Pastoral note on the bushfire crisis

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

No words can do justice to the pain and immense loss people and wildlife are experiencing in this terrifying national bushfire crisis. I want to acknowledge the pain for everyone who has been affected.

The current bushfires, many of which have been burning for weeks, are a result of extreme conditions. To date I think it is around 8 million hectares of land has been burned, much of it forest. It has resulted in Australia’s highest ever loss of wildlife, over half a billion creatures, from a natural disaster. Catastrophic blazes have killed people, destroyed homes, killed pets, livestock, and native animals, and caused untold damage to our ecosystems and biodiversity. There is a very real possibility that some species may have been wiped out.

I also want to acknowledge the unique pain of the traditional owners of affected areas, custodians of the land since time immemorial. Sacred sites and ancient paintings have been destroyed.

Many groups and organisations are working on relief efforts in affected communities, including our own Uniting church. You can read about these efforts on the two newsletters that have been circulated. The courage, strength and resilience of communities across the country has been incredible. I know we all extend our sympathy to those who have been forced to flee, and especially to the families who have lost loved ones. I also want to acknowledge the work of everyone on the front lines, who are working day and night to protect property and infrastructure. Their bravery and selflessness should humble us all.

These fires have impacted every one of us in some way. Some of you, like me, may have had family property damaged or destroyed. Some of you have friends and family in the areas hit hard by fire. We all grieve for places that we visited for holidays, or grew up in, or were residents of. We grieve for the innocent animals killed by the blazes. Others of you may find that you are being reminded, in unpleasant and upsetting ways, of the fires that swept through Canberra in 2003. All of us have choked on the thick smoke that has enveloped Canberra in the last two weeks. Many of us our angry at the inaction of our government to take action on climate change, and by their very slow response to this emergency.

Dealing with anxiety, distress and unpleasant memories is not easy in a climate that is characterised by fear, stress and anxiety on an almost daily basis. Dealing with the grief that comes with these things can be overwhelming, especially as the memory we have imprinted inside of these places has been jarringly disturbed and altered.

When the press has spoken to survivors of these fires their descriptions have sounded like the apocalypse was arriving. Many have spoken of howling winds, and the terrible noise. Towns in daylight hours had blackened or red skies, with ash falling all around. The fire was described variously as ferocious, angry and like being attacked by a demon. Bushfire survivors are trying to find words to speak the unspeakable and say the indescribable.

The shock of being left to defend themselves was expressed by many. One lady, Lorena, who is from the little town of Mogo stated “I was very sure that we were going to have everyone, the army, the helicopters, the fire brigade preparing to save the houses,” Lorena said.

“There was one fire brigade, there was no water, there was no waterbombing, there was nothing.” The feeling of abandonment and disillusionment with a government who insisted everything was fine is palpable.

Recovery from disasters (if one ever really recovers) can take several years, a decade, or more. We need to be kind to ourselves and give ourselves time.

This is hard work, and we will all do it differently. We are not taught how to sit in the darkness of disaster in our world, or how to reorder and help our damaged minds and souls so they heal.

I encourage you at this time to care for yourselves, to care for each other, and to be patient when the dark moments come upon you. Allow yourselves to recognise your grief and trauma and that there is a need for you to grieve and lament. Make sure you talk about your feelings to sympathetic friends, family or trained counsellors.

There are ways you can help yourself and others and encourage the light to keep shining.

The presbytery has disaster chaplains in the affected areas. You can read about what is happening in the Presbytery letter that is included in your pewsheet.

You can donate to the Moderator’s Appeal, the Red Cross, or St Vincent de Paul, or WIRES.

You can watch out for disabled or elderly friends without family and offer to help them if any emergency arises. You can get informed on the issues of climate change. You can offer hope and a listening ear to others.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and recreate us. And renew the face of the earth. Amen

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018. 

Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

More from Rev Elizabeth Raine