Crosslight April 2020

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april 2020

life Breath of

From bushfires to COVID-19: Easter message rings loud and true

Church story’s real truth P9

God, guns and gung-ho: Life as an army chaplain P30 1


Join us

Breakfast with a purpose. Winter can be a particularly challenging time for those most in need. Please join us for our annual Winter Breakfast event in 2020.

Tickets: $65 per person or table of ten $650

This event marks the start of the Winter Breakfast Program. Every winter for the last 27 years, people in the Prahran area experiencing crisis can enjoy a hot meal and some company. winterbreakfast@unitingvictas.org.au

Date:

Friday 22 May, 2020

Time:

7.00am for a 7.30am start

Venue:

Malvern Town Hall

Address: 1251 High Street, Malvern

1800 668 426

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With services across Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting AgeWell’s expert team can help you find the right services to meet your needs. 1300 783 435

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situation is tapping into “ourThefears, but what allows us to tap into hope?”

Reverend Denise Liersch Vic Tas Synod

Here we are, moving through our deep Christian stories from Holy Week, to Good Friday to Easter. From stories of abandonment, betrayal, forgiveness and love, to Good Friday violence and despair, to Easter hope and new life. All of these stories we know so well are stories of God in Jesus that resonate with our own life stories: both the best in us and the worst in us. In this period, we hear stories of Jesus’s friends falling asleep when he needed them, denying, abandoning and betraying him and each other. We hear stories of the destructive power of mobs and the cruel exertion of power and repression by an occupying force. We hear stories of one-time followers, fragmenting and dispersing in their disillusionment, or huddled in fear. We also hear stories of women who remained by Jesus’s side through thick and thin, of friends who risked all to provide for respectful burial and blessing of Jesus’s body. We hear of those who prayed in hope and in unrelenting love, and of those who were brought back together as they encountered the living One of God. In the past few weeks, we’ve been living with our own stories of anxiety and fear in various ways. As I am writing this, in the middle of March, four weeks before Easter, we are living in a time of uncertainty. Having come through unprecedented bushfires and thinking recovery might be starting, we are now in newly uncharted territory. There is bulk-buying and hoarding, abuse of supermarket staff, anxiety about jobs and income, fear of businesses going under and failing financial markets, worry about children’s education and care of elderly loved ones,

and concern for those whose resilience to these challenges is low. But we also hear of people exchanging phone numbers to keep in touch, sharing supplies with elderly neighbours and checking in on them, and other random acts of kindness. The situation is tapping into our fears, but what allows us to tap into hope instead? I’ve been reflecting on how the resurrection stories are ones where Jesus’s followers found hope as they encountered him in their deepest points of despair or disillusionment. Jesus doesn’t fix everything for them, but they experience him in “close encounters”, still with them in their pain … and this changes everything. They experience God in this Holy One, breaking into their lives and rekindling a sense of hope. This is the Good Friday and Easter story we still tell today. The story of the breaking in of God’s redeeming love keeps going. The heart of a society is known by how well it includes and cares for the most vulnerable: widows, orphans, strangers, those left on the edge. The gospel writers call us into loving God and neighbour as ourselves. In the coming months, there will be many who get left on the edge and who could fall through the cracks. But there is One who brings hope in a different way of living amidst the turmoil and anxiety. Just like Jesus’s friends in the Easter stories, we are called into this Christ life, that brings hope and renewal into our lives and communities. This is our resurrection hope. Editor’s note: Due to the rapidlychanging nature of Covid-19 news, Crosslight has not reported on the topic in this issue.

Keep up to date at www.dhhs.vic.gov.au and www.dhhs.tas.gov.au For Synod-specific updates, go to www.victas.uca.org.au 3


From P31

Heaven for

leather For more than 50 years, God’s Squad motorcycle ministry has been reaching out to men considered by many to be outlaws. It provides a much-needed sense of family and church. By David Southwell

Even at a low throttle, the signature throb of a Harley Davison engine announces itself before the bike comes into view. It’s not just the noise that makes those enjoying a leisurely lunch in the hip, vaguely Greenwich Village surrounds glance up when Peter Whitefield swings a gleaming green Harley into the Melbourne laneway for Crosslight’s photoshoot. Peter is in full motorcycle club regalia, or colours, including black leathers, bowl helmet and a cut-off jacket covered in sewed-on patches, with the largest 4

one on the back displaying black and red medieval-style cross motifs framed by the words “God’s Squad” written in imposing gothic script. The classic biker look is completed by Peter’s long, straggly beard and the large tattoos on his beefy right arm. It’s not normal attire for a Pilgrim Theological College Bachelor of Ministry student, but neither is Peter your stereotypical biker or bikie, terms often used interchangeably although “bikies” normally refers more specifically to members of outlaw motorcycle clubs, also called the “one percenters”.

Peter is a member of the God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club, which began in Sydney in the late 1960s as way to reach out to those in motorcycle clubs, both social and outlaw. God’s Squad gained much of its direction and profile under the charismatic leadership of Rev John Smith who, after founding the Melbourne chapter in 1972, became the club’s national president and an internationally recognised figure. “John had a group of people around who had the vision to take the Good News to a bunch of people who were


“Many bikies refer to us as priests,” Peter Whitefield says. Image: Carl Rainer

very much seen as outcasts of the day, probably a bit like the LGBTIQ community today,” Peter says. “Out of this there was a ministry that wasn’t just about bike clubs. It was about working with a broad cross section of the community including, for example, Indigenous people at arts festivals such Black Stump.” Considering the original and most famous outlaw motorcycle club defines its relationship to conventional Christianity and morality in its name, Hells Angels, these groups might seem a particularly unpromising group for

Christians to reach out to. However, Peter, or “Bubba” as he is called by family and friends, says by simply hanging out with bikers and being genuine, the God’s Squad members have come to be widely accepted and even respected. “We’re friends with each other, we get invited to family events – it’s broader than just the bike club stuff,” he says. “We’ve been doing that over many years of hard work and it hasn’t always been easy for the people who’ve gone before us, but many bikies will refer to us as priests and, if they need funerals or weddings, they’ll come to us.”

Peter sees a side to outlaw motorcycle clubs – God’s Squad does not call them “bikie gangs” – that might not be immediately apparent to those whose main perception of the one percenters comes from lurid news reports of drug running and gang warfare or violent TV shows such as Sons of Anarchy. “There’s a sense of family, for many of them it is their family,” he says. “You’ll get young men, often who’ve grown up in foster care, who don’t have family or their family relationships have been strained so they’ve found another family.

Continued P6

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From P5

“For many of them it is a place of safety, it is a place to go to. They don’t want to go out hang out on the streets of Melbourne, they want to go hang out together. “Some of the clubs, when they have their meetings they call that church. Their church family might be the only family they have.” The Melbourne clubhouse of God’s Squad is based at an actual church, St Martins Community Church in Collingwood, where the club holds closed members-only meetings and open meetings, which Peter says can attract up to 50 people. Next year Peter, 59, will be celebrating 20 years of being a fully badged God’s Squad member, which requires a three-year probation style period of being a nominee, the equivalent of being a “prospect” in normal outlaw motorcycle parlance. Peter grew up doing plenty of bush bash motorbike riding in Gippsland, but coming from a very conservative Open Brethren household he might not have been considered a natural choice to join the unusual ministry of God’s Squad, even though his family knew John Smith. “God’s Squad had been a calling that had been a long time in coming, but I’ve always felt a heart for the underdog,” he says. However, Peter does not believe bikers are the outcasts they used to be and argues that, as with young Africans, the statistics show the percentage of overall crime perpetrated by bikers is small and can easily be overstated. “Look, we’re not naïve enough to not to know that some of this other stuff is going on, but I don’t think that, by and large, bike clubs are set up to be criminal organisations,” he says. However, it can’t be denied that outlaw motorcycle clubs, some of which were founded by returned soldiers, have often been associated with violence, the most notorious Australian example being the 1984 Milperra Massacre shootout

between rival clubs in NSW, which left seven, including one bystander, dead. Peter says he had never felt personally threatened among bikies, but also knew how to size up situations. “You’re just aware of your environment and you’re just smart about it,” he says. “At a clubhouse you never lock your bike because a) it’s safe and b) if you need to get away quickly you can. “There have been times in days gone past, many, many years ago, where they’ve said ‘there’s something about to happen at this club and we don’t think it’s best if you guys are here’. “It might be that they’ve got a meeting going on and someone’s about to be thrown out and that sometimes does not end well. “The only thing we have protecting us from the guys we hang out with is trust and loyalty, and if that taken away, we’ve got nothing. That’s what we trade on; that we are trustworthy.” In hanging out with outlaw motorcyclists and adopting elements of their style and protocols, it could be asked whether God’s Squad is at risk of being influenced by the bikies, rather than the other way around, but Peter says the boundaries are made clear. “Bikers are aware of the difference between a one per cent club and a Christian motorcycle club,” he says. “If we behaved and acted as they do we would have absolutely no respect. We are who we are and they are who they are. We understand that and we don’t try to be like them. “We always have to keep ourselves in check. With God’s Squad, we have a group of guys who provide a very strong theological understanding of who we are and what we stand for and part of that would be wrapped up in ‘Jesus Christ, friend of the outcast’. “It’s a fine line we walk all the time and sometimes we might step over that, but we have ways as a group of bringing ourselves back together.” One area of outlaw culture that

We always have to keep ourselves in check. “ We have a group of guys who provide a very strong theological understanding of who we are and what we stand for.

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Peter Whitefield


Image: Michael Lelliott

can prove particularly challenging is the traditional proudly ultra-macho chauvinistic ethos that gives women little, or even no, status, reducing them to sexual playthings or property. Peter says that the attitudes of bikers towards women can be more nuanced than they appear. “The role my wife, Ruth, has played has been really important in the journey of Squad for me,” he says. “We do weddings and funerals together in Squad. We work together as a team. If Ruth doesn’t go to a club with me I always get asked where she is.” God’s Squad does not allow female members, they are called companions, although women used to be able to wear full colours. Peter was apologetic about this and says one reason that decision was made was to be consistent internationally, with God’s Squad now operating in a number of countries. It might be surprising that Peter says his most shocking experiences and stories do not come from being a part of God’s Squad but from his work as a chaplain for the Melbourne Welsh Church, which entails visits to the Malmsbury Youth Detention Centre, and from his school chaplaincy work. “Some of the back stories of the boys in youth detention bothers me, some of the stuff around domestic violence and being involved in street gangs often run by adults,” he says.

Some of the clubs, “when they have their

club meetings they call that church. Their church family might be the only family they have. Peter Whitefield

Not surprisingly, Peter has often been told that he doesn’t look like a chaplain, and indeed once had trouble convincing the police in New Zealand, where he was on his way to attend an outlaw bike club celebration. “The police had the street shut off and I got pulled over and questioned for an hour and a half,” he says. “They asked about bikie gangs in NZ and where are you going and what are you doing.

