Church scare

Sweet notes: Blenheim pianist Malcolm Tomes
Sweet notes: Blenheim pianist Malcolm Tomes

"God is angry" Nelson Christ Church Cathedral parishioners murmured after the 6.5 earthquake interrupted an Evensong service last Sunday.

Blenheim freelance organist Malcolm Tomes had already played the first hymn and Dean Nick Kirk was halfway through a prayer when everything started to shake.

The steel console holding the organ bench is raised about 4 metres above the choir stalls and shudders when a narrow, spiral staircase to reach it is being climbed.

"So I thought someone was coming up the stairs to tell me there was a change of order, or they were going to cut the fourth hymn.

"Then it progressed into something a lot worse. I looked up and directly above me was a huge stone lintel holding the curve of the roof."

If it fell, he knew he would be a "goner".

Malcolm had all of the stops on the organ ready to start the next hymn and knew that if he leapt off the bench to shelter under its three keyboards, he would land on its pedals and generate "an awful, deep, thunderous noise".

"I slid off the bench and crouched in the organ loft at the top of the spiral staircase and hoped [the earthquake] didn't progress any further."

As the shaking subsided, he heard fast footprints below, the cathedral's western doors being opened and a general hubbub in the pews.

"After one or two pertinent comments . . . we progressed through the service."

Malcolm and his wife Christabel drove back to Blenheim immediately after the service and were surprised that there were no slips or fallen rocks on the highway to slow their journey.

Sunday's experience is one Christabel hopes she doesn't have again although the cathedral, built by T H Barnes from Blenheim, had felt stable. And church banter had been lovely, she says.

A Wellington man in the congregation used his iPhone and announced the earthquake's GeoNet recording as "5.6," then later "7.1". Its magnitude was later confirmed as 6.5.

"And the dean was praying for everyone and started to say: ‘We pray when we get the next big one . . .' and an elderly lady interrupted, ‘Oh Nick, we don't need that."

The Tomes are personally prepared for a big one, though. Fragile valuables in their home have been moved to floor level; an emergency kit contains water, food and torches; and spare bedding is packed in the car which they are parking outside.

The Marlborough Express