28 May 2024

This diocese is offering hope in an often hopeless region

View of Rockhampton from Mount Archer, Australia. Picture: iStock

Elspeth Kernebone

14 April 2024

It can be one or two hours’ drive to get to church in central Queensland. Many localities only have a dozen or so residents. Hopelessness and suicide are big problems in the often brutal industries of mining and farming. 

It’s a contrast to a fast-growing coastal strip that also forms part of the region, filled with young families and retirees. 

In both areas, the Diocese of Central Queensland is seeking to reach people with hope. 

Melbourne residents have a chance to hear about the region at the Bush Church Aid Victorian annual dinner, from the Bishop of Rockhampton in the Diocese of Central Queensland. 

Bishop of Rockhampton Peter Grice said he hoped to open people’s eyes to another aspect of God at work in the world, the hard but exciting ministry in Central Queensland. 

His diocese of Central Queensland faced two inverse challenges. It must meet the needs of a sparsely populated interior with an aging population, and the needs of a fast-growing coastal strip. 

Read more: The emergency chaplains delivering hope in a time of crisis

For the coast, this means ministering to young families and retirees putting down new roots. 

Inland, the diocese is seeking to renew and continue its ministry sustainably. It’s an area where many people drive hours to get to church, and some church communities only meet at Christmas and Easter. The region has about 20 ministry units, covering about 50 localities.  

Many face hopelessness and suicide. Bishop Grice said the church was letting people down if it didn’t share hope in Jesus with these people. 

“Once you’re away from the coast, you’ve got mining and farming, both of which are very brutal industries,” Bishop Grice said. 

“If we can offer hope in that space it’s certainly worth doing, and keeping the doors open at all costs.” 

Bishop Grice said he was encouraged by how willing people in rural areas were to travel vast distances to meet. The churches that meet at just Christmas and Easter will have 40 or 50 people to those services, in a locality with maybe a dozen residents.  

“People will drive two hours to come to church in our part of the world. That is not unusual. The gratitude people show just by meeting together and sharing fellowship together, the encouragement people get meeting together,” he said. 

Read more: Fellow travellers, not solution-providers: How churches can better approach severe mental illness

“I know myself, I do a rural sweep every so often, and just to have half a dozen people who wouldn’t normally come to church, just turn up and listen, that’s one of the joys.” 

Bishop Grice said reaching communities without full time ministers was a creative challenge, and a testament to the faith and commitment of people in these areas. 

He said to create sustainable ministry in rural areas, they prayed a lot, and tried initiatives to support lay people. This included a lay development program, now in its second year, that sought to build up, equip and encourage lay people. 

Bishop Grice said he took joy in the eschatological, big picture hope in eternity, but also in the hope that came through seeing people grow. 

“It’s like any ministry, you see someone who leads prayer for the first time, or does a Bible reading for the first time. The encouragement of people growing in their faith, it is intoxicating,” he said. 

“There’s hope as you see people grow. You see they’re getting it, they’re moving forward.” 

Bush Church Aid Victorian regional officer the Reverend Adrian Lane said he was praying that out of Bishop Grice’s visit, God would raise up men and women who would see the need to work in remote areas. 

Read more: Christian efforts could help ease mental health stress amid living pressures

Mr Lane said the Central Queensland diocese was going through a tough time financially, and finding clergy. 

But Mr Lane said he had been impressed by Bishop Grice’s faithful commitment to the gospel of grace in the face of such difficult circumstances.  

He urged people to pray that God would raise up people from Melbourne to serve in central Queensland. 

“Like, most places in the bush, I really want kids and young people [in Central Queensland] to know that God loves them, and that there is community, and forgiveness, and eternal hope in the gospel. Unfortunately there’s so little children’s and youth ministry in country areas that kids grow up not knowing this,” Mr Lane said. 

The Bush Church Aid Society Victoria AGM and dinner will take place on Saturday 20 April from 5.30pm. It will also feature Strathfieldsaye BCA supported workers Rob and Michelle Edwards. More information is available at: bit.ly/BCAVicAGM2024 

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