“When they asked what I did for a living, I said ‘I’m actually a school chaplain’ and they didn’t know where to go with that. “They went ‘a chaplain like we have chaplains’ and I go ‘yeah I work in schools’. If you want to know about God’s Squad do a Google search, we’ve got nothing to hide. They let me go. The local police later apologised.” Peter says that despite being sheep, or you might say Christian lambs, in wolves’ clothing, God’s Squad’s outlaw look generally doesn’t put people off, although some of his migrant Asian neighbours in Maribyrnong “can be a bit frightened until they know who you are”. “We are always welcome because we are respectful, we are polite to people,” he says. This is evident before the photoshoot as Peter pilots his big bike up the laneway in a polite, even cheerfully deferential, manner between the curious onlookers, making him seem more like a motorised Santa Claus than a terrifying marauder. Even the skulls tattooed on Peter’s arm aren’t a celebration of death and darkness, in fact they are the opposite. They are part of a motif inspired by a verse from Canadian Christian singer Bruce Cockburn, which is paraphrased on the front of Peter’s arm: “Nothing comes without some kind of fight, you have to kick the darkness to make it bleed light.” 7


Mission in life 2020 approved grant programs: $11.8m

Grants from trusts and bequests 38% Uniting missional programs 29% Congregational missional programs

$1.2m Grants from

Synod-specific purpose funds

$5.1m

Grants from trusts and bequests

44%

$2.9m

Grants from property sales

25%

$2.5m

33% Other programs 8% eLM programs

10%

Grants from Synod general reserves

21%

Grants from property sales 64% Congregational missional programs 32% Congress support

Every dollar given by congregations helps generate four times that amount to be spent on dedicated mission and ministry programs, an analysis of this year’s Synod budget reveals. This calendar year, the projected amount being given by congregations to Synod is $3.1m. That represents just 12 per cent of Synod’s income, with the rest coming from investment earnings, fees and tariffs from UC camping or IT services, trusts and bequests or grants and contributions from Uniting Vic.Tas, Uniting AgeWell and U Ethical as well as sundry minor sources. This extra income and tapping into reserves allows Synod to provide mission-directed grants worth $11.8m. This has been parcelled out in 120 grants that fund a wide variety of community-oriented church ministry, activities and facilities. For example, in the Presbytery of Loddon Mallee, one of the 61 grants that went to presbyteries and congregations 8

has been used to half fund a mobile ministry. Grants have also been used to offer ministry to migrant workers in Shepparton, fund a Cranbourne congregation’s food truck that gives out free meals and support a ministry placement at Bridgewater-Gagebrook Uniting Church, in a socio-economically disadvantaged area near Hobart. This year there has also been 32 capital work grants approved for mission-focused building projects with funding also put aside for heritage requirements. There is also grant money to make buildings more accessible to those with a disability, which can cover up to 50 per cent of the cost of the works, up to a maximum of $50,000. A bit under half ($5.1m) of the $11m of grants given by Synod are funded by trusts and bequests, which are often tied to specific purposes. For more information, go to www.crosslight.org.au

4% Uniting missional programs

Grants from Synod general reserves 34% Assembly grant 15% Congregational missional programs 14% Presbytery innovation projects 14% Redress, child safety and disability administration 13% Support presbytery operational costs 9% Dalton McCaughey Library grant 1% Other grants


are being called back to our “We purpose of becoming dynamic pockets of grace.”

Rev Dr Sally Douglas Minister, Richmond Uniting Church Honorary Research Associate and Associate Lecturer Pilgrim Theological College

I don’t believe the hype that the church is dying. While this is recited like a mantra I don’t see the evidence. This is because when these claims are being made, context is often ignored. The context in which churches and Sunday Schools were full and the church had tennis clubs and social dances emerged out of a very particular set of circumstances. Churches were large in a western cultural context at a time when the societal expectation was that you had to go to church to be a respectful citizen. The social pressure to conform was enormous – particularly when the voice of the church was often seen as the ultimate moral authority. Added to this cultural expectation, there were far fewer opportunities to socialise, so churches played an important role in society. While in the past, the expectation was that going to church was “what you did”, this kind of expectation no longer exists. Indeed, the very opposite is true in our context. Now in Australia, people who go to church do not garner respect, instead, if anything, they are more likely to attract people’s mistrust and derision. In a sense, over the last several decades, what was a form of “compulsory voting” church attendance has now become an optional, and, for many, a questionable, choice. What I find intriguing about this change in society is that people still choose to attend church. They are not doing this for kudos or respect. There are plenty of affordable quality entertainment options available (which do not involve giving up Sunday mornings). People now have a plethora of ways to connect with others and to promote their businesses. However, despite the flak and the diverse opportunities on offer, young and old people are still keen to find out about the way of Jesus and to go deeper. My sense is that while numbers may be lower, the actual number of people who

are part of church communities because they are seeking to be disciples of Jesus may be higher. While I am adverse to anything that seems like boasting, it is fair to say that where I minister at Richmond UC the congregation is growing. The majority of newer people are young adults. We don’t have PowerPoint or a band. We don’t seek to make worship a form of entertainment, we have no tennis club. Instead, we focus on what is core: creating space for authentic, transformative worship of the Divine, going deeper into the scandalous way of Jesus, and trying to live simply, creatively and generously, together serving in our local and global village. I know other Uniting Church congregations are growing in our Synod too. Churches like Boronia Road UC, Yarraville UC, Fairfield UC, “Common Ground” Heidelberg UC, Canterbury-Balwyn Road UC, St John’s UC Cowes, Brunswick UC, Devonport UC, Launceston South UC and Kingston UC. There are others, too. I simply name these particular congregations because I want to disrupt this tiresome, misplaced narrative of decline. The church as a social club is dying. The church as a marker of cultural respect is dying. The church as the authoritative “purity police” is dying. Thanks be to God because Jesus does not say anything about the church being like these things. Instead Jesus, the radiant One, talks about the church being little and being loving – like salt and light – embodying Divine compassion in a way that people can notice. The church is being refined right now. We are being called back to our purpose of becoming dynamic pockets of grace through whom Spirit can breathe, communities in which all (including ourselves) can discover and share the healing and freedom and meaning that emerges as we draw closer to the Source of all. So let’s get on with it. 9


Rain of As parts of Victoria burned explosively and uncontrollably over the New Year period, Rev Jennie Gordon, UCA minister in Gippsland, was one of the volunteer chaplains deployed to assist those in need. These are the gripping, sometimes heartbreaking, stories she witnessed and heard.

This is holy ground, take off your shoes. This is holy time, the sharing of stories. Death and resurrection are intrinsic to our faith. Moving through the drama and darkness of Good Friday. Sitting in the confusion and grief of the middling time. Then, when all seems lost, hearts broken and arms full of holy herbs, we awake to the surprising life of Easter dawn. Images in the stories that follow resonate deeply within our gospel narrative. You will find them. They will find you. You can be lost in the darkness 10

for a time, but the light will locate you and whisper your name. Listen, keep your eyes and hearts open ...

Bairnsdale

People take their places in the pews as usual, but the greetings run deeper and the stilling of the voices takes longer. In the waiting, facing them from the sanctuary of my place as a visiting leader, I sense the gathered body remembering, reconnecting parts of the whole, re-forming into the collective

congregation of faithful and fearful together… blessed are you. It’s Sunday, 5 January, 2020, Bairnsdale Uniting Church. The East Gippsland fires have been burning since late November with a disastrous escalation on 29 December and in the days that followed. We’re only 15 minutes’ drive from one of the most impacted towns. The little hamlet of Sarsfield has been devastated, with many houses and properties lost. Some of the church


members’ homes are among the survivors, but they’ve lost fences and sheds. I’ve stumbled from sleep in our campervan parked in the driveway of the church house and inside into the shower. The manse is vacant after the recent retirement of the minister and is a welcome place of rest and respite for Victorian Council of Churches Emergencies Ministry chaplains deployed for shifts in the relief centre at the football club. Chaplains have

come to Bairnsdale from near and far and represent many faiths and denominations and I’m one of them. I’ve had more pastoral conversations in the midst of the mayhem this week than for the whole of last year. Midwives of sacred stories birthed from the blackness. Worship time begins, continues and ends; we pray, sing, talk, listen, laugh and let the tears fall. We rehearse our faith so we can act and speak when it’s called on. There’s a space for the

Spirit to bless us and the bread and wine; nourishment for struggling souls becoming what we are, the body of Christ. There are greetings and thanks at the door; “that was what we needed”. Tea pots are hot and talk flows freely again. I stay on in Bairnsdale for the remainder of the week, sleeping in the driveway between shifts with strangers whose faces became familiar. We listen with open ears and ready hearts, dodge the media, dine in style on delicious Continued P12

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Mallacoota Uniting Church, 29 December. Image: Rev Jude Benton

From P11

curries from the Sikh food truck at the relief centre, watch the deluge of donations continue to flood in and manage each moment as best we can. Snapshots stick in my memory; the teenager resting his hands on the shoulders of his sobbing mother as she sat trying to come to terms with losing it all, the delight on the face of the woman who discovered her estranged daughter was safe, the wildlife carer with baby wallabies in a portacot, the young doctor who volunteered her time and had local smarts and a caring heart, the dogs that slipped their leads and headed off into the night, the people who perched at the closed-up bar and watched cricket for days when the disaster updates became too much, and the older couple who slept happily in their fishing boat out the back, emerging for meals and a shower. There are plenty more, but they’re not for sharing. Three days later, at the request of the community, the Bairnsdale UCA hosts a “Sarsfield Community Debrief” with the Twin Rivers Lions Club. Marilyn Cassidy, chair of the Church Council, makes sure there are trauma counsellors present, with rooms to sit quietly and talk. Doors open. The mood is heavy and uncertain as folk and families gather. Local and state politicians and Blaze Aid volunteers address about 200 people. The church is dimly lit with soft music playing. A cross formed by two large branches lies in front of the communion table and a few people wander in and sit. A finger-food dinner is served and the mood lifts as people share stories and experiences. The Sarsfield Hall Committee will take over responsibility from here and they’re grateful for this generous and hospitable space of care and connection. Marilyn sees this as Epiphany, glimpsing the revelation of Christ in the humanity of people, in the simple, generous spirit of reaching out to each other. An essay by a Melbourne writer talked about struggling to make sense of the unfettered flow of urban life while this disaster was unfolding. Apart from the occasional need for a mask to breathe 12

through, café conversation and life in general went on seemingly untouched by the blazing fires out in the east of the state and across our country. The writer found solace in a classroom of likeminded people learning how to create ritual and hold meaning in these tragic times. This is what we do as church, in times of great triumph or trouble, and in all the other ordinary times. Gather, bless and confess then feast on forgiveness, breathe as one in song, bask in silence, summon the Spirit, take heed of the Jesus stories and tremble or sleep, pass

the peace and pray for hope and healing. Then tell our tales over a cup of tea, and with a fistful of faith, go and brave the beloved world together … blessed are you.

