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Ministry in Disaster Settings: Lessons from the Edge

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A year ago Australia was stirred by the news of an accident at the Beaconsfield goldmine.

In the weeks that followed, stories began to filter through the media of the significant role local churches in Beaconsfield (especially the Uniting Church) were playing as they responded to the needs of a community struggling to deal with a prolonged tragedy.

Have you ever wondered about other iconic disasters in recent Australian history and the role played by local churches, ministers and chaplains on their very doorstep?

What role, for example, did Christ’s people play during and after the Port Arthur massacre, the Granville train disaster, the Kempsey bus crash, the Thredbo Ski Resort landslide? Furthermore, what toll did ministering in a disaster setting take on these people?

Robinson, a (NSW) Uniting Church minister, wrote Ministry in Disaster Settings based on his doctoral studies.

In so doing, he has addressed an issue about which very little has been written – despite the fact that we are living in a world more and more rocked by natural and man-made disasters.

Robinson begins with extracts from personal interviews he conducted with chaplains and ministers involved with the Port Arthur, Thredbo, Granville and Kempsey disasters.

These stories are both enlightening and deeply disturbing as Robinson sensitively exposes the multiple costs they and their families suffered because of ministering on the edge.

Some costs were direct results of dealing with the trauma itself, however, another (more toxic?) layer of pain for these ministers resulted from how their local congregations and/or denominational leaders failed to recognise their subsequent distress and needs.

Robinson moves beyond these modern case studies to a theological reflection on ministry in times of crisis, using three scriptural case studies – Elijah, Jesus and Paul.

Combining story, practical research findings and theological reflection, Robinson equips and challenges us to be ready to minister, and authentically support those who minister, on the frontline.

Click here to contact Stephen Robinson.

Reviewed by Merryem Brown, a psychologist and a member of Redcliffe Uniting Church