Vicar helps Christchurch to ‘Stay Strong’ after shootings
PUBLISHED: 13:27 17 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:19 17 March 2019
A former Suffolk vicar now living in Christchurch has spoken of the shock that has enveloped the city after 50 Muslim worshippers were gunned down in their mosques.
Matthew Ling and his wife Claire moved to New Zealand last year from Ipswich and are both clergy at St Augustine’s church in Christchurch.
Rev. Ling, who is the vicar, was previously curate of the Constable Churches in East Bergholt and associate chaplain at Ipswich Hospital, having previously worked for Ipswich Borough Council, while Claire, who is associate priest, is a former nurse and health visitor who was a curate at Kesgrave All Saints church.
The shootings that shocked the world happened on Friday when Australian-born Brenton Tarrant burst into the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch and shot dead 42 people before killing seven others at the nearby Linwood Masjid Mosque, with another person later dying at Christchurch Hospital.
Horrifyingly, Tarrant filmed the shootings on a Go-Pro camera and the footage screened on the internet, to worldwide condemnation.
Rev. Ling said the killings had left New Zealand stunned, with many worshippers at Sunday service in tears.
‘We never expected this, not here’ is one of the responses we have heard,” he said.
“There is a sense of shock and bewilderment that in a place where people come to be safe this can happen.”
He said his church was opened on Saturday where its bell was rung 49 times to remember the the dead, only for the death toll to sadly later rise to 50.
Rev. Ling described his congregation at Sunday service as “quiet, shaken and stunned and subdued”.
“A number were in tears. You have to remember this comes after the earthquakes in 2011, which the city is still rebuilding from,” he said.
“When you talk to people they frame things by saying ‘before the earthquake’ or ‘after the earthquake’.
“That shook them to the core, so there is a resonance with that pain in this horrendous event.
“People have never seen so many armed police - its not what happens or is people’s experience here. If you fly domestic airlines here you don’t even need to show ID and security checks are minimal.
“We know people who have family who are scared, the local high school will be impacted by deaths and people working at the hospital know people injured as well as caring for the injured.
“Christchurch is not a big place so many people will be impacted personally. There is a sense of ‘being one of us’’ - its not a ‘them and us’ in any way. They want to do something to help.
“There is a saying ‘Kia Kaha Christchurch’ which was coined during the earthquakes, it means ‘Stay Strong Christchurch’.
“In church today we spoke of the need to show love and peace - and to care for people’s neighbours - as many will be feeling uncertain and frightened.
“Our church will be open each morning this week so that people can come and pray and think and be quiet as they need.”
He and Claire first learned of the shootings via Facebook and saw them unfold on television.
“It reminded us of 9/11 - remembering our feelings then and the repurcussions,” he said.
“We feel the distress and know something of the trauma that will be caused. We are upset too, even though we’ve only been here a year.”
Rev. Ling said it was still early days in the aftermath of the shootings for Christchurch to know what was going to happen next.
But the community had swiftly rallied round to offer immediate help to victims’ families.
“There were lots of appeals for help, and some of the immediate ones for food seem to be met in a matter of hours,” he said.
“There was a call for women drivers to drive some of the widows to hospital and I know some volunteered for that.
“The Anglican church in Christchurch has set up a fund for people to donate money to. I guess the help will need to be over months and years to the families, and we’ll see how and what it is we can do.
“We’ve added to Facebook links to how to help children with trauma. The video coverage of the shooting with livefeeds has been terrible and yet so easy to see on Friday.”
Rev. Ling said he and his wife had taken flowers from their garden to the two mosques as a sign of solidarity from their church.
“Both locations were eerily quiet with people coming, staying a while, quietly and then moving on,” he said.
“They were flanked by armed policemen and right through the day and night we heard helicopters and sirens, which makes you feel on edge.”
Rev. Ling said they also went to lay flowers at the city’s Botanic Gardens where most tributes are being laid.
He said: “It’s a stretch of maybe 50m of flowers, added to every couple of minutes by a family, a couple or a child, sometimes a single rose, sometimes a bunch of flowers, nearly all with messages of sorrow and love and hope.”