Be prepared for disaster
Just yesterday as I was driving along I heard a radio report of a fire seriously threatening Brooms Head on the north coast of New South Wales. It was a reminder that this summer comes with Australia’s worst fire season on record only months behind us and with conditions shaping up to be bad in terms of rainfall and prevailing weather patterns.
The shocking events of last summer remind us of the need for preparation prior to disastrous events and the effort involved in rebuilding communities damaged by them. It has also pointed out the very valuable place that churches have in helping meet needs and supporting community recovery.
One of my roles, as Moderator, is to chair the Synod Disaster Recovery Committee and, in the event of disaster, to activate the response of the church in conjunction with the Synod Disaster Recovery Coordinator, the Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson.
When I was a congregational minister, from time to time I would receive a request from the presbytery seeking a volunteer to be the presbytery disaster contact person or to be involved in some related workshop and I never thought very much of it. I suppose I had the not unusual response: “Too busy for that now and who knows when there will be a disaster?”
Having chaired the committee, attended training workshops for presbytery disaster contact persons and the Synod Peer Support Team and hearing the stories of the church’s role in disaster recovery, I realise that it is vital to:
- be prepared for disaster;
- have an awareness of the lines of communication;
- be clear about which organisations within the community are responsible for providing which services;
- know that within the Synod there is a Peer Support Team specifically trained to help support Ministers and their communities during disaster;
so that in the event of a disaster the response of the church is an aid to recovery rather than a hindrance.
It is also important to have in mind that the church response can be activated both in disasters as extensive as the bushfires which swept across vast tracts of land in Victorian this year or as contained as a bus crash on the Pacific Highway.
I would encourage every congregation and minister to find out who the presbytery disaster contact person is and request that the relevant information be disseminated.
I would also like to commend the Disaster Recovery Committee training days to anyone who wants to be more aware or believes they could have a role in Disaster Recovery. Even though the training is focused on the church’s response to disaster, it also provides insights and opportunities for reflection on ministry generally.
In the past, unlike the Salvation Army, the Anglican Church, St Vincent de Paul or the Seventh Day Adventists, the Uniting Church has not had a specific role in the event of disaster. As of this year, the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT, under the leadership of Stephen Robinson, is taking on a brand new role as the coordinating body for a chaplaincy network specifically trained and prepared for the care of people in evacuation centres and disaster recovery centres.
The NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network is made up of chaplains from a number of denominations and faiths. It is resourced through a National Emergency Volunteers Support Fund grant.
Its core trainers and coordinators are Uniting Church ministers and the training is specifically designed in conjunction with the State Government Division of Community Services, Red Cross and other agencies, which work in the context of disaster within New South Wales. The first training courses for this begin in November.
In the event of disaster, which we pray doesn’t happen but which history and experience tells us is inevitable, the church has a significant ministry that can only be exercised effectively if we are prepared.
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