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Anita Voisey: 'It's about journeying together'

Anita Voisey

While many people left Christchurch after the earthquakes, Anita Voisey did the opposite.

“This is the only place I’ve lived outside of Auckland within New Zealand,” she says.

She made the move for people she’d never met, and took a job that didn’t exist. She came to help the religious community make the most of an opportunity to work, and heal, together.

There are about 300 churches in Christchurch. Seventy-eight have relocated either because of damage, red-zoning or demolition. On any given Sunday, more than 10 per cent of Christchurch’s population is in church.

“That’s not a minority,” Anita says. “It’s a significant number of people.”

As a qualified librarian, she was a research specialist for a financial services firm. In her spare time, she volunteered at her church in Kingsland, which is part of a network called LinkNZ.

“It’s a charismatic type of church, and networked to other churches across the country. We believe not so much in ‘top-down’ leadership, but of support coming from within the community: ‘lateral leadership’.”

“Over the years I’ve become involved in various ministry opportunities around the country, and got to know some church leaders in Christchurch. I met the church down here that was part of the same network. [After the earthquakes] there was something interesting happening in Christchurch in terms of church unity.”

In early 2012, having already made the decision to come down, she was approached to provide administrative support to a group that was looking at church response to post-quake issues. It involved communicating with government organisations and NGOs during the rebuild.

She hesitated (naturally).

“It threw me. I said I’d think about it. I had to talk to some people.”

Then, in April 2012, she drove down.


“It immediately felt like the right place for me. It wasn’t a familiar place, but I knew it was right for me. I was really excited about building a home here.”

“From about July it was just a question of, how do we make this work? They found funding for my position and I’ve been inventing my job ever since, because I don’t know anyone else who does my job.”

It took a long time to decide on a name for “this thing”, Anita says.

“We were sitting in a café one day, wondering what it could be called. Max said, ‘What’s that term that Donald uses that talks about weaving?’”

“We considered how weaving (raranga) and leadership (rangatira) come from the same root word and express the idea of a leader being someone with the ability to weave people together.”

It became clear that weaving was a guiding metaphor for unity in the city. Maori church leaders helped unpack the concept, and with their blessing Te Raranga came into being.


In March 2013, the group gathered 260 church leaders from 40 different denominations and networks for a hui at St Paul’s Trinity Pacific.

“Located in the city centre, it’s a predominantly ethnic congregation. The church building was destroyed in the quakes, and the congregation have been meeting in their youth centre ever since. We asked the local minister Reverend Makesi Alatimu to close in prayer, after which we presented him with a gift – a vase made from Redcliffs clay and liquefaction silt, so they could always take the land with them, wherever their next home is.”

Anita’s role with Te Raranga is to enable churches within Christchurch to work together for the good of their communities as they rebuild.

Representatives from church groups meet for three hours every month as part of the Post-earthquake Inter-Church Forum to discuss pastoral and strategic issues.

Within the churches forum, CCR (Christchurch Community Response) was around the table from early on to bring pastoral issues to the fore, Anita says.

The CCR team works with local churches, enabling a door-knock campaign. “By the end of October this year, volunteers will have been to over 25,000 houses. That works out to be a quarter of Christchurch homes.”

The average age of CCR volunteers is about 70. One of its aims is to help “isolated people” with small problems that have become “life-defining issues” – a leaking tap, a broken window, “that sort of thing”. Solutions are found from within the local church community.

“It might be a tradie to fix something. It might be a hot meal. Patterns appear as we feed information back to the wider group, and we can share these broader trends across agencies and with the government.”


Churches need to be strategic about the rebuild, Anita says.

“If there are two churches in one street, there’s very little point in rebuilding two of everything. How sad not to talk to each other. What we’ve realised from the earthquakes is that it can be a really positive thing to share space.”

It’s been challenging, she says, but also a rare privilege to be part of building a “new city”.

As the organisation builds momentum, new ideas are emerging. One of the challenges is building the social fabric of communities by giving people tools to “break the ice” in new neighbourhoods.

“We want to build on a sense of empowering people, and foster community resilience. It’s difficult for some people who have had to move, and sometimes you need an excuse to develop history in a new place.”

Anita says Te Raranga has already inspired church leaders in other cities.

“It’s a grass-roots group of churches that are mutually giving of themselves for the good of local people. It’s about journeying together in a way where we’re able to put aside our differences and be really good friends.’’

“We’ve wanted to seriously consider the bicultural heritage and ongoing relationships within Christchurch and how we navigate a rebuild, both social and physical, with those concerns.”

She describes a YouTube clip that neatly illustrates the churches’ aim to navigate a co-operative but diverse community: 32 metronomes randomly activated will produce a cacophony of noise. On a static surface, the metronomes will remain forever out of sync, but on a flexible surface they eventually come into alignment.

“I wasn’t here just after the quakes, but I’ve heard so many stories of how, in that shared experience, people were willing to put aside their differences to focus on what mattered. It’s easy to go back to the status quo. I wonder whether remaining flexible and being gracious is part of being able to hold on to that sense of community for a greater purpose.”

“Christchurch is home for me now, and it feels like we’ve just started on an extraordinary journey.”

_As told to Katie Kenny

This story is part of a UC Journalism project to trial a new form of community journalism by recording and sharing people’s everyday stories about the Canterbury earthquakes and recovery. You can read more about the Connecting our Stories project here.