By Naomi Giles
The geographical location of our ministries takes on a deeper meaning when a crisis hits. In those moments, rapid response is needed from the whole community, and some churches are finding they can provide a meeting place for all.
Pastor Glen Clark has been ministering in the Hawkesbury area for 15 years but found himself in the thick of a crisis in April this year when a deluge hit, causing a dam overflow and flooding into parts of Londonderry.
When Glen realised what was happening, he rode his bike to Singleton to get to the church’s community centre, Thrive, and be available to provide for people in need.
“We wanted to make sure we could get food to people. We got Big W and Woolworths vouchers and started handing them out. We had a huge food donation from the charity Hands and Feet too, and we became like a community pantry for people,” he says.
Glen says that although the region is known for floods, this flood was different, pushing into areas not usually impacted.
“These people haven’t seen floods like this before,” he explains. “They literally lost everything; nothing was insured for flood.”
Glen says the other reason some people chose not to insure is that they could not afford it. The whole area has been marked as a flood risk, so the premiums run into the thousands, well beyond the reach of many local people.
Connecting with the local community is not new to the Londonderry community church – with programs like tutoring, holiday clubs, community markets and music groups operating out of the church’s Thrive shopfront.
But the recent flood has cemented the church’s role in the wider community, with positive feedback coming from individuals and the local council.
“We became a point of contact for Penrith Council and for people to connect with referrals and for different kinds of help. I think the council have a new appreciation for our little church and what we can do,” he says.
Thrive didn’t have a food pantry before, but now they’ve gone through two truckloads of food to help those in need. This act of compassion and care has connected them more deeply to the local area.
“Through the flood, we’ve met a whole lot of people who are in need; a lot of people live in caravans in people’s yards, or they are elderly and need help,” says Glen.
The church discovered some people had lost everything – cars, home-based businesses, food, clothes and all their furniture. The church rallied with clean-up working bees straight after the floods but then realised the need for ongoing assistance. Parts of homes needed to be restored and new kitchens installed to make them liveable again.
“Once the clean-up was done, they thought they’d be on their own, but we’ve just continued to journey with them. And we haven’t felt alone either; we’ve been supported by people, even other churches have come along and joined in,” says Glen.
Glen reflects that there has been ‘fruit’ from this time, with a network of community partnerships strengthened, and some of those helped are now getting involved with the church and calling them their new family.
“One lady we helped was talking to a local MP who came out [to see the flood impact], and she told her, ‘I’ve been saved financially, emotionally, mentally and spiritually’,” says Glen.
But it’s also been a refining time in the church with a sacrifice of blood, sweat, tears and money. Glen notes that the long haul of helping is tiring, but the call to serve and live out the Gospel is compelling.
“This has been raw. It’s been a shake-up for the church. It makes you examine what you do as a church, to think more deeply about how to get involved and the role we can play.
“I know that the love people have been shown, the depth of sacrifice that has been made, has not gone unnoticed,” he says.
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