Local churches rally together in bushfire response

While some secular media commenters have spent the summer speculating about the PM’s pentecostalism, Australian churches have had their proverbial “head down and tail up” as they’ve drawn on existing facilities, networks and relationships to respond to the nation’s bushfire crisis.

In Bairnsdale Victoria, for example, Riviera Christian Centre – a church in the Australian Christian Churches movement – were quick to open their doors.

“Our doors are open for those needing a place! Parking space for caravans, tea and coffee, quiet space, live feed from Vic emergency, charging station for devices, kids facilities, shower, toilet and cooking facilities are all available!” declared in a Facebook post on December 30.

“The church at its best, working together,” responded the Salvation Army’s Claire Jones

In the following days, denominational differences were swept aside as local churches rallied together to provide support for the Bairnsdale Oval Relief Centre.

“Partnerships are priceless – seeing our community and organisations band together has been a blessing to many people!” a Riviera post reads, featuring a photograph of a ute-load’s worth of drinks about to be delivered. “Special mention to the Salvation Army who we have partnered with in supply to the Bairnsdale Relief Centre, as well as Samaritan’s Purse who are utilising our office space and developing a plan to for the clean up process in the weeks ahead.”

“Really appreciate Riviera’s support for the Bairnsdale Oval Relief Centre. Thanks also to the Presbyterian Church who supplied drinks as well. The church at its best, working together,” responded the Salvation Army’s Claire Jones.

In the Wodonga region, ACC Pastor Michael Geerling’s church, New Life Chapel, answered the call from local brigades requesting food support.

“Traditional morning tea and snack items are very welcome. They must be freezable and also non meltable. Requests have been made for Aussie classics e.g. “Womens Weekly,” read the request. “Savoury Muffins, Sweet Muffins, Lemon Slices, Scones, Hedgehog with no chocolate on top, Jam/Coconut slice… This type is welcome.

“Snack items – Bags of small Apples or Oranges, Lollies, Juice boxes, Fruit cups, Sultana individual boxes, Nuts individual boxes, Le-snacks, Arnotts individuals snacks, muesli bars, Popcorn, energy bars. These are all for ration packs being sent out with teams. This food will be passed onto the Brigade Auxillary to distribute in & from Tallangatta and Corryong.

“Other firefighter support items include: Eye Wash, Throat Lozenges, Soft Drink: coke, solo, Powerade, Gatorade, Bottled Water.”

In the coming days, Geerling posted videos and photos to social media as the church’s donations were delivered – one from Tallangatta Relief Centre being run out of the Tallangatta Memorial Hall, with New Life member Carina Newton who was in the SES role of Community Liaison, helping coordinate volunteers, evacuees and service providers.

Then, a few days later, when the Country Fire Authority’s systems were up and running, both Riviera CC and New Life Chapel adjusted their focus, urging church members not to stop the food donations and instead pray for rain and contribute financially – along with ACC churches across the country – to provide farmers with greatly-needed stock feed.

Again, Geerling kept church members updated via social media as stock feed was delivered:

Riviera also updated its church via facebook, posting a grateful video thanking all who had contributed: “Thankyou to everyone who has been part of making a difference to those who have been affected by the fires in East Gippsland this year! Whether it be a donation, an act of kindness, cooking or lending a hand, you are making an impact in individuals lives, families and communities! Thank you.”

The video was shared by Bayside Church – a Pentecostal Church affiliated with Crosslink Christian Network, pastored by Rob Buckingham. Bayside has also partnered with Rivieria – that’s not all Bayside is doing to help – as Morling (Baptist) College lecturer Michael Frost discovered when speaking there over the weekend.

“I just spent the weekend with Bayside Church in Melbourne where they announced that they had decided to forego their upcoming church camp at the Philip Island Resort to give the accommodation, meals and activities to firefighters and fire victims for FREE,” Frost told his Facebook followers.

“Church folks were still paying for the camp but giving their places to people who needed it more than them, many of whom didn’t have a Christmas break. Churches can be awesome.”

Bayside’s offer of a free ‘Respite from Reality Retreat’ weekend experience for emergency services personnel and those that have been fire affected will take place from 6-9 March.

“The weekend is an opportunity to thank and care for those fighting the fires and to allow some time for emergency service personnel and their families to receive rest and recuperation,” the church website explains. Donations toward the initiative can be made here.