Ecumenical agency ready to respond to summer’s dangers

An ecumenical agency that has served Victorians for almost 40 years is gearing up to help again.

By Mark Brolly

November 30 2015As world leaders meet in Paris to respond to the unprecedented challenges of climate change, Victorians face an old enemy with the prospect of new intensity – bushfires – as an El Nino summer begins. And an ecumenical agency that has served them for almost 40 years is gearing up to help again.

The Victorian Council of Churches Emergencies Ministry began in 1977 and has more than 1800 volunteers to respond to disasters across the state. It has helped thousands of people in the aftermath of natural calamities such as the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983 and Black Saturday fires in 2009, numerous big floods throughout the state and the fatal Kerang train and Burnley Tunnel incidents, both in 2007.

Its roles include providing personal support, psychological first aid and emotional and spiritual care with individuals and communities through Chaplains and Personal Support volunteers; providing personal support in settings such as relief and recovery centres and at community meetings; coordinating a multifaith response to emergencies; being an advisory and training resource for community recovery and development for faith-based organisations and local government; training and approving Chaplains and Personal Support workers; and helping the Victorian Government coordinate State services of worship and the organisation of public memorials and gatherings to support the recovery of affected communities.

At the launch this year of a report, Working with Disaster: Clergy and Bushfires, that studied the responses of 11 clergy involved in the Black Saturday Bushfires, the Chief Executive of VCC Emergencies Ministry, Mr Stuart Stuart, said churches helped provide “a continuum of care” to individuals and communities during and after tragedies.

“It is not so much about what we do, but how and why we do it that ultimately makes a difference,” Mr Stuart said. “I have developed a saying over the last couple of months in relation to the emergencies ministry program. It says: ‘We are not a service delivery program, rather a servant delivery program.’ Whilst we need the evidenced-based methodologies and practices, the fact is anyone can do that. But more and more we need compassionate community-minded people who will serve their community in a way that brings genuine healing to their situation and circumstance.”

Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner, Mr Craig Lapsley, said at the launch that the cooperation between emergency services and churches had been “a true story of success”. Churches were among the “trusted networks” that existed in communities before a disaster, were active during a disaster and continued to provide care during the recovery period that followed.

See a video by the VCC Emergencies Ministry explaining its work here.

Further information may be obtained at the VCC Emergencies Ministry website: