use his newly recorded CD to raise some funds for the church’s restoration fund.

“This compact disc is for my family and friends, remembering pupils, past and present and offering a modest opportunity for increasing the financial resources of the Durham Street Methodist Church Restoration Fund,” he says

Though he has no expectations about the sum of money that may accrue from sales of his CD he says “every dollar will help.”

Life with the Piano was only released a fortnight ago but Wallace says he has already been encouraged by the response. “Since

the CD’s release I have received many messages and comments of congratulations and excitement from family members, former pupils and friends.”

Symbolic items the Durham Street Methodist congregation used in its post-quake services

The CD contains 22 piano pieces, played by Wallace, from various classical composers including, Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy and Bach.

Wallace’s own career in music began when he was just eight years old. In the decades since has had a career peppered with many awards and accomplishments.
He has shared his skills and knowledge with many of his pupils who have also gone on to lead successful careers of their own.

For Wallace, Durham Street Church has been a vital part of his music career and is a place he holds dear.

“It has been part of the life of our family for over 43 years. It is our spiritual home, and most of those who attend there are our very close friends,” he says. “There is a very special bond shared.”

Life with the Piano CD is available from: Durham Street Church Office, 210 Tuam Street, Christchurch 8011. Phone 09 366 6745 or email

Cost $20 (+$5p/p). Also available on iTunes from November 1.

From Touchstone, November 2010, p. 2.


NB – The parish office is now back at 309 Durham Street, Christchurch 8011.



Durham Street Methodist Church presbyter Rev Mary Caygill says the structure of the church is seriously damaged and not safe for use.

“Each aftershock causes more damage. It is obvious with each shock the major cracks are worsening.”

She says there are two options for the church: “One is to rebuild on the same site using the original façade and some of the original materials. Or two, we could restore the building.”

It is not an easy decision to make, and the parish is still looking at its options.

Mary says the insurance would cover the cost of rebuilding but not full restoration.

“The concern held by many of the congregation is the cost of restoration, and what this means to the church.”

She says no official estimate of the cost of rebuilding or restoring the church has been released but she guesses it could be in the millions.

Mary says for now the congregation will worship in the lounge at Aldersgate, the office complex next to the Durham Street Church when it is ready. But even this may still be some weeks away, as a new entrance and a disabled toilet must be built before the congregation can gather there.

Despite their uncertain future Mary says the congregation is coping well.

“There is a huge amount of grief about the damage. The continual aftershocks and damage to their own properties is also causing some stress.”

Until Aldersgate is ready the church congregation is gathering each Sunday at the Falkingham Centre in Wesleyhaven Rest Home.

From Touchstone, November 2010, p. 2.


Cornish choir sings in solidarity

To the editor,

Thank you for your November edition coverage of  my CD associated with the Durham Street Methodist Church’s financial needs.

I would like to report that on Sunday 3 October in Bude, Cornwall, UK, members of the Trelawny Male Choir presented a concert in aid of the restoration fund for our church. They raised the sum of £2,000 (approximately NZ$4,200) by their efforts.

Jean and Graham Harry, members of the Durham Street Church Choir, were visiting Cornwall at the time and were able to speak at the concert.  They conveyed the gratitude of our local congregation for the magnificent gesture of the Trelawny Choir members.

In October 2007 the Trelawny Choir, then touring New Zealand, presented a concert in the Durham Street Methodist Church. That concert raised the sum of $3,300 for Durham Street’s organ restoration fund.

It seems that they enjoyed their time here, and the hospitality, so much that they felt compelled to respond in some tangible way to the news of the Christchurch earthquake having seen the television coverage of the event on UK television.

Please note there was a mistake in the November article. The correct phone number for Durham Street Church offices is 03 366 6745.

Wallace Woodley, Christchurch

From Touchstone, December 2010,  p. 4.


Death of Durham Street blow to Methodist family

By Paul Titus

From left: Rev Desmond Cooper, Rev Mary Caygill and Sue Spindler pay tribute to the people and buildings that were the Durham Street Church.

Five days after the devastating February 22nd Christchurch earthquake the Methodist Church presidential team placed a small bouquet of flowers in front of the appalling heap of rubble that was once the Durham Street Methodist Church.

President Rev Desmond Cooper, vice president Sue Spindler and Durham Street presbyter Rev Mary Caygill made the floral tribute to honour the many people who had worshipped in the church and the three men who lost their lives when it collapsed.

“The Durham Street Church has served generations of Methodists and the community since it was built in 1864,” Desmond says.

“We have treasured memories of its former glory. We hope and pray that whatever arises on that site will serve the Methodist Church and the people of Christchurch as this church has done.”

Sue is a member of the Durham Street congregation. She says while the congregation grieves for the loss of the beautiful old church building, the loss of three lives there is the hardest grief to bear. Those who died were part of a team dismantling the pipe organ after the church was damaged in the September 4th earthquake.

“The congregation had particular regard for Paul Dunlop. Paul was the organist at Upper Riccarton Methodist Church but he played for us when our organist Wallace Woodley was away.

“Paul was an optometrist and many folk who wore glasses at Durham Street got them from him.”

The other two men who died in the collapse were Neil Stocker and Scott Lucy. Both were employees of the South Island Organ Company.

Sue says a great many people in the Methodist Church have significant memories of Durham Street. Conference was often held there, so it was a place where many retiring presbyters and deceased members of the Connexion were honoured, presidents and vice presidents inducted, and ordinands ordained.

“My father was ordained at Durham Street in the 1950s. I was married in the church as was my daughter Gemma.

“I have been a member of the congregation for 16 years and I have been in the choir for a significant chunk of that time.

“The organ and the choir have been hugely important in the life of the congregation, synod and Connexion. Numerous recordings on LPs and then CDs were made at Durham Street over the years. The music drew many people to become part of the congregation.
Over the last 43 years Wallace’s wonderful organ music has been a very significant part of our worship.”

Sue says Durham Street also had a rich heritage of fine preaching. The church was adjacent to the Aldersgate building which houses the Christchurch Methodist Mission and the parish office. The parish and Mission offered leadership to the city and the wider church on social justice issues.

The Aldersgate building was not seriously damaged in the earthquake.

Earlier in the day Mary and her congregation took part in a combined service at the Upper Riccarton Methodist Church.

The service remembered Paul Dunlop and addressed the trauma Christchurch was experiencing.

In her sermon, Riccarton presbyter Rev Marcia Hardy reminded the worshippers that the earthquake was a tragic natural disaster, part of the reality of living on a planet with a molten core. There was no deeper purpose to it, no punishment or lesson.

She concluded her sermon by saying “At Sunday school we learnt the church is not a building. The church is the people. It has never been more true.

“We have the certainty that God is holding us, that God has never left us and will never leave us, that we are indeed inscribed in the palm of God’s hand.”

From Touchstone, March 2011, p. 1.


Organ recovery strikes harsh note

By Paul Titus

For a few hours after the February 22nd earthquake, Wellington Wesley Parish superintendent Rev Bruce Anderson did not know if his son Joshua was alive or dead.

Joshua was an employee of the South Island Organ Company and one of the six men working to dismantle the pipe organ in the Durham Street church.

“We couldn’t get a hold of Joshua on his mobile. We called and texted but there was no reply.

“A couple of hours later we got a call from hospital staff on his phone. They told us he had been admitted but not what was wrong with him. We knew he had been at Durham Street and that it had collapsed.”

It turned out that Joshua was seriously injured but his life was not in danger. He had a broken pelvis, which caused some internal bleeding. He also had some cracked ribs, a partly collapsed lung and minor fractures.

He has now been transferred to Timaru hospital where he faces a six week recovery.

Bruce says Joshua, who is 18, had only been working full-time for the South Island Organ Company for a short time.

South Island Organ Company managing director John Hargraves says eight people were working on the project to dismantle the organ.

Two were off-site when the quake struck.

Young German organ maker, Moritz Fassbinder was thrown clear of the building when it collapsed. He returned to the rubble to rescue first Joshua and then Neil Hooper with the help of security staff from the Court House across Durham Street.

Three others, Neil Stock, Scott Lucy and Paul Dunlop, could not be saved.

“We are grateful that police and other rescue workers worked through the night of the quake to recover all three men that we lost,” John says.

The South Island Organ Company restores, rebuilds and installs new organs all around New Zealand and Australia.

John says dismantling the Durham Street organ was a job that was carefully planned and it was being carried out by trained professionals.

The site was well-managed by Arrow International.

“The severity of this earthquake was beyond anyone’s imagining.”

He says saving heritage is a key focus of his company.

“We are grieving for the men we have lost. We have received amazing support from hundreds of people all over the world. We will move forward and hopefully help recover some of the organs in Christchurch that are now under threat.”

From Touchstone, March 2011, p. 7.


Deconsecration of Earthquake-Damaged Durham St Methodist Site:

Day of Pentecost, 12 June 2011 –




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: