Jason John inducted as Forest Chaplain

Jason John inducted as Forest Chaplain

On Sunday 18 February, more than 40 Uniting Church members, forest defenders, Gumbaynggirr leaders, Mid North Coast Quakers and others gathered under the yew tree at Gleniffer Church for the induction of the Rev. Dr Jason John as Forest Chaplain. 

The event included reflections by Gumbaynggirr man Micklo Jarrett and the Rev. Phil Dokmanovic, prayers and singing. Jessi Levy, student minister at Bellingen Uniting Church, played the flute and led a breathing meditation.

“Gumbaynggirr people looked after Mother Earth to make her strong, so that we could be strong,” Uncle Micklo said.

“We never ever weaken her. Mother Earth, her intelligence, is beautiful. She made the trees, the wind, the water, the animals, the sand, she made everything for us. It is so important to hear these things, to show these things, because a lot of us have forgotten. The Creator gave us this beautiful planet to live on in the Dreaming, and the Creator and Ancestral Beings came down to show us how to look after this land, how to look after animals, how to look after each other.” 

“The most important thing in our culture is relationships with each other, with people, with the land, with the waters, all the interwoven relationships between everything. Everything has a right to exist on this planet. We do not have the right to threaten anything: animals, trees, water. Just like we have a right to be here, so do they. We have to protect and look after them all the time and in every way.” 

Rev. Dokmanovic is minister at Bangalow-Byron Bay Uniting Church on Arakwal country.

“There is a stream of ancient Christian thought that says that the natural order is a sacred text, a big story that tells us of the divine,” he said.

“The same stream of thinking suggests that there is a small book, the ancient scriptures of the Christian church. It is these two stories that remind us who we are and that everything is sacred.” 

“But we know that we can forget that reality and we see the results of that forgetfulness throughout history. In Christian thinking Jesus Christ comes into the world to reawaken the knowledge that we, others around us and the whole world is sacred. He reminds people in the scriptures that it’s often those that are on the margins, those that society hasn’t cared for, those that we forget, who are the sacred or the blessed ones: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. This leads naturally into the idea of forest chaplaincy: this wonderful calling to remind those that are hurting, traumatised, struggling because of what they see and witness around them that they are blessed, they are sacred. And may all of us remember – blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

Rev. Jo Smalbil, deputy chairperson of the Mid North Coast Presbytery on Gumbaynggirr, Dunghutti, Biripi and Worimi lands led the service of induction. She reminded Jason of his tasks as Forest Chaplain: provide confidential listening and debriefing to individuals actively engaged in defending the forests; participate in community forums; listen to and walk alongside First Nations groups and leaders and advocate for their sovereignty within the context of the local forests; contribute to the wider Forest Advocacy Ministry of the Uniting Church; bring people together to explore faith, spirituality, and build resilience, joy and hope in the face of the emotional toll of forest campaigning; and provide resources to support creation care in the church and community. 

Rev. John reaffirmed his declaration of faith that he made at his ordination as a minister, expressed his commitment in his new role, and received symbols from those he will serve and with whom he will work: forest defenders, Aboriginal leaders, members of Gleniffer Community Church and Gleniffer Ecofaith Community, the Uniting Church, and others. 

De Marko of the Forest Ecology Alliance said, “We’re so grateful to everyone in this community who has enabled Jason to be available to us, to hold space for us and to hear our shared eco grief. There are over 30 forests under threat in this region and so people are looking after their backyards and the planet by trying to do what they can. We’re so thankful to you, Jason, we know you are a person of integrity that we can trust.”

Those gathered for the induction were given an opportunity to pledge to support Jason in his role, work alongside him, and to express their hopes for his chaplaincy. 

The service concluded with prayers and a blessing for Rev. John. 

The Forest Chaplain role is made possible by funding from the Jan de Voogd Peace Fund, a bequest administered by the Quakers in NSW Regional Meeting for the Koala Chaplaincy project, and from the Synod Growth Fund. Jan de Voogd was a Quaker Peace Activist who died in 2021. His estate funds a diversity of projects that foster peace and social justice. 

For more information and to contact Jason, see the Uniting Earth Web website here


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