Mallacoota

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien


to a dawn that doesn’t happen, “They wakecontinued blackness instead of creeping, seeping light. ”

She’s the only priest in placement in town, in the only church in the region. She wishes it need not have happened in her time, but it did. Rev Jude Benton is the Anglican Priest-in-Charge in our cooperating Anglican-Uniting Parish of Croajingolong. She’s another of our excellent imports from New Zealand and has been in this placement for 18 months. The manse is in Mallacoota and she shares it with her husband, Andy, who works for the Victorian Fisheries Association, and their cat, Nelson, who works for no one. On the Sunday after

Christmas, Jude stands up in church and tells them all the exciting things that are ahead in the coming week with Scripture Union’s THEOS and Family Mission teams. The first “bing” of the Vic Emergency App goes off on Sunday afternoon, notifying them of a fire at Wingan Inlet in the Croajingolong National Park. It’s only a matter of time before it impacts their town. Jude comes up with a new plan for Monday; gather to pray at 10am, people can go to the meeting at 11am, while she prepares the church as an evacuation

centre and they’ll take it from there. At the meeting they’re confronted with the horrifying reality; this is likely to be like 2009’s Black Saturday. It will be raining embers and they are urged to leave town and go north. Jude’s parents, holidaying with them from New Zealand, make it out towards Melbourne before the road closes. As they leave the manse, Jude can’t think what else to pack in the car. What’s valuable? What would I miss? She sends them off with love and prayers. They drive her car to Cann River, unaware they are so close to where the

Continued P14

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Mallacoota jetty, 30 December. Image: Alan McNamara

From P13

fires are burning. Not wanting to drive their boat out where it’s safe and sit tight. He tells Jude there will be plenty too far in this unfamiliar landscape, they for her to do when they return. catch a bus to Bairnsdale and a train Gathering backpacks, blankets and to Melbourne. Safe. It is another three weeks before Jude can retrieve the car. a cage with a cat, Jude and Andy walk Jude knew her job was to stay, and through the caravan park to the jetty, where the boat is moored. People Andy agreed. “Maybe if we had young eating crackers and cheese children, we might have on comfy chairs outside made a different decision, that would their vans eye them with By the numbers have been difficult, disdain, as if they are freaks, fearfully fleeing but it’s just us and the wrath that might Nelson,” she says. not even come. As Jude stocks the church with supplies; they push out on to Number of people food, drinks, movies the water at 7pm who have DIED it’s already getting and bedding from its op gloomy. The middle shop for the 60 people of the lake is dark and who are hoping to shelter there. Someone with a brooding and they’re glad to fluoro vest comes in and tells find others. Abalone boats and tour boats huddle them to evacuate and go down to the together. There are 35 boats in all, pulled beach. As they’re preparing to obey, the police turn up and tell them it’s OK, they up on Goodwin Sands. They throw water across the deck and then curl up below. don’t have to leave. The teams from Scripture Union stay Nelson roams the cabin, settles and sleeps well. with the people. They will be evacuated to the beach in the early morning, then Breakfast is fruitcake. In the chaos stay on for the next few days running Jude has stocked the church with an abundance of good food, but they’ve their programs from the church. Right now, though, there’s mad panic and just got fruitcake and cat food. As they wash the decks, they notice the water is Jude and Andy decide it’s time to go. It’s all surreal and frightening. A police full of burnt leaves. The only embers that friend turns up and tells them to take reach them are already dead.

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Through the morning, the sky turns red then to black, dark as night. They can’t see the flames from where they are, but they can hear the unearthly roar and feel the fire breathing. Once it jumps the inlet it will show its face; the dragon, the monster eating up the landscape as it steals around the coast. In order to go forward, we have to go back a little here and start another story. Swifts Creek UCA is the base for the Frontier Services High Country Patrol. Bush Chaplain Rev Rowena Harris says she’s OK now, most of the time, and has found ways of coping, supported by a counsellor from the Bethel Centre. Rowena’s aware that a trigger – a siren or the smell of smoke – might send her spiralling into that fearful state, back to the beach at Mallacoota. Having evacuated calmly but quickly from Swifts Creek when the “leave now” message came through, and staying with a friend in Lakes Entrance, Rowena drove to Mallacoota singing Christmas carols. A welcome relief. This was a planned holiday staying with friends and their children on the outskirts of town. Rowena is now in Mallacoota and it’s the morning of 30 December. They’ve watched the fires from Cann River barrelling closer. A phone alert says the town is expected to be impacted by flames from midnight and this is the last


The water is dark and oily. “ If those burning embers come (people will) wade into the water under the cover of blankets and prayer.

chance to leave. They don’t, but some do. Another message brings the impact time forward to 7pm; there’s a growing sense of alarm. They pack the trailer and cars. Mid-afternoon, the directive comes to get out now, to the beach or town hall. They choose the beach and a convoy of cars carrying children, pets and anxious adults joins the hundreds of others in the concrete carpark at the foreshore. They wait, have dinner from a café and wait. There’s nothing going on and people sit quietly or sleep in cars. They wake to a dawn that doesn’t happen, continued blackness instead of creeping, seeping light. The “any minute” message comes through the phones as sirens begin and cars empty fast. People take blankets for shelter and head to the beach. The first of many homes explodes, cracking the air that’s humming like a thousand bees in the approaching firestorm. The water is dark and oily. If those burning embers come, emissaries from the evil mouth of devouring flame, they’ll wade into the water, holding the little ones high under the cover of blankets and prayer. What do you pray at a time like this? The “God don’t let me die” prayer seems a bit ridiculous near so much water, but it begins silently then erupts aloud and with it the shame that this might sound

like the distress of a doubter from the mouth of a minister. What do you pray at a time like this? There’s a deeper knowing that the words don’t matter, that the Spirit hears our fears and prays for us, within us, around us and over us. By this time too, so do thousands of people, thanks to social media. Rowena is a prolific contributor to social media, as are many on the beach around her. With the posting and the tweeting comes at least three consequences; firstly, there is a global invasion of interest in the unfolding disaster impacting this coastal community cut off by road, but blown wide open online: secondly, if you don’t post for an hour or four because someone else has your phone people think you have died and they don’t forgive you easily, and thirdly, the whisper of prayer emanating from the epicentre of the chaos is magnified and becomes a cry from the hearts and on the lips of millions across the world. All faiths and none. All languages and silence. Praying to the God of many names. Birds are absent and the islands are burning. By late afternoon it’s safe to leave the beach and return home, whatever that demands. Rowena and the children drive along the intact row of

shops, crazy, as if nothing has happened. Rounding the bend, the devastation unfolds. One house burnt to the ground, the next one standing, three down, two up, one down, no rhyme or reason. They arrive home to a singed but safe house, light candles and drink juice from the warming fridge. Sleep comes easy. It’s a new year. Back on the boat, Judy and Andy are trying to work out whether to go back or stay. They wait out New Year’s Eve, tired, cranky and hungry for anything but fruitcake. At 7am, they decide to see what awaits them, certain that home will be gone. Coming back, the air is still and smoky, like a gentle morning fog with no breeze. Mallacoota harbour is bathed in an acrid burnt-everything smell. They go to the church first. People are OK, the church is OK, and the SU teams are doing well.

By the numbers

1.25bn Number of animals who have DIED

Continued P16

15


Psalm

13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! From P15

Home is still standing, beyond belief. The neighbour’s house on one side has melted around the windows but, miraculously, the gas tanks nearby are intact. The house on the other side has a sweeping rooftop sprinkler, encompassing the manse roof as well, but not the shed. The radius of the circle doesn’t reach that far. Incinerated tools, bikes, kayaks, projects and church furniture lie beneath the tangle of tin. Andy goes to his workplace to check on things. Jude walks a little further up the road, sees the burnt bush and houses, sits on the footpath and cries. People are cruising around already, tourists, taking in the toll. Someone pulls up next to Jude and offers a hug. She politely refuses, preferring to be alone. When the weeping wanes, she dusts herself off and goes back home thinking, “well, I’d better get on with work”. She changes clothes, finds something to eat, and puts on her church name tag, VCCEM lanyard and Police Chaplain lanyard. She’ll wear them for the next 16

couple of months. A parishioner has been told by a number of people that her house is gone. She’s in Canberra having evacuated the day before and is worried sick about her cat. Jude goes, finds the house is still there, sends a photo with the cat looking hungry but happy, sits on the kitchen floor and cries. Jude chooses Captain Stevenson’s Point for the church service on Sunday, 5 January. It’s one of the few places on the beach where the view hasn’t been charred and changed. She’s planned the service with a lady from the Catholic Church and it’s just so hard, in the midst of all this, to make a simple poster. Usually, she’s pedantic about posters that advertise church events. Funky design, eye catching and inviting. This time it’s hand-written and she’s struggling to find somewhere with power connected to make copies. She stumbles into the doctor’s rooms. They copy them off for her and she sits in a chair and cries. Andy is busy with Fisheries as they have been part of the distribution

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.


Rev Jude Benton conducting service at Captain Stevenson’s Point, 5 January. Image: Rev Chris Mulherin

network moving freight from the airport into and around the town. Most of the church folk have gone and some have lost houses. The Op Shop goes into overdrive, way beyond capacity trying to cope with needs and donations. Visitors volunteer and the days roll on. The church is open for movies most nights as people don’t have power. On Saturday, the sky turns black as the town is threatened by increased fire activity. This time people seek refuge quickly, filling the church and the Main Hall in town, supporting each other. On Sunday, about 35 people pray together on the beach – locals, close and loosely connected, tourists and some visitors who’ve been sleeping in the church. Psalm 13 holds lament, confusion and joy. They’re not finished with lament, but the psalm reminds them it’s part of the process and will not last forever. Jude reads My Many Coloured Days, by Dr Seuss. “Some days are yellow, some

days are blue, on different days, I’m different too.” The RAAF is flying overhead, buses are moving behind them, full of people leaving to go north while they still can. The service ends with unaccompanied singing of Amazing Grace... blessed are you. Days run into weeks as Jude stretches time between pastorally caring for her flock as they trickle back to whatever home is now, offering a calm voice in the community, greeting and handling visiting chaplains, being present to the impressively organised chaos at the Op Shop and dealing with calls and emails from people wanting to help. Sometimes she forgets to eat. For 17 days they have no power at home, cooking over a gas ring and showering in the caravan park. “Sometimes all of the activity seems too much – and sometimes there is that calm assurance that I am not facing this alone, that in the midst of crisis the Spirit of Jesus is here, weeping with those who weep,

strengthening me for the next step, and showing me where to stop and rest,” Jude says. She’s asked to conduct a funeral for a home. Preparing the liturgy gives her precious space to sit and reflect and she feels strongly this is something the church can offer as a ritual for healing to the community, where more than 100 homes have been lost.

By the numbers

5900 Number of BUILDINGS DESTROYED

Continued P19

17


Cann River, 12 February. Image: Dept of Defence 18


From P17

Rabbi David, chaplain with the Army, offers Jude a seat on the Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle that’s heading to Cann River. It’s an adventure and a relief to be respected as one of the professionals and part of the team. Locals can be so easily overlooked when an exuberance of outside helpers descends. Jude’s place in the community has been galvanised through her gentle, constant, honest and open response to this disaster. She’s written two articles for the weekly Mallacoota Mouth, one for a NZ Baptist magazine and her own church council report. After a few week’s leave with Andy, she’s looking forward to the ministry that will flow from this time. “We’ve had a voice and a presence, and we’ve done our best,” she says.

Lakes Entrance

Never aspiring to be in this position, captain of the Lakes Entrance Country Fire Authority and Uniting Church member, Phil Loukes, says you do what you have to, because that’s what needs to be done. Phil’s putting faith into action and explains that God’s grace comes in so many everyday things, especially when disaster breaks us open and makes us vulnerable to each other. We can experience so much goodness: deep and open conversations, outrageous kindness, gratitude and compassion in the most unlikely places. It also allows us to stand up to what’s harmful and have the power to challenge and change things. When he was young, Phil thought he had to work hard to prove he was acceptable to God. Now he knows he’s loved, regardless, and he just needs to be the shepherd, looking after the people in his midst, whoever they are. Caring, managing, leading, loving and wrapping his arms around them in the pain. That’s why God has put him here. Phil’s lived in Lakes Entrance all his life and been involved in a multitude of community organisations, having joined the CFA as a junior member in 1971. Co-owning and working in one of the oldest family businesses in the

area, he maintains the commercial TV and radio infrastructure in East Gippsland, employs a number of locals and provides specialist technicians to schools and communities from Dinner Plain to Buchan, Gelantipy to Marlo and everywhere in between. December 30, 2019, is indelibly imprinted in his mind. His son Aaron is on the Bairnsdale side of Sarsfield leading a strike team and Phil and his team are on the other side towards Bruthen. Many of his crew have not experienced the kind of fire behaviour that’s happening around Sarsfield. It’s hot, fast, loud, erratic and unpredictable.

By the numbers

2779 Number of HOUSES DESTROYED

At 3am they’re fatigued and he gathers the team together. Warning them they have witnessed a fire in their home patch that has destroyed houses, businesses, wildlife and maybe even human life, he sends them back to the station. They will all know people who have been impacted. The cost will be huge. Packing up to leave, Phil is approached by one of his crew who asks to be taken to his home. It’s right in the fire zone and his business is also there. About 4am they make their way as safely as possible to his property, knowing there is little hope. While he’s been away fighting this monster of a fire, Phil has lost two houses, all his flower-growing equipment, all sheds except one and all the plants in his fields and hothouses. His CFA mates feel raw and helpless and all they can do is arrange safe

transport to Sale where he will break the devastating news to his wife. Phil isn’t the only CFA member to be in this situation on this night. In the midst of all this loss and pain, Phil’s concerned for his daughter. She’s gone with a CFA team about the Buchan area that’s been heavily impacted, and communication is down. He won’t hear that she’s safe for another 12 hours or more. On 3 January, before the next “spike day” when the weather will turn nasty for fire activity again, Phil consults with the Incident Control Centre and gathers all the local emergency services and representatives from key medical and Indigenous groups. The decision is made to evacuate the area. There’s a huge weight in having to deliver this message to thousands of holiday makers and locals, but Phil is motivated and strengthened by more than his CFA experience. After Black Saturday, he had to break the news to his wife, parents-inlaw and family that their brother and son had perished in the fire. Nobody should have to bear the pain of that loss. The community meeting is packed, and the message is heard and heeded. By lunchtime the next day, the population of Lakes Entrance has decreased from an estimated 45,000 people to just 2000. They’re safe, but the economic cost is massive. The effect of this evacuation will be long-lasting. Shops will close, some sooner than others. The food and clothing stores that have borrowed on their overdrafts to stock up for summer are in dire trouble. The pubs and cafes can’t pay wages and are throwing out food. The holiday rentals are cancelled, and cleaners are without work. Phil’s business won’t be able to access schools for up to seven weeks, so his work and income stops. Many businesses will not survive the next few months, especially the smaller ones. While acting as a sector commander on the ground and supporting a couple of strike teams in the Murrindal grasslands, Phil makes a trip out beyond W Tree to Gelantipy. The captain of the Gelantipy CFA belongs to a farming family and they’ve been hit hard. He’s lost more than 50km of fencing that’s

Continued P20

19


Bushland, Bruthen, 23 February.

stone house has burnt to the ground, the “roofTheirresting on what used to be the floor, the stone walls standing sentry to nothing and no one. From P19

worth more than half a million dollars. On top of three years of drought and poor income, it’s hard to find the energy or the hours to get going again. Like many other brigades, the Lakes Entrance CFA has been busy since early November, when they deployed several members to NSW. Support from other brigades is invaluable, but there’s nothing that works better than local knowledge. Phil’s teams are physically tired due to the long hours and extra work, emotionally exhausted from providing support and carrying the stories of loss, and mentally fatigued from constant critical decision-making. Phil tells the following story, “Marian and I know people who have lost everything. One of the stories I can tell is of a retired minister who contacted me asking if there was a person we could identify that needed financial help. They said they would send a cheque, so before 20

the population of Lakes Entrance has decreased from an estimated 45,000 people to just 2000. They’re safe, but the economic cost is massive.

it arrived I met with the lady and told her of the generosity of the gift that was being sent. She said ‘others are worse off than us’. “It gave me the chance to say to her that by being gracious in receiving the gift she was also receiving the love of others who felt it was all they could do to help. Receiving and accepting this gift was being open to being loved by

others, we are all worthy. Lots of tears and more conversation followed. They received a cheque for $1000 through love and grace. Just one example of so many others. In spite of this feeling of general fatigue and exhaustion, the sense of camaraderie and community support has been overwhelming, and we are better off for it.”

Lake Tyers

Less than 15 minutes from Lakes Entrance is the Gippsland Presbytery’s Camping and Caravan Park at Lake Tyers. Set right on the foreshore opposite the hotel and general store, it’s always full over summer. Ron Gowland, Chair of the Presbytery, oversees the management committee. Ron, Judy and their young children spent their summers here, now his grandchildren join them as well. Like the Gowlands, many families have been holidaying here for more than 40 years.


Blessing (from the Funeral for a Home) “The God of compassion, who grieves with us and with the land, for all that has been lost, bless you with love and comfort, now and for ever, In the name of the creator, sustainer and giver of life. Amen.”

Usually, in the peak of the summer season, tents, caravans and cabins host a throng of 400 people. Not this year. It’s 30 December and the 300 or so people in the park are deciding if they will stay. Some families set up in their usual spots despite the early recommendation to leave East Gippsland. The evening skies glow red and it’s eerily quiet. Managers Miranda and Terry Fulford say that if the park was empty, they wouldn’t have stayed, but they’re responsible for the people on the property, so they stay. They’ve briefed some young men on the use of fire hoses and nominated the brick assembly hall as a refuge if required. Only a few days later the evacuation call comes and they close the facility. Miranda and Terry go to Stratford to wait it out. Ron takes his family home. The fire front comes within 7km of the park. Roads reopen in a few days, and they reopen the park only to be evacuated

once more because of the hazardous air quality. Many won’t return until next year. They will lose $70,000 income. People are safe, that’s what matters.

Corryong

North East Presbytery is battling the blazes too, the Corryong Complex fires, made more complex by the state borders the fire doesn’t seem to acknowledge. Rev Andrew Delbridge is the Alpine Regional Resource Minister and an Army Chaplain. He’s had experience in the clean-up after the Black Saturday fires of 2009 and the same principles apply here. People, lots of people, are running around full of busyness, often getting in each other’s way. It’s smashing the farmers hard. Drought, fire then flood washing away what was left of rocks and soil. They’re losing generations of breeding stock and if they had to choose, most would rather

lose their houses. There’s a long road to recovery, if they take that path. Others will walk off the land, as they have already. No need to lock the door. Don’t look back. It’s the tyranny of distance that makes this harder for Andrew. He’d rather drive an hour or two and have a face-to-face conversation with someone who’s hurting than make a phone call. Blaze Aid, the volunteer organisation that comes in quick and mends essential fences on farms, rings him and he arranges a catch-up with a battling man on the land. There’s a local footy match happening somewhere else and they’d like the chaplain to be there. It’s only an hour and a half in the other direction, he can make it easy. He can’t be everywhere for everyone, however, and that’s one of the costs in a disaster. The usual rounds of ministry are disrupted, and Andrew isn’t there when one of his congregation members breaks

Continued P22

21


From P21

down in the worship service and needs comfort and care. The congregation gather round her and Andrew follows up when he can. The impact and cost of these fires moves way beyond the burning landscape. Andrew gives me two names of church folk in Corryong to contact: Pamela Menere and Linda Nankervis. Pamela’s voice has the heavy tones of a weary soul, but she’s happy to talk. Her family came to the Corryong district in the 1860s. They farmed successfully, raising a dairy herd and establishing the first flour mill in the area until the 1939 fires destroyed the family farm and sent them into town, where Pamela lives now. In normal times she doesn’t shop, feeding herself from the extensive vegetable garden, but these are not normal times. She spent 48 hours putting out embers around the house at the peak of the inferno. The fire came at the town from two different directions, two days apart. She left town on the last convoy on 5 January, driving through burning roadsides, and was away for two weeks. Some of her friends haven’t come back. Their stone house has burnt to the ground, the roof resting on what used to be the floor, the stone walls standing sentry to nothing and no one. The church hall was used as a wildlife rescue station and the manse housed Red Cross volunteers and VCCEM chaplains sent in for a week at a time. The Uniting Fencing team from Benalla camped in the carpark. Pamela made sure they had what they needed. Pamela is the person people contact when there’s a need that can’t be met through the official systems. She has a list of people waiting for replacement water pumps to bring water to the stock from rivers and dams. They’ve sold out in Albury and are waiting for a truckload from Melbourne. There are a shortage of rental houses and those who were burnt out are struggling find somewhere to live. Pamela coordinates help and does her best to make sure people get what they need, whatever that might be. Since the fires there have been floods, mud and 22

rockslides and whole sides of mountains slipping down on to houses and into burnt out valleys. There’s a pause in conversation. “On Sunday night,” Pamela begins and the heaviness in her voice deepens, “my 18-year-old nephew took his own life. He told his mother he was going fishing and didn’t return. He was a gentle caring soul who had been rescuing animals all his life. His friends lost their houses and livestock, he experienced the fury of the fires firsthand. “The trauma of seeing all of the devastation was too much. He’d sought help and was on anti-depressants, but it wasn’t enough. He just ran out of hope. He’d graduated from his VCE and had been accepted for an apprenticeship. He’d done his training with the CFA summer fire crew only two weeks before

hectares. That sounds a lot, she says, but it’s steep, rising country. Soft, undulating, with lots of hills. I catch up with her on the phone while she’s visiting grandchildren in Geelong. They haven’t seen her since the fires, so I try not to intrude too long. The fire came through twice, days apart. The first time was New Year’s Eve and it stopped at the edge of the property. The second time it ran right through them. All up, they lost 39 head of cattle, out of a herd of 880 and paddocks, and feed, and fences ... They were able to save

stone house has burnt to the ground, “theTheir roof resting on what used to be the floor, the stone walls standing sentry to nothing and no one.

the fires started and had been out fighting fires in the disaster. His death will never be counted in the fire statistics, but it should be.” The town is devastated. There are mental health bulletins going out. I ask if she wants me to share this story and she says it’s important. Her prayer is that the community recovers without any more loss of life. She sees the emotional trauma on the faces of people in the street. The impact of the fires is beyond imagining. There are a lot of people asking Pamela why God might have done this. She tells them God didn’t do this, and that God is in the recovery, in the new growth and reviving of nature. God is everywhere, giving us life. Her faith is her resilience. She’s been caring for a friend with cancer and has just come home from gathering firewood for the winter, there’s still plenty around. Linda Nankervis is a farmer on 1000

most of the stock because they had the time and facilities to move them to safer ground. It’s an horrific undertaking to bury your animals. Luckily, they had an old excavator. It’s like any death, you do what has to be done. The boys took care of theirs one day and their neighbour’s the next. Linda continues: “The frightening thing isn’t the fire, it’s the waiting. Once it comes, it’s a relief. Our house was spared, but we slept in town for a week after the fire. Out at the farm it was constantly dark, black with smoke, like 5pm on a winter’s night and hot. Then there’s the acrid smell of ashes. It took us ages to get the cattle into two mobs, into paddocks. They cry with distress. For them, it’s like Continued P24


Farm shed, Sarsfield. 4 March. Image: Rev Ian Ferguson

23


From P22

suddenly ending up in a refugee camp; you’ve undergone a huge trauma, you’re not on your patch and you don’t know where your mob is and there’s no food and a great queue for water. “My brother-in-law, whose place was burnt four days before us, crossed the paddocks in a truck 24 hours after the fire to bring us a load of hay. The power lines were down over the road. They settled after they’d had a feed. The trauma counsellor encouraged us to get back to routines as much as possible, so we cleaned the black soot out of the house and that was helpful. “Rev Andrew Delbridge showed up early in the week after the fires. There was hardly any phone reception and I was frantically trying to secure feed for the stock. I had to keep going out to the verandah to get reception. I was constantly walking dirty footprints into the house and the mess was really distressing. Andrew asked what he could do to help so I gave him a mop to clean the verandah. When I think of it now, I’m horrified, but he was happy to help.” 24

Linda talks about the Sunday, two weeks in, when they gathered in the Corryong Uniting Church hall for prayers. They just showed up and people kept coming in. Andrew came and the ADF chaplain popped in. I ask Linda what it means to be a person of faith in this disaster, “Faith is about struggling with all the difficulty, all the time, not about escaping from it. It’s mucky and murky and you never know what you’re going to get.”

Melbourne

Back in the city, it’s horrifying. There’s an unfathomable scope to this unfolding disaster that hasn’t been encountered before and it’s happening in places the city folk know and love. Holiday spots, returning summer after summer, camping, fishing, boating, recovering from the stresses of life in these idyllic locations that are now on fire. There’s a terrible sense of powerlessness. What can we do? What do we have to offer? The donations of money, food, clothing, time and

whatever else comes to mind pour into the ravaged communities. When Rev Ian Ferguson gets the call from the Synod office to consider a three-month secondment from his placement in Brunswick to the empty manse at Bairnsdale his first response is relief. Here’s something I can do. Here’s a way to contribute that’s part of who I am. He’s on the beach, on holidays away from the firezone and he thinks about Jesus calling the fisherman to follow. They were called to use their skills in a different way. “I will make you fishers of people.” They were called to do what they already do, in a different context. Brunswick UCA and Ian’s family bless the plan. Bairnsdale UCA makes the manse comfortable for everyday living from the Op Shop store and Ian’s in place ready to work with the congregation and the presbytery, offering care and support to local ministers and communities. It’s that “need to do something” that fuels the work of the VCCEM, which is part of the Recovery and Relief Plan


Bushland, Cape Conran, 10 March. Image: Rev Ian Ferguson

By the numbers

186,000 Number of SQUARE KILOMETRES BURNT

of Emergency Management Victoria. To join as a volunteer, you need to be a recognised member of your faith community and do the training. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Social media was flaming when a volunteer from another agency caused great distress to an Aboriginal Elder, his people and the community. It’s a hot and blustery day and the wind is whipping up fires and playing

havoc with evacuee’s tents on the oval at the Relief Centre. There’s a heightened sense of danger and distress. I’ve been out helping a colleague re-pitch the flattened tents, being quizzed by him on Bible verses until I needed a break. Did you know that Abraham was called a tent peg? Sitting inside with a glass of water, a man beside me comments softly in my direction, “I think I’ve done the wrong thing today”. The story unfolds about hours of giving out petrol vouchers and inadvertently insulting the Elder who came later in the afternoon as the value of the voucher offered was greatly reduced from that given to others in his family earlier in the day. Underneath the story I hear a deeper one of lack of cultural awareness and training, lack of cultural safety around these vulnerable people seeking assistance – lack of character, someone said. Volunteers can spend hours doing good and undo it all in one single action and the damage is often irreparable.

Racism runs deep and can take so many forms. Unless we know ourselves well enough to understand how we respond under stress, how our actions impact those around us, how our desire to help can sometimes do great harm, we shouldn’t be out there where it matters. Every conversation we have is sacred. Every person encountered, agency and evacuee alike deserve our pastoral best. I sat with him and heard his story and went away with a deep sadness.

Mallacoota, four weeks on

The biggest curly blindside for VCCEM was when we were asked to airlift teams into Mallacoota with the RAAF. There’s a massive vote of confidence in what we do right there. Imagine this; as a volunteer you’re asked to consider being deployed for five days into a dangerous area that’s cut off. You’ll need a day either side for travel and you’ll probably not know your teammates. You’ll stay together in a stranger’s house where

Continued P26

25


From P25

the fire has burnt almost up to the back Zoos, Fisheries, Vic Pol & their Public door but it’s safe except for a hole on the Response Unit ... and VCCEM. verandah floor, please avoid. Oh, and by They call us “The Chaplains”. In many the way, you’ll be flying in on a military ways I feel as if we are a uniformed plane. invading force, in a town under siege, Mallacoota’s airport runway is 1000m and that’s not entirely comfortable. long. A RAAF C-27J Spartan requires The local pub is closed to the locals, 680m to land, so it pulls up short and feeding the workforce with hundreds fast, hold on. of dinners daily. Cafes have an I’m given that intel mid-flight by my arrangement with DHHS to pay for our cousin’s husband, a flying geek. As far lunches, or we can get them from the as I know that’s accurate. We sit on cool room at the CFA, bagged and ready. stretcher seats lining the body of the The morning of day two I discover plane and, as we touch down, I end there’s a DHHS-sponsored coffee hour up in the lap of the person beside me, from 0700hr to 0800hr at the hut down strangers no more. by the water. It’s a gathering place for We’re the third VCCEM team to be sent morning briefings for the services and in this way, for five days’ deployment. It’s there’s some good opportunities for 27 January and Team Charlie is on the pastoral conversation with a variety ground. of service and agency people as Dropped off at well as the tired and tested Rowena’s friend’s locals. house on the The barista’s an artist, outskirts of town each cup a different By the numbers and surrounded design, delicious and by burnt bush, worth the wait. I I’m just beginning deliver him a set of to take in how keys to a holiday How much money has ferocious this fire house, from a family been DONATED has been. Rowena in the Mirboo North was airlifted out in a congregation who Chinook by the RAAF, were evacuated by after 10 days of waiting. boat. A friend of the Her Frontier Services Car barista has lost his house is safe, parked near the buckled and he’s couch surfing. This will ease fences and spared paddocks just beyond things in the short term. the house. Community meetings are held every The family have evacuated too, few days, updates and question time driving out when they could for a break with a small packet of chocolates on somewhere less stressful and sad. each seat. Crushed water bottles and breathing As we arrive for the meeting at the masks line the car and it smells like Relief Centre there’s talk about it my grandpa, stale smoke. I drive into winding up and moving into recovery town to join the rest of the team at mode. It was set up and tirelessly our accommodation. Someone from maintained by good-hearted, capable the church has left the keys, in case locals when nobody else could get the house can be used, and it is, with access to the town and there’s some gratitude, by the first two VCCEM teams tension around whose decision it is to and now Team Charlie makes it home close and what should happen to the base. boxes upon boxes of food donations. The town should be bustling with There’s a sign on the door in capital holidaymakers, instead it’s full of service letters that says WELCOME TO THE and agency people like us. The Army, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF MALLACOOTA. RAAF, CFA, SES, DHHS, DELWP, Parks Vic, It’s a sign. Dr Rob Gordon, a psychologist Red Cross, Vinnies, Salvos, Wildlife Vic, specialising in bushfire recovery, has

500 M

26


Great Alpine Rd, near Bruthen, 14 February. Image: Rev Ian Ferguson

made himself available and his presence is respected. There’s a calm quiet when he speaks. His message is recovery takes time, shouldn’t be hurried and that individuals and communities who recover well have good social capital; connections and care for each other and a commonality of purpose. He tells the gathering to be kind to each other. He tells the local government and agency staff to commit to following up quickly on questions and comments that arise. He tells individuals to get as much as they can of pleasure and leisure and to look out for their neighbours. In the dusky light of a smoky evening, out at Genoa’s first community meeting since the fires, after a sausage in bread with sauce, the community gathers in the hall. You can sense the collective strength in these people even though they are so weary. I speak to a young couple who have been living here for two years. They’ve been told that now they are locals; they’ve lived through the inferno together, bonded by tragedy. Alongside the devastation to bush and wildlife, there was a loss of human life in this community and the pain is palpable. Two of our VCCEM chaplains have been invited and we bring bags of chocolates from Mallacoota, one for each seat. People are angry with the way the forests have been managed. A local group made recommendations that were ignored. Communication wasn’t great and the tiny community at Gypsy Point continues to live without adequate mobile or internet connection, constantly cut off from warnings and information. Rob is spreading his message of calmness and kindness again and they listen, leaning into each other, and you can sense them let go a little and breathe. There’s talk of cool burning and learning from Indigenous land practices and the conversation is deftly dismissed with hard words from a local that no one wants to challenge. Then it’s supper time and one man makes his way past the cakes and out into the night. Standing at the door I catch the eye of Bruce Pascoe, writer and wise Elder. We exchange Continued P28

