In NSW and the ACT The Uniting Church is involved in a range of activities related to disaster recovery. This short article gives an overview and the current status of these ministries.
The Synod Disaster Recovery Committee
This committee has been operating for many years and has the oversight of all the ministries that follow. It was formalised by a minute of the Synod in 2002. Prior to this it operated as a subcommittee of UnitingCare. The recommendation to the Council of Synod was for it to become a committee of the Synod. The Council agreed to this and set the Moderator as chair of the committee. Names for initial members of the new committee were brought forward by the then General Secretary and Associate Secretary (including some then present members).
Since that time the Moderator continues to chair the committee. New members of the committee have been invited by the Moderator after discussion with the committee. Membership has been largely those involved in emergency services chaplaincy but, in recent years, this has been broadened and more of an effort to accommodate representation of genders and ethnic diversity.
The Disaster Recovery Coordinator (Currently Stephen Robinson)
This role was initially held by Rev. Alan Galt, until 2005 when Stephen Robinson (who had been on the committee since around 2002) took it on. The Coordinator oversees much of the work, including training and resourcing and acts as Convenor of the Committee – and accountable to the committee. Initially Stephen Robinson was in this role in a voluntary capacity, until the Synod established the Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network (DRCN) in 2009. At this point the Synod contributed 30% of Stephen’s stipend to his placement (Lugarno Peakhurst Uniting Church) and his work was split between establishing and training the DRCN and the work of the parish. Stephen was ‘loaned’ by the Synod to the Synod of VicTas during the Black Saturday fires of 2011 and to Queensland following the floods of the same year.
By 2012, with the expansion of the work, Stephen Robinson was struggling to maintain two fulltime roles and in 2013 the Synod Disaster Recovery Committee conceived of the idea of a national disaster recovery role, based in the Assembly which could support the work of disaster recovery across all Synods, yet maintaining the growing work of the DRCN. This was approved by the Assembly Standing Committee and funded from the Synod of NSW and ACT, the Assembly Disaster Relief Fund, with contributions from the Northern Synod, and WA, SA and Queensland.
At the present time Stephen holds multiple roles of:
- National Disaster Recovery Officer
- Synod Disaster Recovery Coordinator
- DRCN Coordinator / Senior Chaplain
- Peer Support Team Coordinator
- Representative of the Synod/DRCN on the NSW State Welfare Services Committee
Moderator’s Disaster Relief Fund
The Disaster Recovery Committee oversees the management of the Synod Disaster Relief Fund. This has gathered funds over time, with the fund always open to requests for funding and to donations. It is visible on the Synod Website. Donations to the Moderator’s Fund can be made at the following link
The committee has developed guidelines for the swift and reasonable release of funds to people in need. (See accompanying documents). The Synod’s part payment of the National Disaster Recovery Officer’s stipend also comes from this fund.
Special Disaster Appeals
From time to time a particular disaster or weather event requires focussed attention. At these times the Moderator may launch an appeal. An example of this was in 2018 with the Moderator’s Drought Appeal. This allowed for the release of over $100,000 to Presbyteries to support drought-affected people in local communities.
Special Disaster Recovery Supply
Following disasters or traumatic events that affect a whole community, special “Presbytery Long Supply” may be arranged which allows a ministry agent to work in a district for up to a year, supporting the churches and / or the people of the area as they recover. This work is funded from the Moderator’s Disaster Relief Fund.
The Synod has developed a Peer Support Team. This operates on similar principles to the use of peer support in other institutions and response agencies. This allows ministry agents to come alongside other ministry agents during a time of emergency, trauma or community hardship including disaster. At present the Peers are: Eric Drury, Glen Renton, Julie Greig, Stephen Robinson, Susan Phalen, Will Pearson, Phillip Eldridge, Peter Oliver, Janice Freeston, Valamotu Palu and Christine Bayliss-Kelly.
This was established many years ago by Rev Alan Galt. Each presbytery has a person (and hopefully an alternate) appointed to be the Disaster Contact person in the event of disaster. These contacts meet and receive training on an annual basis in Sydney during the disaster training week.
Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network (DRCN)
This was established by the signing of an MoU between the Synod and the State Government. At present it has nearly 300 chaplains across a range of denominations and faiths. Initially an ‘add on’ to response the network is now a full Community Partner alongside Red Cross, Anglicare, Salvation Army and the Adventist Disaster and Relief Agency (ADRA) working under a Memorandum of Understanding with the State Government. The DRCN is responsible for the provision of spiritual care and comfort within the Welfare Services Functional Area Supporting subplan of the Emergency Management Plan. To see the full detail click this link.
The DRCN is now funded through a community partner grant year by year. This covers the cost of developing and running training courses for the chaplains and some administration costs.
Apart from Stephen Robinson, a one day a week admin person (currently Dawn Beeson) is employed to maintain training. Rev. Susan Phalen is employed as Operations Manager for a day a week, with her work expanding during activations. Susan also conducts half the training courses for the DRCN. The network now has four duty officers (Stephen Robinson, Susan Phalen, Will Pearson and Grant Atkins) supported by five logistics volunteers. We have used or developed database, mapping and rostering software to maintain this.
When a chaplaincy presence is required by Disaster welfare, they contact the Duty Officer who deploys the teams with the assistance of the Logistics Volunteers. Costs borne by the chaplains are reimbursed by the Synod, then charged back to the NSW government.