Give over and above…before disaster strikes

Give over and above…before disaster strikes

Whilst I was on the other side of the world building houses in Tijuana, getting bogged in the Andes in Ecuador I was hearing reports about the disasters hitting Australia.

It was quite moving to meet people who (in a way) live on the edge of disaster every day expressing their concern for us as Australians and those who were affected by the floods. However, I do not think I realised the full extent of the disaster, the loss of life, property and livelihood that was experienced in so many communities until I returned.

Not long after I returned I chaired the Synod Disaster Recovery Committee and I learned how some of the work we have been doing in our Synod over the past few years was bearing fruit. Presbytery Disaster Contact personnel and peer support chaplains undergo training every year and are always reminded that it is not “if” a disaster happens but “when” it happens. This year we have experienced that “when” in a big way and the impact has not been in one state or Synod alone. It has been a national disaster and, in that context, we are reminded that some of the boundaries created by human beings, other than being a hindrance, are of little significance.

During the floods in Queensland and in the aftermath, our Synod Disaster Response Coordinator the Rev. Stephen Robinson, with his wealth of experience and knowledge, has been providing advice, support alongside trauma and compassion fatigue workshops for ministry agents in that Synod.

In New South Wales a Disaster was declared at Boggabilla and Toomelah near Moree. The Rev. Robert Buchan, having trained as a Disaster Recovery Chaplain recognised by Community Services, was able to provide appropriate chaplaincy services in the Evacuation Centre at Moree.  The Rev. Kel Hodge was able to come into that situation providing Rob with peer support and relief.

Under a Memorandum of Understanding with New South Wales Community Services the Uniting Church has responsibility for coordinating the chaplaincy network across denominations and faiths and is, I believe, well-suited to this task. Although Community Services covers some of the training costs and a Federal grant was obtained to develop the curriculum and provide training, this is a gift of the church to the community.

At this stage, due to a generous donation and the support of Lugarno-Peakhust Uniting Church, we have been able to fund Stephen Robinson one day a week to develop the curriculum and provide workshops and training. It is clear this is insufficient for the ongoing task of preparing the church for the next disaster and the one after that, and that — when they come.

The Synod Disaster Recovery Committee would desire that the Synod could provide ongoing funding to coordinate and foster this most significant ministry, which enables the church to provide meaningful, Christ-like ministry at times of great vulnerability, and when people are struggling with the big questions of life and meaning.

The creating of the network and the on-going training is vital to ensure that the care and support offered does not take advantage of a person’s loss and vulnerability but helps them on their journey to a new reality in which they can experience wholeness of life once again in a context quite different to that which existed before the disaster.

However, I am acutely aware of the financial constraints which confront the Synod and the difficulty of determining which ministries should have funding priority. Many people have given generously to the flood appeal in this past month. Some may yet want to do so. This is “over and above” giving and in that vein this may be an opportune time for congregations and individuals to consider “over and above” giving in support of the Synod Disaster Recovery Committee so that the Synod might continue to coordinate this ministry of compassion, to build ecumenical and interfaith relations, foster the credibility of the church in the community and with government and, in so doing, bear witness to the Gospel of Christ.

Giving in this way will ensure there are resources and structures in place which give ministers and congregations greater resilience and thus a greater capacity to provide ministry when disaster hits. In addition there will be a network of extra support already in place which can be drawn upon in these times of trauma and distress.

Niall Reid

To give to the Synod Disaster Recovery Committee, contact Sandra Wright on 8267 4322.

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