27


Rev Jennie Gordon with Jasper and Xas, Cape Patterson. Image: Rev Arnie Wierenga

From P27

a silent, powerful something and he leaves. I’m feeling blessed and gutted. Our deployment includes countless conversations in cafes and around the town, delivering food boxes to a recently returned family and sweeping burnt leaf litter from the front yard of the kindergarten. We help pack boxes of unclaimed food and stack them in a storeroom. No one knows where they’re going. In a week or two it will flood, and the lower boxes will buckle and break. It’s part of the struggle of managing an abundance of generosity. School goes back this week and we get a wave from a teacher as we walk a circle of blessing around the perimeter fence on day one. Life is returning to a semblance of recognisable rhythm, at least in some ways. Heavy smoke at the airport grounds the planes, so, with a permit from the police and permission from VCCEM, I drive the team out of Mallacoota in Rowena’s car, on a day that will hit 40 degrees. Somehow, I have switched on the heated seat option and I share my strangely personal discomfort with the passengers who laugh and are unable to assist. Finally, after driving through hours of blackened landscape and smoky fog, carefully moving around roadworks and heavy machinery, I drop them at the RAFF base in Sale. Stopping to refuel, I discover the switch and turn it from “high” to “off”. Relief. On my way home. Gippsland Presbytery’s Ministry Team has been working away. Deb Bye is keeping our social media profile updated with stories from the churches and beyond, while hosting an evacuee, handling insurance arrangements for Jude and Andy’s shed and Rowena’s car, and managing as best she can in the smoky days that deeply impact her health. She’s also keeping on top of the work required for an ordination in January and a change of Presbytery Chairperson in February. Rev Peter Batten has had a small relief centre of his own operating from the 28

manse in Sale, where his family and their friends evacuated to, from holidays in Lakes Entrance. He’s also been deployed with VCCEM in the local centre and at Bairnsdale. My husband, Rev Arnie Wierenga, is the Team Leader for the Pelican Ministry team that covers the churches that have been impacted. He’s been liaising with Synod, Frontier Services, Bishop Richard from the Anglican diocese and numerous other folks, as well as keeping in pastoral contact with our ministers working in the area. He’s pleased to see me arrive home. I’m grateful to be home.

Bairnsdale, six weeks on

Ecumenism has come to the fore. The local minister’s group organised a grief counselling session at the Riviera Christian Church and a service at St Mary’s Catholic Church attended by more than 200 people, followed by a

BBQ hosted by Rotary. There have been other ecumenical services held at Buchan and Bruthen and a concert for fire-affected children, with show-bags made up by Rotary, Red Cross and the Bairnsdale UCA. Ian Ferguson has been learning about rural ministry. In his first week, he’s planning a trip to Swift’s Creek to visit Rowena and attend a meeting. Rowena suggests it would delightful if he could bring a kilo of prawns for her dinner. Fresh prawns don’t find their way up the mountain easily. So, bless his pastoral heart, he sources them in Bairnsdale and sets off in the rain. Less than halfway up the Great Alpine Road the traffic has come to a halt. Down a severely burnt mountain slope bursts a river of mud, taking trees in its wake and surging across the road. No one is going in either direction. Ian and the prawns beat a retreat. He checks the Vic Roads app next time he’s planning on heading up the mountain.


WHERE YOUR

money Orbost

It’s the third weekend in February and Arnie’s co-leading a Saturday afternoon retreat for the Orbost Elders with Rev Nathaniel Akoi Atem. I’ve walked in as they’re discussing how the First People lived in harmony with earth, water and fire and how much we could have learned and still can. The talk turns around to individual and collective feelings of helplessness and of being overwhelmed by the disaster that unfolded around them. They’re quick to say that as a church they did nothing and have nothing to offer that’s relevant or required. As the conversation continues it seems that’s not the truth. Nathaniel consulted the church council and stayed on to offer prayer and pastoral support while his family evacuated to Melbourne, his son pleading to stay to look after his father. Don belongs to Rotary and they’re rebuilding sheds and fences. Grace is the “God lady” at the Bowls Club and she’s trusted with stories of struggle. Each Sunday as the fires raged around this small, strong congregation they faithfully conducted worship, hosting the Fijian Army Unit and delighting in their gift of song. Seventy-five people came to “Chat n Chew” in February; more folk than usual wanted to share in the hospitality and community of good food and company. There’s a yearning to open the church doors more often, allowing access for others into their space of healing and hope. Still in the grip of drought despite the visible greening they resonate with resilience. Farming families have long memories. David has to leave the table before the blessing. He’s got a truckload of silage outside to deliver to the dairy before dinner.

What now?

Hold these stories with prayer and care, and the many more that have been shared already and are yet to be told. Donate money with no conditions. When we are no longer on high COVID-19 alert, visit and worship with the local folk. Stay, spend money in the towns and

support the small businesses. Plan a church camp at our park at Lake Tyers. In six months, as winter opens into spring, ask what you can do to help. If you have skills, gifts and graces in chaplaincy or pastoral care to offer, for a short or longer time, contact the Gippsland or North East Presbyteries. Prepare a disaster plan for your congregation, agency, school, presbytery or synod. Have a meeting, think of scenarios, buy what you need. Make networks with your local Emergency Services and find out how you might fit in with their plans. These stories hold the holy, the presence of the risen one amongst us. Our world has been fundamentally changed by this horrendous bushfire season. Now is the time, more than ever before, to take off our shoes, stop stomping over this fragile, ancient earth and tread lightly, live lightly, love greatly. All of us are bushfire affected. This is holy ground.

Blessing

(from the Funeral for a Home)

“The God of compassion, who grieves with us and with the land, for all that has been lost, bless you with love and comfort, now and for ever, In the name of the creator, sustainer and giver of life. Amen.” Rev Jennie Gordon lives in South Gippsland with husband and ministry partner Rev Arnie Wierenga. Recipient of the national Romanos the Melodist Prize for religious poetry, she co-wrote Dad & Daughter, Prayers and Poems on the Gospel with her father, Rev Ron Gordon.

is going

$250,000

MORE THAN has been raised through the Uniting Vic.Tas Bushfire Appeal to support the immediate needs of people affected and deliver long-term recovery efforts.

$70,000

ABOUT of that tally has been raised by congregations. So far Uniting has been able to provide:

✓ food and petrol vouchers

to individuals and families

✓ toiletries that were in short supply

✓ back-to-school items ✓ materials for Uniting Vic.

Tas early-learning centres to help young children cope in the immediate aftermath

✓ P2 masks for people

struggling with the poor air quality.

You can still donate to the Uniting Vic.Tas Bushfire Appeal to support long-term recovery at unitingvictas.org.au

Need help? Contact Lifeline on 131114 29


“There’s a lot of Christians in the military who are actually out there in difficult situations. They are the true ambassadors of the church.” How do you reconcile God and guns? Serving Australian Defence Force reservists Steven Bernaudo, 33, and Rev Ron Rosinsky, 52, talk about being Christians in the military

Steven

I am a soldier in the Air Force. Previously I was full-time, now I am a highreadiness reservist. My rank is an LAC, which means a leading aircraftsman. Rather than aggressively taking land and holding it, as is the doctrine of the army, ours is to protect the air force, the people and the planes. I am also studying a Bachelor of Theology and candidating to be a deacon in the UCA. I think it was about 10pm on New Year’s Day I got the confirmation I had to be at my Point Cook base the following morning and my unit travelled down to East Sale. We took trucks, buses, anything that could potentially help because we didn’t fully know what we would be doing. My role was security for the planes that were going down to Mallacoota to rescue people. The smoke was just ridiculous. If I wiped the sweat off my brow my arm would be black. At midday, you could 30

look at the sun and it was a little orange circle, it was like dusk all the time. At one point, visibility got to about 800m at best. Normally you can see a couple of kilometres so it was causing problems with taking off and landing of the planes. The firefighting was left to firefighters but, because we’re highly trained and because of our high work drive, we went down there to assist by being dogs’ bodies and doing basically everything else. Each day I had to be flexible, it could be anything. The work would just keep piling up. I would be receiving 10 phone calls – “you’ve got to do this”, “you’ve got to do that” – but I would have five things to do before then. I would drop off water and food around the base. Evacuees, no matter where they were, had access to food and water. If you could get lunch you would, but a lot of the time people were coming in about lunchtime, so you couldn’t. Then, all of a sudden, there is someone’s wife or husband at the front

gate, so we have find that person and take them to the gate. One day I got a call that we needed to set up 150 beds, so myself and another guy set up 150 beds. I also dropped off the specialist medical people who couldn’t fly into Mallacoota because of the smoke. One of them was from Darwin because there were no other medical staff available on the entire eastern coast! The first week, my days went from 5am until midnight. By the third week, we started to go into shifts and I was on an eight-hour duty roster, but on call for another eight hours. When the flights came in I’d welcome the people off. They’ve just been in a natural disaster, so your pastoral care starts right there. The firefighters on the ground don’t have the chance to speak to the evacuees, they are just trying to get them out of the emergency zone. Once the evacuees come on base and know they are safe that’s the critical moment because then everything stops.


Image: Carl Rainer

They start to realise and think about everything that has happened and that’s when they most need some emotional support. They might be scared, they might be disorientated or vulnerable, so it was just to reassure them that everything was OK. That’s your chance to help the person and you can really make a big difference for them. Even though there were identified chaplains, not everyone is a Christian and not everyone wants to speak to a chaplain. So, we found they were either speaking to the paramedics or the people in the military. What you found is the older generation spoke to the chaplains. With the children you’d have confusion and, believe it or not, excitement. They were really happy and fascinated to be on the military base. Just hearing children laugh made it a little bit more OK. It was a very strange effect. It was so poignant, it changed the atmosphere, the energy. It just uplifted you, gave you that little bit of hope. That

little smile, that little laugh made all the hard work and effort worth it. I want the church to have a little more appreciation of what the military does. I want to show just because someone’s in the military, it doesn’t mean they are not Christian or applying Christian principles. We live the Gospel through love and service to all. There’s a lot of Christians in the military, not just the emergency services, who are actually out there in difficult situations. They are the true ambassadors of the church because they are doing the hard work that not everyone can do. Firefighters and paramedics did more for the church than the church putting out statements or saying prayers. People want action, they want Christian principles and beliefs applied. That goes for any religion or organisation that espouses care and service for others. I wanted to join the military since I was a little kid. I joined the Air Force full-time in 2009 at age 22. I became a reservist in

2013. It’s good to have one foot in both civilian and military worlds. In 2014, I got a phone call and 48 hours later I was in the Middle East. The whole point of that mission was to disrupt IS. It was effectively a civil war based on culture and religion achieved through intimidation. Every day, IS would go into a town, kill, steal, torture, rape and conscript child soldiers. This awakened in me a deep desire to assist these innocent people in any way I could. I didn’t go to the Middle East to kill Muslims and Arabs. I went to protect women and children and grandparents who were being killed by people from their own country and religion or, even worse, they were being raped and forced to send child soldiers or being tortured and forced to do other things. It could be likened to hell on earth, but for every evil act there was a corresponding act of good. It’s a completely different environment on deployment, it’s not the church and I am not around Christians, but that

Continued P32

31


From P31

doesn’t mean I can’t apply my Christian principles and beliefs, putting them into practice and contributing to a positive environment for all. Yes, there are chaplains, but that doesn’t mean all the security personnel want to go and speak to chaplains. Most are repulsed by religion. I was the first port of call because I would hear people’s problems as I was working in their vicinity. Then just very slowly, I would move them on to the professionals, such as the chaplains. So I sort of bridged the gap and said there is nothing wrong with getting a bit of help. Eventually, once you get past the ego, the bravado and the arrogance and all that, then you get to what is really happening with someone. Some discriminated against me for having faith, but by the time things started going wrong, they had come to know me and saw how I handled the challenges of war, their perception of me changed. They started to see I was patient with people, even if someone got angry at me or judged me. I forgave and forgot and they had nothing to say to that, some were dumbfounded. In my conversations with the chaplains I said, “When I am older I want to be a chaplain”. One of them said: “Why do you have to wait? If you look at it you are already doing half the stuff now, I think you would be a great chaplain.” The problem was I had been out of the church a little bit. I had grown up in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, but wasn’t involved as an adult. I started to experience the Uniting Church through my wife and her family. Everyone laughs at this, but it is actually serious: I read the Basis of Union in a tent in the desert at about 3am. I felt I understood and agreed with every word. I liked how it was very traditional, but also very open. It had a flexibility, a broadness, yet, a profundity that I liked.

Ron

I had an interest in military history when I was young growing up in Madison, Wisconisn, the Midwest of America. However, I grew up into what is called by some a “peacenik”. I was very much into 32

Liberation Theology and so very antiestablishment for my first 25-30 years. I did my masters in theology at Chicago’s Garrett–Evangelical Theological Seminary run by the United Methodist Church. The seminary president was mates with the thenminister at St Michael’s Uniting Church, Rev Dr Francis Macnab, and from that connection I came to Melbourne to work as an assistant minister to Dr Macnab. I moved my ordination to the Uniting Church and have done a number of placements. I also married an Australian, Isabella, and have three children. In 2010, I was minister at Ascot Vale Uniting Church when my friend Rev Mark Dunn, then minister at the neighbouring St John’s Uniting Church in Essendon, said: “Have you thought about going into the Army Reserve as a chaplain?” Mark was a chaplain and we talked about it. To cut a long story short, I got involved and was commissioned as an officer and a chaplain in 2011. In the army, all chaplains start off as captains. You go in as a special service officer and have to go do basic training at the Royal Military College in Duntroon. You learn how to do field craft and all the stuff a soldier would learn, but you have to do it in four weeks. Learning to fire a weapon was very sobering. I didn’t exactly feel comfortable holding the rifle. The first time you fire a live round into a target you really think about it, it’s a visceral feeling. You’re glad you’re not on the receiving end, it’s a real wake-up call to the reality of soldiering. In the Australian army, padres can carry a weapon in deployed situations. The rule is that you can only use it to defend yourself or your mates. You also do chaplains’ courses on providing pastoral care in the military context and advising the chain of command on ethical and moral issues, for example war crimes. There’s a real role for chaplains to advise command on moral accountability issues. Every year, chaplains do training seminars on moral accountability, what you can and can’t do according to human rights laws in a combat situation.

Some of my colleagues who are chaplains have been away for six months on deployment and you don’t get that time back with your family. It’s a big ask. Generally people in the UCA have been very supportive of my chaplain ministry. There’s an acknowledgement that there is a huge cost to the families of service personnel. Deployment and moving every three years can have a big impact. People in my churches have been very supportive and see that it is mainly about pastoral care for soldiers and their families, particularly given the instance of post-traumatic stress disorder. I had one case with a soldier who was having suicidal ideations, and we supported him with mental health first aid and pastoral care. This helped him to regain control of his life. I am not in the ADF as a warmonger. I am in there to give support to men and


Two soldiers help a mother, daughter and pet dog escape to safety at Omeo showgrounds. Image: Dept of Defence women who are in defence. While I do think it is important to have people who hold the pure idea of non-violence, and having peace on Earth and goodwill to all, we also need pragmatists. Someone once said the reason we have armies is because there is evil in the world. Anyone who doesn’t recognise that and is a pure pacifist is naïve. People since 9/11 have evolved from their views from the 1960s. My view is we have a right to self-defence and that is recognised by the UN. There are such things as just wars. Lethal violence is a last resort when there is no other way to defend yourself. Sometimes we need to bare our teeth and show our strength to people who are very sanguine about the use of violence and who will act like bullies to people who are defenceless. For instance, the Australian army was building schools

for girls in liberated parts of Afghanistan eight years ago. That was forbidden under the Taliban. It’s not a fact often spoken of. You don’t have to comply with an unlawful order in the Australian military. That can also apply if the Government is giving an immoral order. When some reserve units were called to do border protection on ships north of Australia to turn away so called boat people, asylum seekers, that is the closest I have to come to resigning my commission. That is where I think the defence force has been used and manipulated. I took the view that I wanted to provide pastoral care for soldiers and to make a difference within the walls of defence, rather than outside. The mateship in the army is really good. It’s an overused term, mateship, but you almost do have more of a

commitment to your mates in your unit than to the army at large. You feel you are representing your country and you want to do it well, but when it comes down to basic truths, you don’t want to let down your mates. Army culture has changed too, for the better. It used to be a macho contest amongst “alpha males”, now it’s much more inclusive to women particularly in leadership. I really welcome that. And also for people who are of a different sexual orientation – LGBTI. In some ways the army and defence are way ahead of many churches in terms of equality. That happens in two ways: in terms of supporting women to be chaplains, whereas many churches do not ordain women; and secondly, including members the LGBTI community in a way that many churches, I am sorry to say, do not. 33


A minister discusses a part of the Bible that especially speaks to them.

Rev Angie Griffin Grange Cluster Minister, Presbytery of Western Victoria

Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “ “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. ” Mark 7:28

The Syrophoenician Woman, whose encounter with Jesus is told in Mark 7 2428 is my favourite Gospel character, even if she is unnamed, as is her daughter. She, who in the midst of this group of people, is a foreigner, a woman without a male head of house, a non-Jew with a girl child that is sick. In her cultural context all of these count against her. And yet, despite so many obstacles she is determined to pursue what she needs. This Jewish man Jesus. surrounded as he is by his fellow Jewish followers, who she has heard is a healer, is known

to help those in need. In desperation and despite all that stands against her, she begs Jesus for her child’s sake. What is the response she gets? “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Rejection, a slur and put down from Jesus! Deep inside her she has hope. Deep inside she has courage, enough to hang on and take a chance. Deep inside her she knows that “even the crumbs” of what God provides are more than sufficient for anyone, including her and her child. Deep inside her she knows she

too has as a right to claim this because it is God’s gift to all. In reply Jesus declares: “Woman, you have great faith!” His recognition of this in her changes him, changes her, changes the fate of her child and I suspect has an impact on those who observed and heard their exchange. She, who is unnamed, is an inspiration to me, not just as a woman but as a fellow human being. She is persistent, brave, insightful and hopeful. She walks humbly, seeks justice and discovers that God is indeed present and available to all.

Called to Leadership

Is there a person you identify as a leader within this Synod? The Nominating Committee for the next Moderator of the Synod of Victorian and Tasmania invites nominations from members of the Uniting Church. When Synod meets in November 2020 its members will choose a Moderator-elect to take office when the current Moderator, Rev Denise Liersh, completes her term in 2022.

from the Convenor of the Nominating Committee, Mr Dan Wootton on Email: dwootton@victas.uca.org.au or M: 0439 373 803. Nominations close on Friday 5 June 2020. Please send the form (signed by two nominators) to Dan Wootton UCA Synod of Vic & Tas Nominating Committee P.O. Box 4308, East Balwyn VIC 3103, or Email to dwootton@victas.uca.org.au

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A statement on the Role of the Moderator and Nomination Form is available from the Synod website bit.ly/Moderator-elect or by request

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Both lay and ordained members of the Uniting Church are eligible to serve as Moderator for a three-year full-time term.


How do we ensure what we “ are calling worship is actually worship?”

Rev Claire Dawe Manningham Uniting Church

In a bid to explore creative ways of offering meaningful and authentic worship, I sometimes attend conferences and study ideas looking at re-imagined forms of worship and being church. Many are incredibly creative, but I wonder if they actually are forms of worship or if they are “just” engaging activities that point us towards God. I’m not trying to be provocative, I’m simply asking the question. Just because someone calls something “worship”, it doesn’t mean that’s the case – but then I wonder why isn’t it the case? I wonder if you recognise this struggle. I appreciated Rev Rose Broadstock’s article in February’s Crosslight about the simplicity of worship at Heathcote UC. If we consider worship to be the gathering of people in order to praise God, to be formed in faith and to develop in discipleship, then it could be argued worship should incorporate the whole of the person’s life – every word, thought and deed to the glory of God. But does worship need certain elements to be present in order to be worship? During Uniting Church worship, we gather, share the word, take part in the sacrament of communion, and are “sent out” beyond the gathered community. Worship is about everyone participating, it is not a consumer event where we are entertained by a performer. Neither is it about watering down the message to make it more “accessible”. Participation doesn’t mean every person is given a role in the service, it means everyone is encouraged to take part in what’s happening, whether it is praying as a community, singing, listening or taking part in an activity. The key point is that worship is not entertainment, it is for engagement and participation, but somehow that is not understood by all of those attending our services and I wonder how we reached this point of misunderstanding.

