Even before the upheaval caused by a series of earthquakes in Canterbury from 2010 onwards there had been questions in the diocese of Christchurch – as there are in many parts of the Church – about how well we are equipped to care for the growing older demographic in our society.
Beginning in 2010 this area of New Zealand suffered a three year period of disaster - repeated earthquakes and aftershocks causing damage to homes and social centres, roads and infrastructure throughout the city and neighbouring towns. In the whole of the diocese 10% of church buildings were destroyed or rendered unable to be used. All remaining buildings needed some repair and many were closed indefinitely. Parishioners and clergy were under stress both at home and in the community - trying to respond to the great need around them.
Some of our church halls that did remain safe to use after the earthquakes immediately became welfare centres offering various emergency support. Such short term emergency support was essential but it was soon clear that the disaster would have long term implications for older people who had been left without safe homes, without familiar neighbourhoods, and without the previous networks of social support and care.
Church communities were challenged to find creative new ways to offer practical and spiritual support to the oldest members of neighbourhoods and towns affected by the disaster. For example, it was now much harder to get from A to B, either by walking or by car - so people were reluctant to go out. And large numbers of churches, libraries, halls, cafes and shops – the sort of places where people had been used to going to socialise – had closed either for repairs or demolition.
The dislocation of thousands of people meant that support networks involving family, friends, and recreational groups were completely disrupted. As the months and years went by all who were working with older people became aware of the growing frustration, ongoing anxiety and grief, and a profound sense of helplessness being experienced by a cohort of people who had previously prided themselves on their ability to cope with any sort of hardship. In many ways, the ongoing insurance wrangles, road works and road closures greatly compounded the effects of the initial disaster.
To begin to address such issues the Anglican Elder Care Project was set up with a focus on research and long term support. On this website you will find the results of the research, information about the Selwyn Day Centres (now known as Elder Care Groups) which were set up in the diocese as one response to the disaster, a catalogue of some of the resources people are finding helpful in their ministry with and for older people, and information about training and education opportunities in this area of ministry.