God's Presence at Greenhills Centre

13 Mar 2022 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News

God’s Presence at Greenhills Centre

From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures

Telling and hearing stories about a time when you clearly saw God at work in congregations, faith communities and agencies across our Presbytery is going to make for incredibly enriching conversations at the first of our Presbytery gatherings this year as an important kick off to our Presbytery mission planning throughout 2022.

To help encourage you in a story you might tell, here is a story about God’s presence from Harold Small in his role as Chair of Greenhills Board:

Greenhills is a community facility of the Uniting Church of Australia administered under the Presbytery of Canberra Region. The Centre provides group accommodation and conference facilities for up to 200 people within a Christian environment.

For a variety of reasons Greenhills holds a special place in the hearts of many. I remember clearly the leader of a Martial Arts group who regularly conducted team programs on site who said “There is something special about this place that makes us want to keep coming back.”

My recollection of a particularly special time of awareness of God’s presence was 18th January 2003, the day of the catastrophic bushfires. I was the Executive Officer at the time and happened to be on site. On that day as I watched the fires become more and more threatening my prayer was that if there was to be a loss then let it be just the Cotter Centre.

For some years the Management Committee had deliberated on the future of the Cotter Centre (the original ex-Defence huts with asbestos cladding set up in 1965). The kitchen and dining room had been relocated to a new building and the bathrooms and dormitory facilities had been upgraded. Even then the facilities still only suited a very limited group of clients and demolition was really a sensible option, a decision we would have found very difficult to make.

On that day there were about 50 people on site, 6 staff and the nightshift of a contingent of  90 interstate fire fighters who had established a residential base the day before. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon and all was pitch black as we waited for the onslaught. Everyone was huddled in the downstairs auditorium with wet towels and curtains drawn. The fierceness of the fire was horrendous. Everything was bright orange moving horizontally at a reported 120kph. It lasted about 20 minutes after which we were able to move upstairs to the dining room but unable to move outside due to the intense heat.

The fire is coming upon the Old Cotter Centre, photo provided by Harold Small

From this vantage point we were able to watch the unfolding destruction of the Cotter buildings burning. The erupting gas bottles were spectacular. With dismay we watched the flames creep up the hill towards the managers residence. The surrounding brush fencing erupted. It must have been an hour or so later that we were able to venture out to gauge the destruction. In doing so, the firies were able to extinguish spot fires on and around buildings. A close inspection in daylight the next morning revealed that the fire had passed through the entire site with almost every building sustaining some damage. The manager’s residence survived.

No lives were lost and there were no injuries. The only buildings with severe damage were the Cotter buildings – and they were burnt to the ground.

The Management Committee no longer had to deliberate on the future of the Cotter buildings. It had a job to do – rebuild. Now 19 years later we continually thank God for this unexpected blessing through the horrors of those bushfires. The new Cotter Centre is the preferred accommodation for our clients.

I look forward to hearing stories from you at our first Presbytery gathering this year about a time when you clearly saw God at work in congregations, faith communities and agencies across our Presbytery.

The gathering is open for all to attend who are keen to be part of contributing to aspirations for the future life and witness of congregations, faith communities and agencies across our Presbytery as we seek a fuller participation in Christ’s mission in the world. Please join in on Saturday 19 March, 10am to 12:30pm via zoom. Here is the zoom link https://uca-nswact.zoom.us/j/94582622291