A Pastoral Letter from Rev Dr John Squires

5 Feb 2020 by Janise Wood in: Presbytery News

Dear friends across the Canberra Region Presbytery,

This week is the week that I transition from providing a part-time supply to the Presbytery, into a full-time role as Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing. I am writing to let you know that I am now fully on board.

It is not the kind of start-up that I was expecting. Indeed, it has not been the summer that all of us had hoped for, at the end of 2019. The many fires, right across the region covered by our Presbytery, have had a deep and challenging impact. First Braidwood, then the communities all the way down the south coast, as well as communities in the southern highlands to our north, the alpine country to the south of the region, and then more recently even Queanbeyan and Canberra, have all been affected by the fires.

I am anticipating that the responsibilities you have given me, to work to ensure the “wellbeing” of congregations and ministers, will be challenging—certainly in the immediate weeks ahead, and then surely in the months that stretch out beyond the intensity of this summer. How do we work together to ensure our common wellbeing? Recovery and regrouping, digging deep into our reserves of resilience and ensuring that we care for one another without ceasing, will call forth all that we can give, and more.

In the midst of the destruction, trauma, and despair that has been generated by the fires, there are signs of hope and promise. It will be a long, slow road back to recovery, but already many people are walking that road with determination. The news from across the Presbytery is of communities which have banded together, looking out for each other, helping one another at every point. It has been inspiring to hear and see, from a distance, what has taken place in each of our Congregations where local communities are in pain.

One very bright sign of hope is the generous offer of the St Ives Congregation, on the north shore of Sydney. That Congregation has released their Minister, the Rev. Dr Geoff Dornan, to serve for a month in the Mount Dromedary Parish. This includes a number of badly-impacted communities (Narooma, Bermagui, Bodalla, Cobargo and Quaama). Geoff is ministering amongst these people until early March; his home Congregation is providing full stipend and allowances, whilst the Mount Dromedary folk are providing him with accommodation. Please pray for Geoff and the leadership in Mount Dromedary, as this phase of the recovery work gets underway.

Other Uniting Church Congregations outside our Presbytery have made offers of support for people in fore-affected areas, being willing to visit and lead services, provide sympathetic listening ears, and purchase the various essentials of life to assist those who have been devastated. We are grateful for these expressions of concern and support from the wider church family.

There have been a number of Pastors and Ministers from within our Presbytery and beyond, along with ADF Chaplains, who have provided a comforting and practical presence as Disaster Recovery Chaplains. The Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson has been providing a valuable role in co-ordinating these chaplains, and has visited our Presbytery to indicate to local communities what they need to prepare for as they seek to recover. Please pray for Stephen as he continues this role, and for these Chaplains as they regroup from their intense experiences in evacuation centres, and as they continue on in their regular ministries.

The Pastoral Relations Committee of Presbytery has established a working group to plan a long-term response to the bushfire situation. The group is led by our Co-Chairs, John and Judy, and will be drawing from the on-the-ground experience of our leadership in Braidwood, Batemans Bay, Moruya, Narooma, Merimbula, Eden, Cooma, and Canberra. The working group has already drafted an outline of how the Presbytery, in conjunction with Uniting, can best serve the communities in need across our region. They are meeting next week to develop a longer-term strategy, which will be presented for the consideration of Presbytery when we meet in council in March. Please pray also for the people on this working group, and for the plans they are developing.

And please pray, of course, for those most deeply impacted by the fire: those who have suffered physical losses, those whose emotional state is fragile, those who are exhausted from long hours of supporting others, fighting fires, or providing practical assistance. This will be a long journey for us all, so whatever we can do to support one another will be important.

Uniting Earth, the Eco-advocacy unit within Uniting, has drawn together some fine resources to assist us, psychologically and spiritually, during this intense time. Please click on the links to explore some relevant prayers and liturgies at

https://www.unitingearth.org.au/bushfire-prayers/

and some resources to assist in coping with climate anxiety at

https://www.unitingearth.org.au/climate-anxiety/

I look forward to my ministry amongst you and will maintain regular communication about developments in relation to the bushfires, as well as the various elements of our common life as a Presbytery. And I look forward to sharing with all who are able to attend the Induction of Andrew Smith and myself, on Friday 21 February at Canberra City Church.

Rev Dr John Squires

Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing