Uniting Church in Australia president, Stuart McMillan, has called for prayers and support for those devastated by bushfires in recent weeks.
Communities in the Pinery region north of Adelaide and in Esperance on the south coast of Western Australia face a long recovery process after battling major blazes which claimed six lives and caused widespread destruction of homes, farmland and other property.
“We hold in prayer all those who have lost loved ones, those who have lost homes and everyone involved in the response, both now and in the long recovery phase ahead,” said Stuart.
“We are heartened to hear how people within those regions have responded with compassion for each other, opening up their homes, churches, clubs and businesses to assist those in need.”
Bushfires in South Australia’s mid north claimed two lives and left others seriously injured. Hundreds of firefighters were called on to contain the blaze which has burned more than 80,000 hectares.
SA Disaster and Recovery Ministries Coordinator Wendy Perkins said more than 20 chaplains from different denominations were called upon to be with people at the Relief Centre in Gawler.
“People are feeling devastated,” she said. “Some of those coming in for assistance have lost everything.”
“Our support has been very well received, not only by those impacted by the fires, but also by the other agencies who are dealing with people and listening to their stories. All of that takes its toll on the support workers as well.”
Chaplains are on hand at the relief centres for as long as they are needed before going door-to-door to check on people’s well-being under the State Government’s outreach program.
Four people, including a local farmer and three backpackers, died in the largest blaze in WA north of Esperance. More than 50 farms suffered serious damage to crops and livestock.
As fires burned, Frontier Services Patrol Minister Rev Rob Dummermuth provided logistic support to fire crews as a member of the SES. His focus now turns to the pastoral care of those impacted.
“Our farmers were expecting a record season for their crops. Many have lost them completely while others were damaged by wind and smoke,” said Rob.
“For some farmers, who have suffered setbacks before, this may be the last straw. More than ever we need to care both for people’s physical and also psychological well-being.”
The local community has rallied behind the victims putting together care and food packages and raising money for the families of the deceased to travel to Australia.
Uniting Church National Disaster Recovery Officer Rev Dr Stephen Robinson will work with synods, presbyteries and congregations to provide support and resources to disaster-affected communities.
“Things will never be the same for those devastated by such loss. We will seek to assist those affected to find a new normal in the weeks, months and years ahead,” he said.
President Stuart McMillan urged Uniting Church members to give to appeals supporting the fire-affected communities.
“As well as your prayerful support, I also ask you to consider making a donation to the Uniting Church appeals which will help to provide ongoing pastoral care and assist communities to get back on their feet.”
The National Disaster Relief Fund assists in providing services such as counselling and pastoral care by bringing ministers and communities together to discuss the recovery.
To donate to the National Disaster Relief Fund call 1800 772 851 or visit http://assembly.uca.org.au/national-disaster-relief-fund/
The Uniting Church Synod of South Australia is also asking for donations to its Bushfire Relief Fund which will support Mid-North congregations to discern how best to serve the people in the fire-affected regions. Details can be found on the Uniting Church SA website, Bushfire Relief fund.