A former colleague used to lead a midweek worship in the form of a walk and meditation group. The worshippers walked for an hour and prayed as they walked – they gathered as a faith community, they shared the Scriptures as they walked, they shared table fellowship at a local café and then they were sent out. To me, this was a form of worship because my colleague reflected the message of the texts and the places they visited along the way. They were the people of God gathering to praise God, to form in faith, develop in discipleship and participating fully. Rev Dr Stephen Burns once said worship “should be an event to which people can bring their gifts, artistic and otherwise … so that what happens is authentically the people’s, and makes something good out of the diverse gifts of the community”. This is a fully participatory model of worship where services perhaps evolve in order to be able to incorporate the diverse gifts of the worshippers. A major building project at one of our churches has resulted in an evolution of worship in order to manage the limited available space. This has meant some people have discovered previously unknown gifts. Perhaps churches, as they face new challenges, should hone their understanding of worship. They could be Rose’s rural congregations without ordained clergy placements, but led by faithful, hardworking lay people, or my suburban churches facing the physical and emotional demands of a building project. They are different situations, but the necessity to think differently perhaps moves us out of our comfort zones. But how do we ensure what we are calling worship is actually worship? And I’m back at the beginning again. I wonder if you recognise this struggle? 35


Seeking asylum is a human right. Over 6600 people are currently seeking asylum in Victoria. Many without work rights, an income, healthcare or access to safe housing. You can provide a sense of safety and belonging to people in their time of need by supporting our Asylum Seeker Program.

unitingvictas.org.au

36

1800 668 426


Tab e ta k Something impressive is brewing at Eaglehawk Uniting Church on Tuesday afternoons. The congregation, which is located north-west of Bendigo, has been providing a community space where, each week, about 40-60 people come to get fresh food and groceries but also, increasingly, to enjoy tea, coffee, cake and a chat. Eaglehawk minister Rev Cynthia Page says many people in the area, especially those on fixed incomes, are doing it tough, so the free food and groceries has been welcome. “The pension doesn’t stretch that far,” she says. “It is genuinely a help to get the fresh food and other goods.” However, Cynthia says offering the food is just the starting point. The main aim is to reach out to those feeling lonely and isolated. “Our goal is relationships. We are welcoming people we wouldn’t have otherwise met and we listen to them,” she says. “We want to show Jesus to everyone we meet by who and how we are and what we do.” Cynthia says the offering of hospitality emerged last year from a long period of discerning where God was at work in the community and where the church could join in. “This new initiative is a gift to us as well as to the community. It has rejuvenated the congregation,” she says. It has also enabled Cynthia to develop relationships with non-church members of the community that has led to meeting with them through the week for more deep and meaningful conversations.

Cynthia says the program’s volunteers are a mixture of church and non-church people and they gather for prayer before opening for the afternoon. “The non-church people now actually remind me if I don’t initiate prayer quickly enough,” she says. The Eaglehawk Community Space is one of three projects chosen to receive the proceeds of this year’s Lenten Offering, which provides grants to innovative mission projects run by the UCA. There are three categories: metro, rural and covenanting. Eaglehawk UC plans to use the grant money to create a more café-style environment by upgrading from its current trestle tables to small café tables and buying new chairs, tablecloths, crockery, cutlery, candles and soup warmers. The metro category grant recipient will be a program in Melbourne’s outer east that provides social support for people with mental health issues. The Gathering Place offers breakfast, activities and lunch three days a week at Bayswater UC and is run by the Elm Street Mission, which is a partnership between the congregation and Yarra Yarra Presbytery Mental Health Ministries. YYPMHM chair John Tansey says the project, that began last November, is a missional “start-up” that seeks to counter the increasingly individualised and medicalised treatment of mental health issues. “Loneliness is an issue, isolation is an issue, and particularly so for people who live with mental illness,” he says. “We wanted to create a space where people felt a sense of belonging, where

people felt safe, where people are valued and there is a sense of dignity.” On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the program runs from 9am1pm and offers breakfast, lunch as well as activities such as art therapy and mindfulness. The Lenten Grant will be used to upgrade the church’s basic kitchenette into a kitchen where meals can be cooked, rather than just reheated. “Food is crucial to this working, it not only brings people but it creates a hospitable base for people to talk and chat,” John says. This year’s covenanting recipient is the For Love of Earth project run by St John’s UC on Phillip Island. This project provides intercultural and intergenerational arts activities to inspire ecological awareness. Moderator Denise Liersch says the projects selected this year reflect the theme of renewal. “Please consider supporting the Lenten Appeal and, in so doing, you will be participating in the Kingdom’s work of renewal, justice and hope,” she says.

In line with Synod’s strategy of sustainability, Lenten Appeal kits are not being mailed to congregations this year. All resources to promote and contribute to the offering can be found on the Synod website at www.victas. uca.org.au/lenten-offering-2020. 37


Crosslight is a bi-monthly magazine produced by the Communications and Media Services unit of the Uniting Church in Australia Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

Welcome to Wesley

Opinions expressed in Crosslight do not necessarily reflect those of the editor or the policies of the Uniting Church. Cover image: Rev Ian Ferguson Advertising Crosslight accepts advertising in good faith. Acceptance of advertising does not imply endorsement. Advertising material is at the discretion of the publisher. Advertising deadlines Bookings (June 2020 issue) Friday 24 April 2020 Copy & images for production Wednesday 29 April 2020 Print ready supplied PDF Monday 11 May 2020 See crosslight.org.au for full details. Distribution Crosslight is usually distributed the first Sunday of the month. Circulation: 17,000 Staff Editor Stephen Acott Ph: (03) 9251 5230 Advertising Adelaide Morse (03) 9340 8800 adelaide.morse@ victas.uca.org.au Media officer David Southwell Ph: (03) 9251 5968 Communications officer Mikaela Turner Ph: (03) 9251 5203

After nearly six years and with construction nearing completion on the Wesley Place development, the Synod office is well advanced in preparation to move to its new home in June. Wesley Place is a landmark achievement which has seen the development of a state-ofthe-art office complex on Church-owned land in Lonsdale St, Melbourne. That development has also included the multi-million dollar restoration of the historic Wesley Church and associated buildings (the manse, caretaker’s cottage, schoolhouse and, in the near future, Nicholas Hall). In 2014, the Uniting Church entered into an agreement with developer Charter Hall whereby Charter Hall could develop the property on the basis of a 125 year land-lease from the Church. Proceeds of the sale of the

Synod office building in Little Collins St have been invested with returns to fund the rental of the new office for decades to come. The move to Wesley Place will be significant in many ways. It will allow for Synod operations and all of our agencies (Uniting AgeWell, Uniting VicTas and U Ethical) to be under the one roof. This will make it easier and faster to co-ordinate whole-of-church responses in situations such as the bushfire crisis. The Uniting Church will occupy four floors of Wesley Place, located at 130 Lonsdale St, with Synod Reception on the second floor, Uniting reception on the fourth floor and AgeWell/ UEthical on the sixth. For an initial period, all Synod phone numbers will be diverted to Wesley Place.

Graphic design and print services Carl Rainer UCA Synod office 130 Little Collins St, Melbourne, Vic, 3000 Feedback & correspondence crosslight@victas.uca.org.au ISSN 1037 826X

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ART SHOW

SPECIAL SERVICE

B&B BREAK

2 May, 10am-8pm Montague St hall, Yarraville Sponsored by Pilgrim UC, the inaugural Montague St Art Show will feature 50 silent auctions and plenty of artwork for sale. Entry by gold coin donation with all profits going to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal. Contact Graeme at ghodgart @hotmail.com.

31 May, 2pm Explore inclusive language liturgy through an eco-friendly feminist lens at Sophia’s Spring Uniting Church, Brunswick East. Afternoon tea to follow. For more information, contact Jan Garood 0402 774 883.

Jindivick Gardens offers seniors a three-day break including dinner, bed and breakfast in our purpose-built Guest Wing. The Guest Wing has three bedrooms, kitchen, lounge and overlooks 10 acres of gardens. Jindivick Gardens is an hour drive from Melbourne. For more information and to book, call 5628 5319.


Creed cred? Animal passion

Rev Barbara Allen Brighton East I agree with Vernon Terrill’s letter that veganism can teach Christians ways to care for God’s creation. Christians try to live ethical lives, but when it comes to food choices, many prefer not to think about it. Veganism is committed to a cause, and its adherents, for the most part, are passionate about it, ready to talk about it, willing to live ethical lives, even abstaining from products they may have enjoyed.

Service enquiries

Alan Ray Mont Albert Rev Rose Broadstock’s article Consider This (February, Crosslight) raises far-reaching questions on what is worship – not only for small, struggling churches in the Loddon Mallee Presbytery, but also for most of us who have to respond to our neighbours’ assertions that they no longer attend church because they are “spiritual, but not religious”. Many modes, time changes and locations of worship have been trialled: Messy Church, Taize-style meditations, labyrinths, Hillsong choruses, cafe gatherings for discussions, or midweek meetings. Sometimes large sums of money have been spent on electronic technology to enhance and modernise the

I wonder if, as Christians, we are losing some of our “passion”? Are we still excited about the Christ whom we follow? Are we in love with our cause, our commitment? Or are we becoming luke warm? Let’s uncover our passion, following Christ, who calls us to minister together, to make God’s world a place of justice for all. To quote Anna Sewell, writer of Black Beauty: “There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham.” ● experience in the hope of attracting those who now sip lattes on Sunday mornings. Every parish wants the silver bullet which will guarantee vibrant worship and fills their pews. I would be interested in discovering what other Christian communities are experimenting with in their ministry and what they find effective. ●

Bill Norquay (on behalf of the Glen Waverley UC Friday discussion group) We read with interest Paul Blacker’s letter on “Creeds” (February, Crosslight). Our discussion group does not accept the virgin birth and many other aspects of this ancient writing. We accept we are branded “heretics” because we dare to question religious (not just Uniting Church or Christian) dogma and doctrine, but we have to look back to when the Nicean Creed was written (almost 1700 years ago and 1200 years before Galileo was imprisoned for suggesting the Earth was not the centre of the universe). The texts were written in an attempt to bring together the varying and warring factions of the church and, in doing so, brand any dissenters as heretics. Part of Nicea was also the rewriting of the gospels and rejection of many great writings. In the 50 years after Nicea, the Christian church went from the oppressed to the oppressor, culminating in the dreaded inquisition. Unfortunately, acceptance of this Creed is part of the membership of the World Council of Churches, but we do not need these creeds or dogmas. The real message of Jesus is how we should live and treat each other. Reciting creeds may give us a nice warm feeling, but the universe shows a creation beyond all of our understanding. ●

We want to hear from you. Email your thoughts to crosslight@victas.uca.org.au. Do not exceed 200 words and include your full name, address and contact phone number. 39


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