26 April 2024

Churches prepare as ‘most dangerous fire day in years’ looms

Some Melbourne churches are preparing for an extreme fire danger day. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

27 February 2024

Melbourne parishes in some natural disaster-prone areas have suspended onsite worship, ministry and other activities as part of their bushfire plans ahead of forecast extreme fire conditions.

It comes as fire authorities and Premier Jacinta Allan warned that Wednesday 28 February could be one of Victoria’s most dangerous fire days in recent years.

Weather conditions are expected to be catastrophic in the western parts of the state, while other areas will also experience high temperatures, high winds and possible dry lightning.

The Anglican Parish of Mount Dandenong and St John’s Upper Beaconsfield are among at least seven churches rolling out and revisiting their plans for the total fire ban day.

Church leaders said their bushfire policies aimed to provide clarity about whether to gather for worship and other onsite activities during fire danger periods.

Read more: Rochester church unites members, helps ease disaster fears

They said it was important for congregation and community safety to have written rules agreed by their parish councils that simplified decision making around whether to open or close the church.

The Anglican Parish of Mount Dandenong suspended its midweek services because of the forecast.

The parish has an agreement with a church outside the affected area where Mount Dandenong members can worship temporarily and even find hospitality for their domestic pets.

Former parish vicar the Reverend Andrew Smith said it also postponed funerals and discouraged wedding bookings in the fire season under its policy.

Mr Smith said the regulations at Mount Dandenong were initiated whenever a total fire ban was declared.

He said the parish wrote its first policy in 2015 because its council wanted a specific approach for fire danger periods.

It wanted a plan that aligned with that of Parks Victoria, and other local community organisations, including schools, that closed on total fire ban days.

He said prior to this, some members were reticent about the church closing if there were no signs of imminent fire on high fire danger days.

St John’s Upper Beaconsfield is developing its bushfire policy. Picture: supplied.

He said the storms in the area in 2021 were a reminder of the need to be enabled to address that situation.

“In the kilometre between the vicarage and post office in Kalorama there were 40 trees across the road. Although there was no fire on that occasion the conditions replicated the high winds, and there were few alternative routes. It was pretty clear that people on the mountain wouldn’t be able to evacuate quickly if there was fire,” Mr Smith said.

He said having a bushfire policy enabled him to make a personal safety decision without feeling he had to be onsite on those days.

St John’s Upper Beaconsfield said under its bushfire policy, introduced this week, it would close on Wednesday.

Read more: ‘Miraculous delivery’ for far north Queensland residents, church buildings

Vicar the Reverend Shannon Lee said it aligned with new fire ratings classifications, so that the church could choose to close on extreme fire danger days.

Ms Lee said the church had general diocesan guidelines about how to prepare the building in the event of fire, but that its new plan went beyond this.

She said it would help discourage people who might insist on being at the church, no matter what, from doing so.

Ms Lee said the policy didn’t yet include worship arrangements with an alternative safe venue, but it might direct them to Zoom style services in future, if power was not an issue.

St Luke’s Cockatoo senior minister the Reverend Sandra Solomon said the church was reviewing its arrangements, but on an extreme fire day no one would be on site.

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