Launched by Craig Lapsley, Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner, this research aims to support and learn from local clergy and laity in the Murrindindi Shire, responding to those affected by the trauma of Black Saturday on 9 February 2009. The fires caused Australia’s highest-ever loss of life from a natural disaster. They claimed 173 human lives, injured 5000 people, and destroyed 2029 homes.
Based on interviews with eleven clergy from seven denominations, Dr Lisa Jacobson in this research examines their role during the Black Saturday bushfire emergency of 2009, and the impact on them personally. She makes many recommendations about how church and community groups, with government and other agencies, need to prepare the training for people to handle such trauma, and to coordinate closely with each other in the emergency.
Some of the clergy had received little or no training for such trauma, and all were exposed to high levels of stress and even burnout. The research included debriefing workshops for clergy and laity about emergency services training, and opportunities for conversation and prayer about the spiritual integration of what they had been through.
The report recommended initiatives for clergy and pastoral workers include trauma training for emergency situations, and increased ecumenical collaboration in trauma preparation and recovery. The report also recommends the VCC Emergency Ministries provide state-wide ecumenical focus on long-term pastoral care, preparing local communities to respond to emergencies, in recognition that the effects of such disasters are prolonged and require extra support from specialised services, including suitable religious rituals and healing for hearts and minds.
The project was funded by the Collier Charitable Fund, and managed jointly by the Yarra Institute for Religion and Social Policy and Creative Ministries Network.
Copies of Working with Disaster can be obtained for $10 plus $5 postage from the Yarra Institute for Religion and Social Policy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or PO Box 505, Box Hill VIC 3128, (03) 9899 4777.