10 December 2022

Many shaken, but disasters bring out best in Mansfield church community

The Mansfield church has only grown stronger after facing fire, a pandemic, and now an earthquake.

A 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit Victoria on Wednesday, near Mansfield in the state’s east. Picture: Geoscience Australia.

By Elspeth Kernebone

23 September 2021

FOR Mansfield’s Anglican parishioners an earthquake is just the latest challenge to overcome.

They have already made it through devastating fires and a pandemic within the past two years. On Wednesday they were at the epicentre of one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded in Victoria.

But parishioners and townspeople escaped unharmed, along with their historic church building.

Mansfield Anglican priest’s warden Jane Freemantle said many congregation members were quite shaken after the earthquake, but the church had pulled together with its existing pastoral care systems to check in on its members.

When the earthquake hit, Dr Freemantle was on her property listening to the news, getting ready to head down to church for morning prayers.

Suddenly instead of the television, all she could hear was “a massive crackling”.

Then everything began to shake, the pictures fell off the wall, and the lightshades fell over.

The 5.9 magnitude earthquake had struck a few dozen kilometres south of the town, at a depth of 10 kilometres.

The shaking had stopped by the time Dr Freemantle got herself out of the house, but she could still hear a continuing roar, like a freight train passing. That went on for about two minutes.

Dr Freemantle pulled herself together, and went down to the church for morning prayer, where she found quite a few older parishioners who were very shaken. A fallen organ pipe was the earthquake’s only mark on the historic building.

Since then the church community has used its pastoral care system developed for the COVID-19 lockdowns to check in its members.

Dr Freemantle said many people were experiencing a level of anxiety after the earthquake.

But she said the succession of disasters hitting Mansfield had brought out the best in the church community.

“It’s brought up compassion, it’s brought up leadership,” she said.

“What we’re doing in Mansfield is really focusing on keeping our community together.”

Doctor Freemantle said the Mansfield church had even increased its attendance during the pandemic, with 50 people attending services on the most recent Sunday, either on Zoom or at two small face-to-face services.

She said the parish’s priest in charge the Venerable Catie Inches-Ogden and a recent locum the Reverend Doctor Paul Dalziel had been an amazing support, as had the Wangaratta diocese Bishop Clarence Bester.

Among the church’s efforts to remind the community to have hope has been for the church bells to ring the Angelus at noon every day.

“It’s a lovely community thing, just to remind people that we’re still here … and to remind people that we’re a strong community, and with the grace of God we’ll get through,” Dr Freemantle said.

The Melbourne Anglican understands that all church buildings in the Melbourne diocese escaped the earthquake without major damage.

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