Friday, 13 September 2019

Standing with bushfire-affected communities

Record-breaking dry conditions and high winds sparked a major bushfire emergency across New South Wales and Queensland over the last week, with scores of homes destroyed, many more threatened and hundreds of people evacuated. 

The Uniting Church has co-ordinated chaplains to offer pastoral care and congregations have stepped in to support those communities impacted across both states.

The NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network (NSWDRCN) has deployed chaplains from as far afield as Sydney to the evacuation centres established at Bermagui on the South Coast and Yamba in the north and remain in these centres with evacuees at Dorrigo and Tenterfield. 

Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson explains, “Many people are still out of their homes and may not be able to return for some time.”

“Chaplains continue to bring comfort, support and a listening ear to people processing enormous loss and fear.”

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Photo: Chaplains attending community meeting at Dorrigo, NSW

In South East Queensland the loss of homes has been high. The Uniting Church has four congregations assisting with the fires in Stanthorpe, Canungra, Coolum and Noosa where congregational ministry agents are serving both their congregations and wider communities in these times.

“The difficult reality is that these fires come on the back of a prolonged drought which has already caused emotional and financial stress in many of these communities,” said Rev. Dr Robinson.

In many places, firefighting has brought chemical and ash pollution to water tanks and dams which were already low in water, and where stock feed was limited already, now the fire has destroyed what little feed was available.

Rev. Peter Armstrong, Convenor of the Qld Synod’s Disaster Response Committee, and Associate Director of Mission - Community Partnership UnitingCare, has connected with the affected communities.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted communities. We give thanks for the many volunteers and paid emergency workers who put themselves into the disaster areas to try and interrupt these fires.”

“We are indeed thankful for the interruptions to disasters, whether they are through the courage and capacity of human workers or the provision of a wind shift, rain event or in the case of floods, the rain stopping.”

“And once the events are over, when we are recovering, the interruptions of love and generosity that come from family, friends, neighbours, church or wider community to lift our spirits and to bring us hope are equally welcome.”

When events like this happen, all the months of planning, training and networking come to the fore.

The past week has been extraordinarily full in terms of disaster recovery planning and response.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Robinson hosted two national meetings in Sydney:  

  • The first with the Australian Volunteer Emergency Chaplaincy Alliance (AVECA) which brought together key coordinators of every state and territory’s Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy organisations under one roof for experience sharing. The Uniting Church has a major stake in this important work, with most of the members of AVECA being from the UCA. 
  • The second meeting brought together the UCA disaster recovery coordinators from every synod except VIC/TAS.  This platform has become a very helpful forum of support in development of disaster response and recovery for ministry and inter-synod/inter-state and territory cooperation.

If you want to play a part in the recovery process, there are currently two appeals which remain open to receive donations and requests for support.  They are:

Photo of UCA Synod Disaster Relief Coordinators gathered in Sydney, left to right: Steve Orme and Dale Chesson (Northern Synod), Wendy Perkins (SA), David Jackson (WA), Linda Hamill and Peter Armstrong (Qld) with Stephen Robinson (National and NSW/ACT)

UCA Disaster Relief Coordinators Sydney